How do I begin to study my family tree?


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Learning about one's family history is an enjoyable, absorbing hobby. But knowing one's family history is also increasingly important for other reasons as well. There are sometimes medical or financial applications which are uncovered in the process of studying your family history. As the popularity of the hobby grows, it is also a wonderful means of meeting people- perhaps previously unknown family members and relatives, and making new friends.

Most families have an old "legend" about being related to an important historical figure or event, and most genealogical research is begun in the interest of proving the truth of their family's legend. Although this is often the means of setting people out on the quest for knowledge about their ancestry, it is not a reliable or helpful way to learn your family's "story".

Genealogical research relies, as much as possible, on facts; and the best way to build your family tree is to begin with what you know to be true. Start with yourself, then your parents and work backward from there, tracking birth, death and marriage dates and facts as they are already documented by someone else. Don't forget to "flesh out" your ancestors by including their photos and personal stories whenever you can. It's great to start by obtaining any of a number of books or software programs that will walk you through the process of setting up the outline of your family tree. That way, the pain-staking material that is common to everyone in the hobby has already been done for you, leaving you to get on with the fun part- the research!

There are many resources available for your trek into your ancestry. Your local library will no doubt have helpful books devoted to genealogy. Your county courthouse has records which will be necessary (if your family has been in the same location for awhile). Cemeteries also contain valuable information, if your know where a family member is buried.

Lastly, the internet has become an incredible resource for searching for information on your family's background. There are so many people and organizations posting information on the internet, that often it takes only a simple question on your favorite search engine to bring up useful facts. A disclaimer, at this point, is necessary however. When you use the internet for information on your family tree, keep in mind the "cardinal rule" of genealogical research: you must work from what you know to be true. There is unfortunately a fair amount of inaccuracy to be found in other people's "family history" as well. Sometimes people "fudge" on birth or death dates, or simply get the name of their ancestor mixed up with the information about someone else who had the same name. While there is plenty of free information to be obtained from the internet, there are also fee-based websites which have collected a vast database of information that would require you hours (or longer!) of frustrating work to find.

"Genealogy" may sound like a boring pursuit, but if you venture into this hobby you will find it addicting! Who knows where your journey will take you- and you may just find that old family legend to be true after all!