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Make Your Own Family Tree: Your First Steps

It seems hard to believe now, but I started researching my family tree just about 19 years ago. I was a teenager. I honestly don’t know what prompted me to have an interest in my family history. But I do remember what that early phase was like.

Today I’d like to share some of the first steps that were involved in the process for those of you new to genealogy research or those of you still deciding if you (or your children) want to make your own family tree.

If you’re looking to start your family history research, here are a few first steps and tips you should consider:

  1. Talk to living relatives. Start with your parents if possible, and have them fill in as many blanks as they can. Then move on to your grandparents and even great-grandparents if they’re available to you.
  2. Don’t simply ask people to share names. Researching your family history is about so much more than adding names to a family tree chart. Encourage family members to share stories — where they grew up and what it was like there and then, what they remember most about their parents, and family stories that were passed down to them when they were younger. Not only does this add color to your family history research, but sometimes obscure details can help you break through a later research barrier.
  3. Remember to reach out to more distant relatives. Don’t stop with your parents and grandparents. Talk to aunts and uncles. Talk to your parents’ aunts and uncles. Talk to distant cousins. Not only might they have specific stories to share, but you never know. Maybe someone has already put together your family tree. Verifying their work can be much easier than starting from scratch, and if they started much earlier than you they might have had access to family members and resources that you don’t.

If you’re already working on your family history, when did you begin researching it? How did you get started? If you’d like to make your own family tree but you aren’t sure where to start, what questions do you have? What challenges do you anticipate?

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