Researching and charting genealogy and family trees along with researching family history is probably one of the fastest growing hobbies and pastimes right now. This is largely due to the proliferation of personal computers (PCs) and the establishment of the World Wide Web (WWW).
My mother piqued my interest in the subject many years ago with her interest in our family history. She kept her research and information mainly on spiral bound paper tablets and 3×5 file cards. Needless to say she spent much of her time just filing and retrieving notes, names and dates.
Getting started nowadays is much faster and easier with the use of PCs. The information that required banks of file cabinets years ago can now be contained on a hard drive or a few flash drives. Retrieving notes and information that could take hour’s years ago now takes only seconds.
In addition to the interest in determining who our ancestors are and how they lived and the good times and hard times they experienced are the benefits of determining family genetic medical conditions, tracking of land and personal property ownership through deeds, land grants, wills, etc. These are all additional benefits that come with genealogical research.
GENEALOGY SUPPLIES – Getting Started
In addition to a PC which most of us have access to, probably the most basic of genealogy supplies would be the software required to record and retrieve names, dates and notes on ancestors. There are many brands available with various features and shortcomings.
Some common brands are Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic, Gramps, Reunion for Mac, Family Historian, Brother’s Keeper, GeneWeb, Family Tree Maker, etc. Some of those are free and some require a purchase.
I began many years ago with Family Tree Maker (FTM) and although I upgraded once to a newer version I have found it to do everything that I have needed and then some. I am currently using FTM version 10 and I only use about half of the features available with that version such as scrapbooks, photos, books, calendar, etc.
Paper family tree charts are also available but I have found them to be of limited use in my research. They may make attractive wall decorations for small trees or branches of trees but are unwieldy and time-consuming for large trees.
This is especially the case when you realize that you have to add or delete an ancestor to an established tree which requires erasing or otherwise removing the names of an entire branch or branches so that you can add a missing ancestor or delete an ancestor that shouldn’t have been included. Each time you want to observe the tree or make an addition or deletion it often requires unfolding and refolding large sheets of paper and then finding a place to store them unless you have a wall(s) large enough to hang them on.
Reviews of various software brands are available online and links to various software retailers are available elsewhere on familyrootstobranches.com.
FAMILY GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH – Sources of Information
Online websites –
- Many online genealogy sites offer some free information but usually require the purchase of a monthly or annual subscription to gain full access and some are entirely free and others are a combination of both. The website Family Tree University offers a pretty comprehensive listing of the “25 Best Genealogy Websites for Beginners” of both paid for and free sites.
- Probably the pre-eminent organization involved in genealogy would be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). Their site can be located at FamilySearch.
- Other informative sites of organizations are those of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and National Society Sons of the American Revolution (NSSAR).
- Other useful sites are those of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), National Genealogical Society, National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, etc. If you search for “genealogical organizations” you will find many more.
Public Rescources –
- The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. They maintain a vast amount of historical information and also maintain U. S. census records which can be an invaluable tool for identifying and locating ancestors. Some census records are also available at some “Online websites”.
- Nearly all states maintain archives which can be accessed by searching the various states by “archives”.
- Some of the most valuable and accurate information that I have accessed has been from county and local genealogical and historical websites. An example would be the Somerset County Pennsylvania Genealogy website which you can examine at Somerset County, PAGenWeb Project . Somerset County is where many of my ancestors were from. Most counties in the U. S. have some society or association that maintains a website dedicated to genealogical research and most of them can be accessed by searching by the county and state name and the words “genealogy”, “historical society”, etc.
- Another extremely valuable public source is the Allen County Public Library located in Fort Wayne, IN. Their website can be accessed at Allen County Public Library It is said to hold genealogical material second only to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Much information can be accessed online but nothing compares to a personal visit.
Colleges, universities and libraries –
- Many colleges, universities and public libraries maintain historical information that is valuable to genealogists. An example would be the Detroit Public Library’s Burton Historical Collection which can be accessed at Detroit Public Library Burton Historical Collection. University libraries many times are also excellent sources of historical and genealogical information.
- Thousands of books are available that include genealogical information. Many of these can be located using WorldCat. I was genuinely surprised at the volume of genealogical information that was recorded centuries ago although much, but not all of it, was of royalty.
Individuals and family members –
- Many families include family members who have undertaken the task of establishing family trees. Much of the information can be very accurate but depending on who is doing the research and how dedicated they are to accuracy some information can be very misleading so you have to be careful to corroborate what you can. Much information can be gleaned from a family Bible if available and that is usually pretty accurate as it was usually entered at the time an event (birth, death, baptism, christening, wedding, etc.) took place. One thing to keep in mind is that many of our ancestors were illiterate or semi-literate so many family names were based on a phonetic spelling.
GENEALOGY TRAINING – Can It Advance Your Research?
Formal Genealogy Training is available online and offline. Is it worth the cost? It depends largely on what it is that you feel the need for additional knowledge with.
As an example, some anecdotal information was found that there might be an ancestral connection to a prominent Native American chief and family to my wife’s branch of our tree.
Not being familiar with Native American ancestry and records keeping I found an online source for training in that area which was highly informative and was helpful in confirming a Native American connection to my wife’s family.
My training was very informal and did not result in a diploma or certificate but was helpful in advancing my research although there are programs available that can result in a certification. Links to sources of training are available elsewhere on familyrootstobranches.com.
GENEALOGY DNA TESTING – Is It Worth the Cost?
DNA testing is the latest “fad” to come along in the genealogical world. Although in the commercials it is hyped as a cure-all to determining your ancestry I have found it to be of limited value in my family history research. My wife and I had our DNA tested, partly due to some evidence of Native American connections on my wife’s side. However, the results created more questions than they answered.
Unless you are intimately acquainted with DNA terminology or have access to someone who is, the results can be confusing if not misleading. There are several types of DNA tests that can be done and several companies that are now offering the tests. The basic tests are moderately priced (usually around $100) but can get quite expensive for the more involved tests. My advice is that if you have the money to spend and are interested in the novelty of the thing go for it but don’t expect it to do much to advance your family history research, at least at this time.
I had my DNA tested several years ago. The report that estimated my ethnicity came back and the results were very surprising compared to the information that I had obtained over the 20 or so years that I have been researching my family. They showed connections to regions that I had not recorded a single ancestor from.
Then very recently I received an update from the company that had done the testing. They explained that with newer technology and now with 16,000 samples compared to the 3,000 they had when my test was done they can now separate different regions of the earth more accurately. The results of the update more closely coincided with my research but I wouldn’t be surprised if I get more precise updates in the future as there are still some glaring discrepancies between their results and my research. Bottom line is, if you are curious enough to spend the money go ahead with the test but take the results with a “grain of salt”. I expect that with further development of technology and additional samples there will probably be more accuracy in the future.
One of the positive results of our tests was that they connected us with some “cousins” who were also doing research on our respective families and who were able to assist us with some missing information. Another benefit is that it can be useful in locating missing family members if that is the purpose and goal of your research.
Also keep in mind that more and more DNA testing companies are sharing information with governmental agencies, i.e. F.B.I, C.I.A., etc., so if you are concerned about your information going to “Big Brother” you may want to resist the temptation to have your DNA tested, or, at the very least, request that your information not be shared if that is an option with the testing company.
Wikipedia has an interesting article on the subject of DNA testing at Wikipedia Genealogical DNA Test.
Links to some DNA testing companies and DNA testing company reviews are available elsewhere on familyrootstobranches.com.
Summing it up I would say that discovering your ancestors and learning about how they lived was never so quick and easy. It’s almost addictive once you get started. You will also be surprised at how many famous and influential people you are related to and how many living “cousins” you have. There will never be a better time to get started than right now! If I can be of further assistance please leave a comment.
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