Who are you, really? While I’m sure you can rattle off a long list of accomplishments in order to define yourself, I want you to dig just a little bit deeper. What traits and talents run through your blood-line? What similarities do you share with your parents or grandparents? Height, weight and eye-color aren’t the only things you may have in common. Tracing your roots takes you on a wild ride to some unexpected places. Through my own search I’ve discovered the fascinating – one of my great grandfathers took part in the Underground Railroad; the weird – one stowed away on a ship to America hidden in a pickle barrel; and the unbelievable – both my father and my grandfather died on their 68th birthdays. Besides giving me some great stories to tell, researching my ancestry has added to my life in a variety of ways, and so far, it hasn’t cost me a penny! Here are some helpful hints to help you get started for free!
Create a Family Tree Online:
Begin by setting up a database on one of the online genealogy websites. This will help you keep track of the information you discover. Both ancestry.com and genealogy.com allow you to set-up a family tree at no cost. Start by adding in the names and birth dates of all the family members you can remember. I set up my own tree just concentrating strictly on grandparents because it was too overwhelming to include aunts, uncles and cousins; but if you don’t mind swimming in a sea of information, then by all means, include everyone. The more people you have, the more interesting stories you’ll have to tell!
Become an Archeologist, of sorts:
Once you have the basic information down, it’s time to dig deeper. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers an amazing resource at familysearch.org. Put the names and birth dates of the family members you already know into their search engine and many times it will reveal their parent’s names and birth dates. Once you get on the right thread of information, you’ll be amazed at how far back you can go. I’ve been able to trace my mother’s family all the way back to the 1500’s!
Another good tool is rootsweb.com. It offers a multitude of resources. You can access databases from around the world, and if you live in the United States, you can even narrow your search down to the exact county your ancestors resided in! Birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, military, court and property records can all provide you with a wealth of information. You’ll be amazed at the treasures you’ll unearth.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and sometimes you can track down old family photos on the web. It’s a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack, but the payoff is big when you do find one. Photo sites like deadfred.com can be very helpful. There’s a strange satisfaction in looking at a photo of your great-grandmother only to realize that her eyes are the same as yours! The more prominent your ancestor, the more likely it will be that there’s a picture floating around out there somewhere.
Become a Prospector, of sorts:
This is where the real gold can be found. While your ancestor may be long gone, many times the old stories about them are still alive and well. These accounts help you to gain insight into your ancestor’s own unique personalities and life histories. The best way to find this information is on the message boards. Remember, people all over the world are searching for their ancestors too, so the message boards offer you the chance collaborate, compare information, and make some new friends along the way. All the major genealogy sites have message boards, including ancestry.com and genealogy.com. Just be sure to try to verify the information you receive – double check that all the dates coincide with your own research and, if possible, confirm stories from several sources. This is my favorite part because it brings the names and dates from your database to life – and you realize that these were real people, with successes and failures, love and heartbreak – just like you.
Finally, with more and more people creating their own websites, you can use a regular search engine to do a search of family name websites. Put in the “Smith Family” and see what pops up. Sometimes someone else has already done the leg-work for you and all you have to do is discover their tree! I recommend doing this only after you’ve already done your own research – then you can use the information in your own database to validate the connections and check for accuracy.
Genealogy is a fun and productive way to spend your time – but it’s also more than that. It allows us to see the world in a larger perspective, reach outside of our own circumstances, and know ourselves in a deeper and more personal way. Our people have lived through wars, widespread disease and recessions – and they still managed to survive – and so can we. It’s a strong message that empowers us. And you can begin your own journey for free right now. Check it out and then please come back to this post and share your findings! We can’t to find out what you’ve discovered!
Copyright © 2012 marciwise.com. Material is copyrighted but free to repost as long as proper credit is listed, including our website address. Marci Wise is the author of Pain, Passion & Purpose. “Like” us on Facebook.