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Old 03-18-2012, 06:22 PM
 
Location: over there --->
133 posts, read 471,498 times
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I've decided to start researching my family tree, but I'm not sure how to organize everything. I don't want to buy anything expensive right now (access to databases, software, etc), and I'm not familiar with any of the free software downloads to know which ones are reputable and which ones aren't. I'm going to start with my maternal grandfather's family because that's the one I have the most information on at the moment and I think that will make my intro to genealogy easier. Any tips for a newbie?
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Old 03-18-2012, 07:11 PM
 
Location: Southeast Missouri
5,812 posts, read 17,671,988 times
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I use the Family Tree Maker software. It's a free download and I haven't had any major issues with it. Also, you can back it up on to a jump drive or something, in case you want to use it on more than one computer. Occasionally they have free software updates, and I usually do that. I've had a few glitches over the years, but nothing serious.

There are other free software programs which are probably good, too.

I don't subscribe to Ancestry. I use familysearch, Missouri death records database, Google, findagrave, and stuff like that. I can't afford ancestry.com, even though I'm sure it is good.
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Old 03-18-2012, 07:49 PM
 
Location: North Carolina
2,657 posts, read 7,592,808 times
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Check the links under the sticky threads Linicx posted. Sometimes a google search on a family name will reveal a tree already created by someone who shares a common ancestor with you (though, don't take the info as gospel!)

Ancestry gave me, as a newbie, an easy start to organizing names and dates, but I feel that I really "found" my ancestors with wider searches on the internet. County histories found in archive.org revealed details about some of the people, while web pages created by distant cousins, with pictures, letters and personal information gave me a more well-rounded view of my predecessors.
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Old 03-18-2012, 08:02 PM
 
Location: Georgia, USA
33,515 posts, read 35,341,307 times
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Start off with a software program to organize what you find.

Best Family Tree Software?

You will discover an overwhelming number of facts. Be prepared for information overload. Document where every fact comes from, even if it is Great Aunt Tilly's diary, or you will find your self backtracking through the same sources and wasting your time.

Back up your data frequently, ideally every time you close your program.

Collect as much information as you can from existing family and start filling in the tree with yourself. You will then go to your parents, their parents, and back through time. Interview your older relatives. Consider recording them. Genealogy software will allow you to attach the interviews to your tree. I have reached the age where my grandparents and everyone in their generation and my parents and most of their generation are gone. I have lost the chance to do that forever. If you are fortunate, you will find others in your family who are already doing research and will be willing to share. If they are serious, they will be documenting where they got their info. You will want to confirm it yourself, though.

As much as possible, you want to use primary sources, such as an actual birth or death certificate, rather than a secondary source which provides the opportunity for an error. This will mean that you will want to eventually visit places like Court Houses. Some states have digitized a lot of documents and made them available online; others not so much. Some records have been lost forever due to fires and the vicissitudes of war.

You will need to link each generation to the previous one. Common ways to do that are with census records, wills, and church records.

You can try just using Google with a name and a date.

There are message boards for surnames and locations:

RootsWeb.com Home Page

Genealogy.com: Password Help

Local libraries have genealogy information and states have archives.

When you have gotten what you can from your family, sign up for a two week free trial at Ancestry.com. Before you start, have a list of people you already know and their approximate dates of birth and death. Choose a time when you can spend hours on the computer. Fair warning! Genealogy is addictive! It will be 3 AM before you know it!

http://landing.ancestry.com/popularmedia/hs1.aspx

Here you will find the census records and many more documents. How useful the other material is depends on you are looking for. start with the Census.

You will also find family trees that may contain some of your ancestors. Use those family trees as a starting point for further research. Many trees you find at Ancestry.com and other internet sites contain errors. Some are innocent typos, others are due to people trying to link to famous people and forcing the data to show what they want it to. Some are just because there are so many people with the same name.

Speaking of names, your ancestors' names may be spelled differently in different documents. First names and middle names get flip flopped. People use initials. Old handwritten records are hard to read and errors happen when these records, including the Census, are transcribed for indices. Some people were illiterate and could not spell their own names and some people did not always spell their names the same way.

Browse this forum and you will get plenty of good suggestions for other sources and hints to make your search easier.

For most of us, the joy of the hunt, solving mysteries, is the most fascinating part of genealogy. We track down names and dates and places, but learning how our ancestors lived and fit into history is most satisfying.

Welcome to a wonderful hobby! Prepare to get hooked!
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Old 03-18-2012, 08:34 PM
 
Location: Pacific NW
6,413 posts, read 11,237,023 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by suzy_q2010 View Post
You will also find family trees that may contain some of your ancestors. Use those family trees as a starting point for further research. Many trees you find at Ancestry.com and other internet sites contain errors.
This is incorrect. EVERY tree you find anywhere contains errors. Mine included. We're all human, and make mistakes.

I'm also not aware (to respond to an earlier post) that Family Tree Maker is a free download. Most genealogical programs can be downloaded and tested for free, but you'll have to pay to continue using it.

I suggest reading a good beginning genealogy book, so you know something about the records you're going to be using and just what might be available out there. A lot of it is, but a whole lot more is NOT available on the internet. A good beginning "how to" book that's available on the internet is here.
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Old 03-18-2012, 09:57 PM
 
Location: Georgia, USA
33,515 posts, read 35,341,307 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EnricoV View Post
This is incorrect. EVERY tree you find anywhere contains errors. Mine included. We're all human, and make mistakes.
You are absolutely right. That is the reason my tree is not on the internet!
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Old 03-19-2012, 05:09 AM
 
Location: Colorado (PA at heart)
9,772 posts, read 15,721,485 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by STLCardsBlues1989 View Post
I use the Family Tree Maker software. It's a free download and I haven't had any major issues with it.
I think you must be confusing the name of your software as Family Tree Maker is most certainly not free. Family Tree Maker - or FTM for short - is produced by Ancestry.com and is not free:

Family Tree Maker 2012

You may be using Family Tree Builder, which is free software from Free Family Tree, Genealogy and Family History - MyHeritage.com and has a similar name.

My beginners guide for the OP:

1. First start with what you know. Right down the vital data (names, birth, marriage, and if deceased, their death details) of your parents and grandparents, if you know them.

2. Go to the oldest member of your family and ask what they know - for example, if the oldest member is a grandparent, confirm their own vital data and then ask for the vital data of their own parents and grandparents (your great and great, great grandparents).

3. Ask other family members what they know, even if they are not the oldest in the family. Sometimes, you'd be surprised by what they know. My mom had a lot of info on my dad's side of the family, for example.

4. At the same time, keep in mind that there is room for human error. The people you ask for info may get some dates or details wrong. Family stories of links to famous people or events are often merely rumors.

5. Get software to organize all your info. As I mentioned before, myheritage.com offers free software called Family Tree Builder. I started with it and it gets the job done. I'm now using Ancestry.com's Family Tree Maker because they have an invaluable records database and it's easiest to use their software if you're using their records database. Alternatively, FamilySearch.org also offers free software called Personal Ancestral File (PAF): https://www.familysearch.org/products
I haven't used it but it looks pretty basic to me.

6. Start searching. Like I say, Ancestry.com, though not cheap, has the most extensive records database online. Alternatively, FamilySearch.org has the biggest FREE records database online so this is a good place to start. Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records can also be helpful. Some newspaper databases online can be free. The Library of Congress is building a pretty extensive one, though they don't have all states yet: Historic American Newspapers - Chronicling America (The Library of Congress) but you can also find other, more local sources. For example, if you have PA ancestors, the Pennsylvania Digital Repository can be invaluable: Access Pennsylvania Digital Repository : Advanced Search
Sometimes, just googling an ancestors name can turn up useful results - I have found a couple transcribed obituaries this way.
Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music & Wayback Machine has dozens of early history books on local areas that your ancestors might be mentioned in.

7. Don't forget to search offline too. Not all records are available online. Check cemeteries, churches, BMD (birth, marriage, death) records, etc. Typically, BMD records can be found from the county courthouse.

BTW, I'm assuming you're American but you don't mention where you're from so if you're from another country, not all of these sources will apply to you, obviously.

8. As other's have mentioned, be wary of other trees put out there on the internet which may link to your own tree - they can serve as a good hint or starting point but they are often inaccurate and therefore you should not just copy and paste the info into your own tree. Use them as clues to then track down and confirm with reliable records.

9. Be aware that records can be wrong too. Censuses can especially be inaccurate since they were taken for demographic purposes and therefore enumerators weren't concerned with getting things like name spellings correct. Equally, death records can be off since the info on them was usually provided by a close living relative of the deceased - and believe it or not, sometimes they got it wrong.

10. For this reason, inspect every record before attaching it to your tree. Unless you have an ancestor with a very unique name, remember that there is more than one John Smith out there, for example. Make sure the info lines up with what you know.

11. Equally, don't make assumptions about anything - it's good to speculate and go search for proof of speculations but until you have a reliable source, preferably THREE reliable sources confirm the information, do not assume it's true. For example, don't assume that your ancestors were living in PA during the 1870 census just because they were living in PA during 1860 and 1880. I have a couple ancestors who moved around a LOT and sometimes returned back to where they left. PA, Ohio, back to PA. Don't get tunnel vision, you will inevitably come across surprises and if you don't look closely, you might mistakenly dismiss them.

12. Accept the fact that some documents may simply not exist. For example, before 1900, birth certificates weren't mandatory in the US. Some local governments or church records may have recorded them but not always. Also, the 1890 US Census was destroyed in a fire.

I think that's about it for now. This may have been a bit of an overload and some of the tips may not apply to you right away but will come in handy later.
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Old 03-19-2012, 06:29 AM
 
5,656 posts, read 18,277,441 times
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Personal ancestral file is available FREE from the latter day saints site: familysearch.org. It is not fancy, does nothing, but it is a place to get your information into and organize it. for FREE. If later you want tupgrade to the fancier software that does more stuff, you can export the data into a gedcomm file and import it into that other software.
All the other infor the other told you is true as well.
Another suggestion, whenever you do research, bring a calculator, sometimes the records will only include date of birth or just the age. You may have to do some addition, subtraction in order to figure out if the dates and correct for your ancestor.
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Old 03-19-2012, 09:38 AM
 
Location: Pacific NW
6,413 posts, read 11,237,023 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by suzy_q2010 View Post
You are absolutely right. That is the reason my tree is not on the internet!
"The man who never made a mistake, never made anything." is a quote I've always really agreed with, though I don't know who said it (or even if it's phrased properly).
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Old 03-19-2012, 09:42 AM
 
Location: Grosse Ile Michigan
29,563 posts, read 71,509,246 times
Reputation: 36790
Try the gardening thread.
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