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Tracing Your Ancestors

How to Build a Family Tree

Your decision to start a family tree will take you on an interesting journey back through time. As a time traveler, your journey will begin with your life. Go back to your birth record and start to note the details of where you were born, the date, your parents full names, and be sure to include your mother’s maiden name. Next record details of places you have lived, your schooling, marriage, and children. Then begin to work back further and research your parents’ lives. (There is probably much about them that you don’t know.) Building a family tree can be a wonderful activity to share with your parents and grandparents—and if you are very lucky—a great-grandparent.

Your children or extended family may be interested now or in the future in researching their family tree, so be sure to record your findings carefully in a permanent place for everyone to enjoy long after you too have become an “ancestor.” Linking generations, setting each in its unique historical perspective, brings them to life again for everyone.


Identify What You Know and Use Home Sources

Personal knowledge can form the first limbs of your family tree. Begin at home by gathering and organizing your papers, make a simple chart or list, beginning with you, your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Search for the following: 

  • birth, baptismal, graduation, marriage, military, and occupational records

  • death certificates, burial records, and obituaries

  • yearbooks, newspaper articles, family letters, social activity mementos, sports awards, and other documents that might provide names, dates, and locations

Then look at your family’s religious records, old letters, photographs, and memorabilia. Print copies and label everything to document the source, and scan them when possible to save them digitally. Now you are well on your way to forming the branches of your family tree. Next, contact family members and ask questions about their lives and those of other relatives. Interview all your oldest relatives first. Most of us later regret not doing that in time to learn from them. A sampling of questions might include the following:

  • Where did they live?

  • In what part of the country?

  • What kind of dwelling did they live in?

  • Did they move around while growing up?

  • When and where were their relatives born?

  • When did these relatives die, and where are they buried?

Take along some of your old photos and attic treasures to jog their memories. And be sure to ask if you may see their old family records, letters, photos, and memorabilia. These documents might help you expand your search. Take photographs of their mementos, records, and photos with your camera, phone, or bring a portable scanner. Document the photos you take with names, date, and place. Listen to their family stories and make notes. Relatives often have different versions of the same story since each person remembers an event in his or her unique way, but these differences make it interesting! Share what you already know with them. Use a tape recorder or video camera if your relative feels comfortable with it—most mobile phones can make audio and/or video recordings today.  Make your initial visits short with someone you are just getting to know. Always ask for permission first before you make copies and take photos, videos, or audio recordings.

Vintage and contemporary newspapers are being digitized continuously around the country. They can hold intima Family history researchers should consider joining National Genealogical Society and a local historic society (like Plattekill Historical Society, CLICK HERE TO JOIN).

Copyrighted and Shared from the National Genealogical Society, CLICK HERE FOR FULL ARTICLE

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Family Tree DNA


Living DNA

MyHeritage DNA

Nebula Genomics

A genealogical DNA test is a DNA-based genetic test used in genetic genealogy that looks at specific locations of a person's genome in order to find or verify ancestral genealogical relationships, or (with lower reliability) to estimate the ethnic mixture of an individual.

How far back does your DNA go?

It can reflect the family history where your ancestors lived hundreds of years ago, and even as far back as 1,000 years ago.

DNA chart.jpg
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