Have you ever scaled a tree and sat enjoying the view?
Well, get ready to climb… and this tree—and the view from it—will be the most fascinating you’ve ever seen. Your family will want to climb the tree someday, too, so it’s important to carefully record your findings in a permanent place for everyone to enjoy long after you have become their ancestor.
Linking generations, setting each in its unique historical perspective, brings them to life again for everyone. Through you, your children will look into eyes that are very like their own.
Look Around and Identify What You Know
Begin at home. Personal knowledge can form the first limbs of your family tree. First, make a simple chart or list, beginning with you, your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Search for birth, marriage, and death certificates and other documents that might provide names, dates, and locations. Then look at your family’s religious records, old letters, photographs, and memorabilia. Label everything you recognize. Now you are well on your way to forming the branches of your family tree—and it will begin to bud.
Contact family members to ask questions about their lives and those of other relatives. Where did they live? What part of the country? What kind of dwelling? Did they move around while growing up? When were their relatives born; when did they die? Take along some of the old photos and attic treasures to jog their memories. And be sure to ask if you may see their old family records, letters, and memorabilia that might help you expand your search.
Listen to 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, and make your initial visits short with someone you are just getting to know.
Record Your Information
After collecting family information, it is important to record it correctly on forms referred to as family group sheets and ancestor charts. Be sure to indicate a source for each fact and then file the information in an organized way so that you can locate each individual in an ever-expanding collection. Include old photos (of people, homes, and cemetery markers) and record stories, both those you heard as a child and those your family members tell you.
Prepare for your climb
Before you begin your climb, you should have the right gear for the trip. Be smart and learn the basics of genealogical methodology. Purchase “how-to” books that explain research techniques and sources. Our check out the ones available at your public library.
Decide where to start
Pick an individual about whom your information is incomplete. For example, if you are missing information about one of your four grandparents, start with them. Try to obtain death, marriage, and birth records if available. Always work backward from the known to the unknown.
Decide what records are most helpful
Your first step should be to obtain vital records if they exist. These include birth, marriage, death, and divorce records. Most U.S. states have kept modern vital records since the beginning of the twentieth century.
Census Records 1790-1930
Another basic foundation for genealogical research involves searching all available federal census records to glean personal facts about individuals and put together family groups. Federal census records and indexes from 1790–1930 are available online at Ancestry.com with a paid subscription. Full census records are also available online through HeritageQuest at libraries across the United States. Many even offer free access to these census records to patrons logging in from their own home computers, so check with your local library. Census records can also be viewed at the Frisco Public Library through Heritage Quest (TexShare) or the Library Edition of Ancestry.com.
Having collected the basics about your ancestors, you are now ready to visit or contact the courthouse in the locality where your ancestor(s) lived. At the courthouse itself, in the town or county archives, or in a local library, you may discover wills, deeds, and other records.
Libraries with major genealogical collections are an important way to develop your family history, particularly once you have traced your ancestors back four generations or more. Such collections include compiled family histories and genealogies, local histories, and reference materials, which can be extremely helpful in your research. In addition, most libraries have unique collections of unpublished materials including such things as Bible records and surname files.
Family History Centers (LDS)
FamilySearch has microfilmed vital, land, probate, tax, and military records; state and federal censuses; family and local histories; and numerous special collections, all housed in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. These vast holdings are available in microfilm form for loan. The nearby LDS Family History center in McKinney is located a short drive from Frisco on ElDorado Parkway. Be sure and check their hours and days of operation.
At this point you have been working mostly on your own. You might enjoy a local class in Genealogy. The Senior Center in Frisco has Genealogy classes throughout the year. You can call and check their schedule. The Collin County Community College also offers classes in genealogical study.