Genealogists are specialized historians, but many of us have become hobby genealogists lately. With access to historical data being increased all the time, and social channels suddenly enabling us to connect with potential family members across town or across the globe, it's a lot more fun and much easier to go on the hunt for family and history.
Here are some of the tricks that the professionals use to build a family tree. Many of the resources available are free or low-cost, requiring nothing more than your time, interest and dedication. So start your search now, and soon you may find a surprising history or at least a few family members you didn't know you had.
Look in Your Own Backyard
Before you start from scratch, look for some of the most obvious solutions in your own home and community. Is there a family Bible with a family tree in it, or a fastidious aunt who keeps excellent records? Sources like these are always the best to begin with, but you can also consult your local historical society or museum, or even your local library, which might keep a surprising amount of archival data. Often, ethnic communities maintain good records, so look to cultural centers that represent your ethnicity for any specialized records and family trees that they might maintain.
Once you've picked the low-hanging fruit, it's time to turn to some tried-and-true methods. You can count on newspaper obituaries to provide a number of clues, and now, many obituary databases can be quickly scanned for information. Since deaths, births and marriages are recorded by city or county agencies, you can often access records by knowing a person's name, date of death, and city and county and simply querying Google with this information. You can also find out quite a bit of information about the deceased at cemeteries and via cemetery records online.
Of course, many of these records are easier to access through genealogy software programs. These programs pull together many databases and provide you access to them sometimes for free, at least for a trial period, and others for a fee. These programs can also help you keep your family tree information in order. Some even have fancy and interesting graphics that add excitement and interest to the tree as you build on it. You can spend a little or a lot on these programs, depending on how deep you want to search, how extensive you want your family tree to be, and how fancy you like your graphics.
Whether you choose to use genealogy software or you keep digging on your own, you'll start to require access to more sophisticated records to verify information that you've found and to get clues to new information. Census records are rich with information and relatively easy to find if you go back long enough.
You may also wind up at historical societies or libraries in other towns or countries. Remember that libraries are getting more digitized all the time, so before you buy a plane ticket, call the library or facility to see if they can give you access to information over the phone or through a database.
You may get lucky and bump into a second cousin who is working on her own family tree and now you can compare notes. This happens more often than you'd think, and it can deliver a lot of excitement to your search.
As you become a better sleuth, you'll learn new tricks to dig up information. Enjoy your journey, and remember to keep good notes.