Building a family tree takes a lot of steps in many different directions. My first step was to build my tree back, primarily ignoring siblings and spouses, in an effort to find my Scottish immigrant ancestors. Then I realized that building trees sideways and down can sometimes yield clues that can lead to more ancestors. The second step was filling out those branches.
The third step was to join the West Florida Genealogical Society. What a happy coincidence that the day I happened to pick to go to the genealogical library for the first time was the day they were holding a meeting! I learned about so many resources that day, I marched right over to the table to plunk down my membership fee. Then I realized I had so many relatives who had, at one time or another, lived in Baldwin County, Alabama, that I joined that society, too.
The fourth step was realizing that a DNA test I’d done almost as a lark (I won the test from a blog before I ever started this family tree-building business) could actually be a valuable tool for genealogy. Warning: When the DNA bug bites, you may find yourself obsessing over adding your DNA to every major database and figuring out who else in the family you should test.
Of course, the more I learned, the more I realized I needed to learn. The fifth step was watching webinars and YouTube videos. Legacy Family Tree offers a couple of new programs every week that anyone can watch for free for a limited time. Since the pandemic began, I’ve found several state genealogical societies that provide free webinars once or twice a week. (Georgia, Southern California, and Florida are some of my favorites.)
Hmm, let’s see, what have I left out?
6. Talking to family members – My mom has been a valuable source for information, both about the past and about current kin. (She’ll say, “I talked to Cousin X” and then give me a rundown of all their grandchildren.)
7. Preserving photos and documents – I’m way behind on my scanning; every time I go to my mom’s house, she hands me another stack of pictures. Once the photos are scanned as TIFs, they also need to be converted to JPGs and uploaded to FamilySearch, family Facebook groups, or just emailed around to share.
8. Putting all that learning (Steps 3 and 5) to use – It’s important to follow the steps laid out in seminars by our fellow family historians. Search the unindexed records. Order files from the National Archives. Build a LEEDS Method chart for DNA matches.
9. Share your knowledge – Send an email to your cousins. Keep a blog or a handwritten journal. Type up a newsletter. Write a book. Don’t just keep your findings in your mind or in a box. Put it out there for everyone in your extended family. Even if they don’t seem interested today, they may come back to it later. Besides, you don’t want all your research going to waste and dying when you do.
10. Update your trees – As you learn more, keep all your family trees current. I’m assuming you have them on several websites, like I do. For one thing, your tree will be seen by others, or it may be used by Ancestry or MyHeritage for their ThruLines and Theory of Family Relativity tools. Any errors will be magnified exponentially on potentially dozens of family trees, and the more thorough and accurate your trees are, the better chance you have of finding new cousins who may be able to help you advance the family history.