Perhaps, no hobby or research effort has benefited more from the Internet than genealogy, according to David Burton, civic communication specialist, University of Missouri Extension.
“I began researching my father's family history in 1983. I struggled for five years to accurately trace my dad's family back three or four generations. The information came slowly after exhaustive manual searches of information,” said Burton. He then put his research aside after college but pulled it out again in 1999 and then decided to go electronic in his searches.
“After subscribing to several free genealogical listserves and electronically searching available databases, I was able to extend my father's family four more generations,” said Burton. He even located a gentleman through e-mail who had been doing research for 20-years and he helped Burton extend his family tree to his 10th great-grandfather.
“In a few months of evening work from home I extended my family tree further than all of my previous five years put together. None of this would have been possible using the conventional methods of family history research,” said Burton.
According to Burton, if you want to begin tracing your own family heritage, follow these tips:
- Start with just one branch of your family and go as far back as you can. Remember, you have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on. Go back 10 generations and you're talking about 1,024 people, not to mention all of their children.
- Begin with the most basic information about the person you know best: you. Move outward to your spouse, children, parents gathering full names, nicknames and birth, death and marriage dates. After learning all you can from your relatives it is time to visit the libraries, courthouses, cemeteries, and especially the Internet.
- Interview family members. Try to tape-record all interviews. It's more immediate than note-taking, and it guarantees you won't miss anything.
- "Trust but verify." Everyone loves a good story but a story gets better as it's retold. Not everyone came over on the Mayflower, married an Indian princess or fought at Gettysburg, even if your ancient Uncle Charles has been saying that for years. You can't believe everything you read (or hear). Check for inconsistencies, particularly with dates and find other sources to back up the old family legends.
- Be prepared to invest time in your search. You'll need to invest time in keeping yourself organized; in traveling to other cities and states in search of records, headstones, or other descendants; and in researching the historical times in which your ancestors lived.
- Get a basic book on doing family history. Become familiar with research techniques, proper documentation and some of the family history forms that are used.
- Use the Internet. You will be able to take advantage of other genealogists' work; compilations, lists, and archives; the accumulated family knowledge of other people with your last name; other researchers you can compare notes; and information on all aspects of this fascinating hobby. Check out a few of these sites for terrific links:
USGenWeb Project, a group of volunteers working together to provide Internet web sites for genealogical research in every county of the United States. The project is non-commercial and free although not every county has a site available, yet.
Cyndi's list of genealogy sites, a comprehensive site with over 29,000 genealogical links all categorized and cross-references. From this site you can post family queries, subscribe to list services, and research informational databases.
The Library of Congress, one of the world’s premier collections of genealogical publications.
The National Archives, finding aids, guides and research tools that can prepare you for a visit to one of the national archives.
One of our readers has been kind enough to share his expertise on researching family history. Please click here for comments regarding the use of obituaries in doing research.