One of the most fun and rewarding family projects any clan can engage in is family history research. Finding exactly who and where you came from will help you connect the links in an ageless chain.
Getting started can seem daunting. It needn't be. There are so many resources out there to help once you are ready. But there is a lot you can gather and organize right in your own home.
Here are some tips to get you started.
Keep a family journal and scrapbook
Family history is not just about the past. It is about record keeping for the future. Keep a record in a common area that everyone can contribute to. In this log, write down important life events — births, baptisms, school awards, athletic letters earned, first dates, first kisses, causes and campaigns anyone was a part of, job promotions and things like that. If there is a document to go along with any of these, make a photocopy and put it in an accompanying scrapbook. Also keep the journal and scans on a disc or stick for safekeeping. Update regularly. Encourage family members to do things in a timely manner and not get behind thus having to guess at dates.
Encourage all family members to keep their own journal and scrapbook
By scrapbook, I don't mean expensive binders and papers and all the fancy trims. Simple documents and clippings, report cards, first pay stubs, school photos and the like kept in some sort of durable binder. Journal needn't be expensive, but should be acid-free paper to last.
Start with four generations
Most people can fill out a four-generation pedigree chart. A pedigree chart is a tree that starts with one person, then their parents, their grandparents, their great-grandparents, and so on. Fill in what you can remember and research the rest through living family members.
Fill in the family group records next
While the pedigree chart lists couples, family grouprecords take those couples and add their children. By doing this, you are remembering and honoring entire families and not just seeing how far back you can go.
Names and dates are great, but they are not the stuff families are made of. Get the stories. Every family is rich with stories that must be carried on. Speak to oldest family members first and interview them. These stories should be collected and written in a separate journal. This links you to 150+ terrific questions to ask when you interview family members. Let them tell you their stories, also.
Organize some sort of filing system as you collect more and more information. You can color code by family surname or generation. Do what works for you. Just keep careful track of irreplaceable documents.
Extend the work
Once you have your four generations with family group records complete, it's time to delve into the fun stuff. There are lots of sites to help you gather older information online. Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, FamilySearch.org are all great places to begin. You can also find a comprehensive list of resources on CyndisList.com. Some of these sites charge, others are free. But all are great places to gather information. Most of these sites allow you to record your information where you can look at it, and some even allow photos and places to records stories.
Other places to investigate
Census records, church records, obituaries, FindAGrave.com has 112M and counting photos of headstones, draft records, ships manifests, and tons more. Assign family members, who are old enough to research, a name and let them go to town. Kids are so tech savvy now, and this is a great outlet for all that know-how.
If your family doesn't have ongoing family reunions, organize one. Set it up a year in advance to allow folks from far away to schedule vacation time around it. Organize it well and have blank pedigree charts and family group records for everyone to fill out and share. Invite them to bring photos and have a scanner handy to make copies. Take time to interview your kin and let them tell you their stories.
Family history is a fun adventure and a great way to bring family together in a common quest. Working on it can be fun and exciting. Let the kids be detectives and give them clues. Gather, organize and share. Some families even have their research bound in hardback books to share. Enjoy the trip down memory lane and you'll be surprised what you find. One of my lines dates back to 500 AD. And the stories are priceless.