Getting Started on Your Family Tree

Have you been curious about whether any of your ancestors fought in the Civil War or where your family first settled upon arriving in the United States? Maybe you have questions you’d love to answer, but you just don’t know where to begin.

Genealogist and library staff member Tim Dollens, offers these tips on how to get the ball rolling on your family research.

  • Start with the current generation, then go back one generation at a time. So, begin with yourself. Write down what you know, dig through old photographs to see what information may be written on them, read through family bibles and look at any family documents you have. Old grade cards can reveal information that may be useful; so can birth certificates and marriage licenses.
  • Next, talk to family members about what they know and see what old documents and photos they have. As you go through this process, you may get differing information about the same person or event. Take note of these variations and look for other documents which may clarify a story. Pinning down someone’s maiden name, birthplace, etc. may assist you in future searches.
  • If you have a less common surname, do an online search and see what you find. You may discover that an unknown relative has already filled in some of your family tree and you can use it to confirm details and add to what you know.
  • There are numerous online resources these days that provide you with free family group sheets, let you research census records and offer other useful data. Two good resources that you can use for free through the library are HeritageQuest and Library cardholders can use HeritageQuest from anywhere, and on the library’s computers.
  • Throughout the year, our libraries offer classes on various genealogy topics and drop-in sessions where you can ask Tim specific questions about your efforts.

Researching your family tree can be challenging, rewarding and surprising.  Following the simple steps outlined above and using library resources can get you well on your way to uncovering your family’s heritage.