Tracing Your Family History – #1 Getting Started

If you enjoy solving mysteries and are even somewhat interested in the early history of our country, then tracing your family history may be the right hobby for you.

But be forewarned: The voyage in which you are about to embark will be fun, educational, enlightening, time-consuming, bumpy, disappointing, frustrating, and joyous. Once you begin, there’s no turning back. You’ll be hooked–constantly driven by the need to know. The more you learn, the more you’ll want to learn. That’s perhaps a bit melodramatic; but any family historian will tell you that family history research consumes an enormous about of time, effort and, to some extent, money.

Part of it is the sheer numbers. Considering that we all have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc., by the time we go back just 12 generations–about 300 years figuring 25 years per generation–we have 8,100 direct ancestors!

In the coming weeks, months and (I hope) years, this section will be devoted to family history research. We’ll start from the beginning, but I hope seasoned researchers will follow along, too, and even contribute. I’ll bring you up to date on what’s happened in the field recently and provide information on what’s coming up. Many excellent workshops are presented around the country and you’ll find out about them right here.

Let’s get some housekeeping out of the way first. Because we’re starting from the beginning, each post will be sort of a “lesson.” I recommend you either print or save each one because in later posts I may refer to something covered previously. I’m going to number each of these posts so they can be referred to by number.

I’ll try not to be preachy and teachy, but I will emphasize what you should do and should not do. I want you to get started properly and avoid making horrible mistakes in the beginning. I know a woman who spent 10 years researching and studying her family only to learn it was not her family! That’s an easy trap to fall into.

So let’s get started!

Many of the beginning books on family history will tell you to begin with what you know about your family. I’ll tell you that, too, but you should first get your record-keeping system in order so you have a place to properly record the data. Your system can be as simplified or as complicated as you want. There is no one “right” system for keeping records, but there are some key ingredients. The first is the Pedigree Chart, sometimes referred to as a Lineage Chart, or Family Tree.

The numbering system is important. For the first chart, which is called Chart 0, your name appears on line 1. Your father is on line 2, his father is on line 4, and his father is on line 8. This way anyone’s father is always twice his own number. Your mother is on line 3, her father is on line 6 and her mother is on line 7. Now anyone’s mother is twice his/her own number plus 1. While this may see confusing now, it will be extremely important as we move on. Notice there is no room on this chart for your spouse. This is only a chart of your ancestors. Your spouse would prepare a similar skeleton chart, put his/her name on line one and continue as above.

Beneath each person are the initials “b”, “m.”, and “d.” They stand for “birth date”, marriage date”, and “death date.”  This is the basic information we need for this chart. Data will be expanded on another form called the Family Group Sheet, which I’ll discuss in the next post.

Begin filling in this chart with what you know. Start with yourself and your parents, your grandparents, and so on.

Go to #2

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