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How Can I Find My Family Tree?

Learn how to find records of your genealogy and fill out your family tree.

To complete your family tree, first record what you already know about your family members. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
To complete your family tree, first record what you already know about your family members.

You probably know the names of your grandparents or even great-grandparents, but what about their ancestors? Thanks to resources on the Internet and the increasing availability of historical records, finding your family tree and researching your genealogy are easier than ever. While the task can seem overwhelming at first, there are a few basic steps that will help you manage the project.

Start With What You Know

First, record what you already know about your family members: their full names, birthdates and birthplaces, marriage dates and places, and death dates and places. You might find some family tree information in family photo albums, scrapbooks or other memorabilia. Next, interview your family members to collect their personal stories. These interviews may trigger your relatives' memories and bring more important facts about your family tree to light.

The next step is to check whether anyone else already has researched your family tree and compiled the information. Naturally, this would give you a great head start on your research. Once these resources are exhausted, you're ready to start searching for more information to add to your family tree. Years ago, this would have meant a trip to a library or official records office, but now much of this information is available online.

Online Genealogy Resources

There are many online resources for genealogy information. State archives or vital records offices have large collections of marriage, divorce, birth, death, military and other records.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics lists the contact information for these state offices.

In addition, there are many Web sites that specialize in genealogy. At FamilySearch.org, for example, you can find your family tree by searching family history Web sites, pedigree resource files, ancestral files, census information and more. To organize and share the family tree data you find, simply download the free personal ancestral file program.

The United States National Archives has records from every branch of the federal government and practical tips for those who are new to genealogy. You can order family tree records online, learn about genealogy workshops, find out how to hire an independent researcher, and much more.

The US GenWeb Project is another source for free online family tree help. The site is run by volunteers and has links to state genealogy project Web sites. Within each state page, you can search by county for information to round out your family tree.

Ancestry.com boasts a huge collection of online family history records, including the complete U.S. census collection, and extensive collections of U.S. military records and immigration records. Its historical records also include other family trees, voter lists, the Social Security death index, obituaries, U.S. passport applications, phone directories, U.S. General Land Office records, newspapers and periodicals, and more.

Ancestry.com allows you to start a family tree by entering basic facts about your family. Or, you can search billions of historical records for the specific information you need to fill in the blanks in your family tree. The Web site even offers an ancestry DNA test that can help you find your genetic cousins or your family's ancient origins.

Genealogy.com is another Web resource that can help you complete your family tree. It offers the Family Tree Maker Web Edition, which lets you start building a family tree simply by typing in a name, birth date and death date. The tool then prompts you for information about other relatives. Step-by-step instructions for recording or documenting your family tree also are available.

Like Ancestry.com, Genealogy.com allows you to search its data collections for information on your ancestors. You also can create a personal Web page to share your family tree information with family members and friends. Both of these family tree Web sites have helpful learning centers with basic genealogy information, as well as guides to help you navigate their Web sites. Access to the information and advice on these family tree Web sites comes at a price, however. Ancestry.com and Genealogy.com charge a fee for their services, offering different levels of membership. If you're considering using one of these online resources to find your family tree, consider trying a free trial membership before you commit to purchasing a membership.

Other Genealogy Resources

If you'd rather step away from your computer and gather family tree information in person, consider starting the search for your family tree at your local library or historical society. Many states, cities and even smaller towns have historical societies that allow the public to search their collections. Your can also visit the vital records office or courthouse in your area.

Additionally, there are many print resources to help you research and construct a genealogy. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy by Christine Rose and Kay Germaine Ingalls (Alpha) provides steps for finding family documents, help with using both online and paper resources, lists of genealogical archives and databases, and advice on how to avoid common mistakes and navigate past dead-ends.

Genealogy Online for Dummies by Matthew L. Helm and April Leigh Helm (For Dummies), and Genealogy Handbook: The Complete Guide to Tracing Your Family Tree by Ellen Galford (Readers Digest) explain how to find your family tree using Internet research tools.

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