6 Tips to Get Started Researching Your Family History

Introduction: Sarah Brooks, from Freepeoplesearch.org, is a Houston-based freelance writer and blogger. Questions and comments can be sent to her at: brooks.sarah23@gmail.com. In this guest blog post, Sarah provides some basic tips on doing your own genealogy.

Researching your family history can be both fun and gratifying. For some genealogists, this research is simply a way to complete an individual family tree by filling in missing names and dates. However, many family historians want to go farther than just collecting vital statistics. For them, the purpose of genealogy research is to get a better understanding of their family stories, family member personalities, and the unique cities, towns, and communities surrounding their relatives.

Whatever your reasons are for researching your family history, the effort will be challenging, time consuming—and worthwhile. Follow these tips to make your genealogy research as fun, rewarding, and easy as possible.

1) Gather Family Documents, Pictures, and Notes

To start your family history search, begin at home. Gather all of the family pictures, letters, and documents you currently have and organize them in archival, acid-free boxes and folders.

photo of archival boxes and folders

Source: Texas State Library & Archives Commission

Next, begin taking detailed notes on what you already know about your family. From where did your family emigrate? Where did they settle? What marriages and children do you know about? After collecting everything immediately available to you, it’s time to move on to the next steps in your genealogy research.

2) Interview Living Relatives

The most knowledgeable and accessible sources of information about your family are your relatives, so you should interview them as part of your family history search. In particular, the oldest surviving relatives in your family—grandparents, great grandparents, and great aunts or uncles—know a great deal about your family’s history and will probably be able to help the most in piecing together your family history.

Depending on what your relatives are comfortable with, you can bring a tape recorder, camera, video camera or just a notebook and pen to fully document the interviews and get as much input as possible from the older generation. While written content on family history is always valuable, so are images, audio, and video, which supplement your notes and capture each family member’s appearance and personality. Ultimately, this multimedia approach to interviewing can help bring your family stories to life.

3) Document Your Family Tree

Finally, as you interview your relatives, begin filling out your family tree. You can design your own family tree as the interviews unfold, or use a pre-designed family tree template to fill in the blanks. GenealogyBank offers a free digital family tree that can be edited with Microsoft PowerPoint. Just visit: “Family Tree Template—Free Download.” Once you are finished filling out the names and dates on the family tree chart in PowerPoint, you can easily print it out. That way you can create both digital and paper copies of your family tree.

photo of a family tree template

4) Back Up Your Genealogy Work!

As much as possible, preserve your genealogy material in different formats and places: store paper copies in archival boxes and folders; and digital copies on your computer’s hard drive, on various websites such as Scribd.com and Pinterest, and on “cloud” online storage sites such as Dropbox, Carbonite, Evernote and Mozy.

5) Find Good Genealogy Sources

After you interview relatives and record their family stories, you should then find additional genealogy sources to corroborate facts, fill in the blanks, and add additional stories. A great place to begin searching for secondary source information is through old newspapers. GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives, for example, offer more than 6,500 historical newspapers that date from 1690 to the present.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's newspaper search page

Historical newspapers are a great way to learn your ancestors’ stories, as they are filled with obituaries, marriage announcements, birth notices, and local news stories that are crucial to understanding and piecing together family history. Obituaries, in particular, can provide valuable information about an individual’s past.

In addition to searching online newspapers, you can also visit libraries in the towns where your ancestors lived. These visits allow you to search local publications, conduct interviews with clerks and historians, and view census information first-hand. Military records and even medical documents are sometimes available for your review. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also maintains an excellent database for genealogical records that can be a big help in your family history research.

6) Filling Gaps and Building Your Family Tree

The key to creating a full, detailed family tree is to be persistent in your search. New information about individuals and communities becomes available regularly, so it might be just a matter of time before you solve family mysteries and fill all the gaps in your family tree.

Whether your ancestral quest is a short-term project or a life-long passion, persistence and creative thinking will lead you to new and fascinating information about your family history.

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Perfect Holiday Gift for Genealogists: GenealogyBank Membership

Christmas is two weeks from today; are you looking for last minute Christmas gifts? Perhaps you’re looking for that perfect Christmas gift for the genealogist on your shopping list? Maybe a Christmas gift for grandma…or something for the whole family?

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Here’s a great genealogy gift to give this holiday: GenealogyBank is now offering Gift Memberships!

It’s quick and easy to give a GenealogyBank Gift Membership: just click here to get started.

Vital records give you the names and dates to fill in your family tree—but newspapers give you the stories to get to know your ancestors: the lives they led and the times they lived in. Our Gift Membership lets you give an annual ALL-ACCESS pass to more than 6,500 online newspapers, with over 220 million obituaries and more than 1 billion articles and records!

And there’s more: our genealogy website’s expansive online archives also contain rare books, personal writings, military records, official government documents and more rich material for in-depth ancestry research.

With a gift membership to our website, your loved one can trace their family tree back in time over three centuries, with historical records that are exclusively available in GenealogyBank’s ever-growing digital archive collections.

Questions about our genealogy Gift Memberships? We’re here to help. Call a member of our friendly support staff toll free at 1-866-641-3297 Mon-Fri 10am-7pm U.S. EST or email us anytime at gbsupport@genealogybank.com.

Watch Our Genealogy Tutorial Videos on YouTube

Did you know that we have a YouTube channel where you can watch hours of video that will help you do better genealogy research? Many of these in-depth genealogy videos are recordings of previous online webinars in which our expert in-house genealogist and Director of Genealogy Products Tom Kemp demonstrates how to find your ancestors using GenealogyBank. Discover the types of ancestry records that are in newspapers and how to gather the clues they contain to trace your family tree, and so much more, in our helpful genealogy tutorial videos.

screenshot of GenealogyBank genealogy tutorial videos on YouTube

Visit our genealogy videos page on YouTube to start watching now! While you are there make sure to subscribe to our channel by clicking the red “Subscribe” button in the right corner of the page because we will be adding many more videos soon. Enjoy and stay tuned!

Celebrate Independence Day by Honoring Our American Ancestors

Cheers to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—and to our brave American ancestors who fought for our freedom! Amidst the festivities and fireworks of this 4th of July holiday, take time to remember those heroic American revolutionaries that came before us, boldly paving the paths for our futures.

To The People of the United 13 Colonies - July 6, 1776

Freeman’s Journal (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 6 July 1776, page 2.

GenealogyBank is one of the best online resources available to trace your family history back to your American Colonial and Revolutionary roots. Our historical archives contain hundreds of thousands of articles from the Colonial and Revolutionary periods. Many of these records from the 1600s and 1700s are exclusive to our online collections, making GenealogyBank a prime location to explore your early American ancestry.

Happy 4th of July, 2013, to all our fellow Americans! Raise your head, your flag, your glass and salute each other and our ancestors. Dig into GenealogyBank’s genealogy records and discover the early American heroes in your family tree.

To read the above historical newspaper article about the Declaration of Independence in full, visit To The People of the Thirteen Colonies.

Abraham Lincoln: The Life of a Legend Infographic

Click the image for the even bigger full-size version of the Lincoln Infographic
Abraham Lincoln Family Tree Genealogy Infographic

Born

Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809, at Sinking Springs farm in Hodgenville, KY, inside a log cabin.

Family

Parents

Abraham Lincoln’s father was Thomas Lincoln. He was born January 6, 1778, and died January 17, 1851. He was a carpenter, farmer and manual laborer of meager means.

Abe’s mother was Nancy (Hanks) Lincoln. She was born February 5, 1784, and died October 5, 1818. Lincoln was 9 years old when his mother died due to an illness.

Siblings

Lincoln had an older sister and a younger brother. His sister Sarah (Lincoln) Grigsby was born February 10, 1807. She married Aaron Grigsby on August 2, 1826. She was 20 years old when she died January 20, 1828, during childbirth. The two were very close, sharing a deep affection for each another. A friend and brother-in-law to Abe, Nathaniel Grigsby, stated the following about his sister-in-law Sarah:

“She could, like her brother, meet and greet a person with the kindest greeting in the world, make you easy at the touch of a word, an intellectual and intelligent woman.”

Abe’s brother Thomas Lincoln Jr. was born in 1812 and only lived three days before he died.

Stepfamily

Thomas Lincoln remarried on December 2, 1819 to Sarah Bush. She was born December 13, 1788, and died April 12, 1869. Her previous husband, Daniel Johnston, died a couple of years before Nancy (Hanks) Lincoln’s death.

After marrying Thomas, Sarah took care of his children Sarah and Abe. It is said that she was a good mother and treated Sarah and Abe as her own children. She and Abe were reportedly close.

Sarah also brought along three children from her previous marriage to Daniel, and they became Abe’s new stepsiblings: Elizabeth Johnston (13 years old), Matilda Johnston (10), and John Johnston (9). Since Abe and John were close in age they became playmates.

Wife

At the age of 33 Abe married Mary Todd, a bright belle from a wealthy family, on November 4, 1842. It was the first and only marriage for both Mary and Abe. The couple remained married 22 years until Lincoln’s death.

Children

The couple had four sons. The first son was Robert Todd Lincoln. He was born August 1, 1843, and died July 26, 1926, at the ripe old age of 82. He was an American lawyer and served as Secretary of the War Department.

Their second son, Edward Baker Lincoln, was born March 10, 1846, and died February 1, 1850, at the age of 3. A week after Eddie’s death, Mary and Abraham wrote a poem (though authorship is sometimes questioned) entitled “Little Eddie.” It was printed in the Illinois State Journal newspaper.

Their third child, William Wallace Lincoln, was born December 21, 1850. He died February 20, 1862, at the age of 11 due to illness. Abe was deeply affected by his death and did not return to work for three weeks.

Thomas Lincoln was Abe and Mary’s youngest son. He was born April 4, 1853, and died July 15, 1871, at the age of 18. He was nicknamed “Tad” by Abe who found Thomas “as wriggly as a tadpole” when he was a baby.

Resided

Kentucky 1809-1816

From 1809-1816 Lincoln lived in Kentucky on two farms. He first resided on Sinking Spring farm where he was born, and later moved a few miles away to Knob Creek.

Indiana 1816-1830

Because of disputed titles to Thomas Lincoln’s Kentucky land, the Lincolns headed north to settle in the wilderness of southern Indiana in December of 1816. Lincoln was 7 upon his arrival in Indiana and would remain there until 1830, well into his early adulthood.

Illinois 1831-1861

In 1831 the Lincolns headed west by ox-cart teams to Illinois. This would be Lincoln’s home for the next 30 years, until 1861. However, he did take an extended leave from 1847-1849, renting out his home in Springfield, IL, while staying in Washington, D.C., to serve his term in Congress.

Washington, D.C. 1847-1849, 1861-1865

In February of 1861, after Lincoln was elected president, he and his family moved into the White House in Washington, D.C.

Occupations

Abraham Lincoln was a man of many jobs. As a young man he ferried people and cargo down rivers on flatboats and steamboats. Later Abe worked as a clerk in general stores, and operated two stores he co-owned with William Franklin Berry. He was also employed as a postmaster and worked many odd jobs, including chopping wood, splitting rails, surveying, and mill working. In 1837 he began his law practice, which he continued for over 20 years.

Political Career

His career in politics began in 1834 when he was elected to the Illinois state legislature. After his initial term he was elected again in 1836, 1838, and 1840. In 1846 he was elected to the U.S. Congress as a Whig and served one term, from 1847 to 1849. On November 6th, 1860, Lincoln was elected as the 16th United States president as a Republican.

Hobbies

Animals

Lincoln had a soft spot for animals of all types, especially cats. When his wife Mary was asked if Abe had a hobby, she replied: “cats.” The Lincolns’ pets included a dog, cats, rabbits and two goats.

Storytelling

Lincoln loved to make people laugh and he was an excellent storyteller. Anyone who met him commented on his steady supply of anecdotes and jokes. His ability to charm and disarm was a key ingredient to his success in politics.

Reading

Lincoln had very limited formal education but he was self-taught and a voracious reader. He was known to walk for miles to borrow books from neighbors. Lincoln’s favorite reads as a boy included Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington, Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Aesop’s Fables.

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.”  —Abraham Lincoln

Inventing

Abraham Lincoln is the only U.S. president to hold a patent for an invention. It is filed as No. 6,469. He invented a floatation system to lift riverboats that were stuck on sandbars.

Presidential Timeline

The dates below mark some of the most notable milestones during Lincoln’s presidency.

April 12, 1861: Civil War Begins

After the first Confederate shots were fired on Union forces at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, Lincoln declared war on the rebellious states. The bloody conflict between the North and the South lasted until June 2, 1865.

January 1, 1863: Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation marked an important turning point in the Civil War, transforming the Union’s goal from one of preserving the nation’s unity into a fight for human freedom. The proclamation declared that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

November 19, 1863: Gettysburg Address Delivered

On November 19, 1863, just four months after the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address speech at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Newspapers throughout the country carried accounts of the Gettysburg Address and it was widely praised in the North. The speech remains one of the most famous and oft-recited in American history.

November 8, 1864: Re-elected as President

On November 8, 1864, Lincoln won the presidential election by over 400,000 popular votes. He was the first U.S. president to be re-elected since Andrew Jackson in 1832.

April 14, 1865: Assassinated at Ford’s Theatre

Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. He was shot in the back of the head while watching the popular comedy Our American Cousin. The assassin was well-known stage actor John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln was the first U.S. president to be assassinated.

Died

Lincoln died at the age of 56 on April 15, 1865, in the Peterson House at 453 10th Street, NW, Washington, D.C., from Booth’s gunshot to the back of his head.

There is so much more to the story of Abraham Lincoln’s legendary life. Discover the details of Lincoln’s life in over 1 billion historical records at GenealogyBank.com.

Sources

about.usps.com

abrahamlincolnonline.org

americaslibrary.gov

biography.com

hildene.org

history.com

lincoln.lib.niu.edu

memory.loc.gov

millercenter.org

nps.gov

opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com

smithsonianmag.com

thoughts.forbes.com

wikipedia.org

Image Credits

BerryLincolnStore.jpg by Amos Oliver Doyle / CC BY-SA 3.0

Abraham Lincoln’s U.S. Patent.jpg by David and Jessie / CC BY 2.0

Gettysburg Address, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division #cw0127p1