Yesterday, we discussed how to start building a family tree. Once your very basic family tree is done, it’s time for the fun (and sometimes not-so-fun) to begin. Now, we have to venture off into the mysterious unknown.
The very best resource for family history research is… your family. I know it seems like a pretty obvious answer, but unfortunately, it is often overlooked in favor of internet searches.
Start by talking to the oldest living generations in your family. It’s a hard truth to face, but these people won’t be around forever, and they are veritable treasure troves when it comes to family history. First, tell them what you’re doing, and go over what you already have – they’ll be able to confirm/deny the dates and locations (and maybe even names) that you’ve entered. Then ask them about the people in your family that you don’t know about (their parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, for example). Even if they don’t know exact dates and locations, just having a few names will help you once we start looking for other information sources.
Ask them for stories about your family – the whole family in general, or individuals. Maybe Grandma has some really fond memories of her parents, or a great story about how your parents met and courted (from her perspective, of course). If you’re really lucky, these people might even have old pictures that you’ve never seen of your great-grandparents, or of the old family farm. Most importantly, be willing to listen. I’ve found that the more interest you show, the more you get in return.
Once you’ve exhausted the older generations, chat with the rest of the family. Cousins may be able to share photos of your aunts and uncles from when they were younger, or have some personal anecdotes about your grandparents. It’s also possible that they’ve done some research already and would be willing to share what they’ve found with you. Some of my biggest breakthroughs have come about by collaborating with family members.
It’s also important to remember that not everyone will be as interested in this project as you are. In fact, some may be reluctant to share anything at all, and that’s okay. Every person’s story is different. While you may hold fond memories of your grandparents, you might find that an aunt or uncle feels quite differently, often for good reason.
Please feel free to use this article, in its entirety, in any way you see fit, so long as you include the byline in any copies, and properly cite it if used as research material.
To cite this post:
Jennifer Lynn Stingley, "Building a Family Tree – The Basics (Part 2)," Ancestor Archaeology, 10 August 2014 (http://ancestorarchaeology.com/2014/08/10/building-a-family-tree-the-basics-part-2/ : accessed [24 January 2018]).