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Guest column: How to start your family tree
On Patriot Day the American flag will be lowered to half-staff at individual homes, the White House and all U.S. government buildings, both home and abroad, as we pause for a moment of silence for the 2,977 people who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.
Perhaps these memories stirred emotions to connect to your own family lineage and heritage? Where does one begin the journey to link with their ancestors?
This investigative process may not be as difficult as you think if you follow these basic steps:
• Begin your family tree by gathering everything you have, including documents, photos and family heirlooms. Rummage through your attic, basement, closets and anywhere you store important documents. Also, see if relatives have documents they’re willing to share. Clues about your family history might be on the back of old photographs, in the family Bible or even on an old postcard. If relatives are uncomfortable with lending original documents, offer to make copies.
• Set aside time to interview relatives. Start with your nuclear family and anyone who may have known your relatives. Try to collect stories, not just names and dates. Ask open-ended questions, like, “Tell me what you can remember about great-grandpa John?” Interviews are an important step in researching family history, and remember, don’t put it off until it’s too late.
• Record everything you’ve learned about your family and begin entering information in pedigree sites or family tree charts. If you’re unfamiliar with traditional family tree forms, you can find step-by-step instructions on how to fill-out genealogical forms on the Internet or local library.
• Select a single surname, individual or family as a starting point. Keep in mind surnames may have alternate spelling, like “Kelley” or “Kelly” and “Snyder” or “Snider.” Focusing your research helps reduce missing details due to sensory overload. As much as you’d like to, you cannot do it all at once.
• Explore the Internet for information on your ancestors. Good places to start include pedigree databases, message boards and resources specific to your ancestor’s locations. If you are inexperienced at using this process, perform a search for “Six Strategies for Finding Your Roots Online.” If you’re still not sure at this point, try “Ten Steps for Finding Your Family Tree On-line.” Don’t expect to find your entire family tree in one place.
• Visit your local Family History Center, where you may access the world’s largest collection of genealogical information.
• Look for historical records of your ancestors including wills, birth records, marriage licenses and death certificates. Don’t exclude land deeds and immigration records when possible.
• Organize your collected information by taking notes, make photocopies and save everything.
• Visit the locations your family lived. Tour the cemeteries, courthouses and churches for information.
• Finally, make it fun. You may even find you’re related to a former president or two like me (Chester Arthur and Gerald Ford).
Monty Chase is a member of the Hilltop Historical Society and related to the namesake of Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery.
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