How to start exploring your family tree
The Irish genealogy Megan Smolenyak gave a detailed answer to this question by writing the book “Traveling Home: Inspirational Stories, Tips and Strategies for Finding Your Family History”.
Megan Smolenyak, a specialist who discovered Barack Obama’s Irish descent, describes visiting her ancestral home as one of the few “life events”.
So, here are eight steps to start your own path to the ancestors:
The first weeks of your search are likely to have abundant results, since it often happens that a lot of initial information about close relatives can be found. To save and organize everything you find, select an online genealogy database or organize it on your computer or in a genealogy program before you start research.
House treasure hunt
Professional genealogies are experienced detectives: they look for clues, do research and collect data to methodically solve secrets and reveal family stories. And, as detectives, they know that some of the most valuable clues in any color are often hidden in plain sight – at home.
Smolenyak suggests focusing his hunt in the attic, basement and drawers, where photographs, documents and personal correspondence can be stored. Elements with dates are especially useful. Family memorabilia to look for (and photograph if you don’t have permission from the owner to take the item) include old photographs, military records, diplomas and, of course, diaries, postcards and letters.
Talk to your older family members
“Your older relatives, even those 20 minutes older than you, are living libraries,” Smolenyak says. “Family stories stored in their brains can save you a lot of time.”
Even if you have heard family facts – and legends – all your life, actually spend time interviewing your elders, arming yourself with a digital recorder, and specific questions will revive your memory and show new details. In addition, if you first find some old photos, talk with your relatives, for example, a request to identify people or places in old photos can be a catalyst for stories.
Begin by asking questions about your parents, grandparents, and, if possible, great-grandparents, and basic knowledge will open up behind them. The basic information to be specified includes the full names of parents and the names of brothers and sisters, places of birth and dates of birth, places or even addresses, nationalities and ethnicities, professions, education, military service and where relatives are buried.
This is the moment you have been waiting for – the ability to finally use all the information you collect to search the Internet. New resources and services are regularly added to popular genealogy sites, including FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, and Archives.com.
Smolenyak suggests starting with the free non-profit FamilySearch Mormon church, the world’s largest genealogy organization. “They have been collecting recordings from around the world for nearly 100 years and digitizing their collection into tens of millions of recordings per week,” says Smolenyak.
Browse through the FamilySearch catalog of genealogy materials (including books, online materials, microfilms, and publications) and make a free request to the nearest family history center (usually in regional archives), where you can view documents in person.
Extensive kits for testing the ancestor of DNA, you will discover the migration paths of your ancient ancestors that follow thousands of years ago, and you will learn the details of your ancestral roots – their branch on the family tree.
When choosing a DNA testing service specifically for ancestral research, find one with a large database of test people, as well as a free repository of DNA samples (if you want to order another test later), as well as online support and tutorials.
Remember to use your favorite social networking sites such as Facebook. In addition to finding and connecting people who share your ancestral names, look for local organizations, public libraries and archives, guides and genealogy related services in your ancestor’s hometown.
“When I started to study family history, I had to correspond through letters by land mail and translate them,” says Smolenyuk. “But now … you can find people who are from a region where you think where your ancestors came from. Even if they are not related to you, they will often be useful, and talk to your local priest or officials and ask if they can find records for you.”
Manage your expectations
Television shows about searching for the genealogy of celebrities unnecessarily raise expectations that each quest will open a famous (or shameful) ancestor, such as the tenth great-grandmother of actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who escaped death in the trials of the Salem witches. For most people, including celebrities, the discovered ancestors and the lives they spent will be more mundane.
“Most of us came from ordinary people – people who have changed lives that we can enjoy today,” she explains. “There is remarkable satisfaction in developing our own family stories. Each record that we find represents something that would seem insignificant, but sometimes these events were life changes for our ancestors and, therefore, for us.”
Use the historical information you have collected to write an interesting version of your genealogy story.
In many ways, traveling to the place where your ancestors came from will be the reward for all your hard work.
One of the questions I often get about tracking family history is “How long does it take?” Smolenyak says. “Well, the further you go, the more you have ancestors, so it can be an endless game. This is your personal secret of history. You will not want the book to ever end. You can abandon your great-great-great-grandfathers, but I bet you won’t. There is always another ancestor worth pursuing and another place that could be seen.”
One should definitely listen to these cool and understandable tips, and at the same time, add one more point – do not stop on the path without including state archives in the search. Given the specifics of the archival sphere of our country and neighboring countries, where a significant part of the documents are stored in an un-digitized state, it is impossible to do without trips or requests to the archives. Therefore, be patient and persistent.
Good luck in finding.