OneGreatFamily Blog

  • Where Do I Start...

    Where Do I Start? How to Begin Building Your Family Tree

    Building a family tree is one of the best ways to really understand your family's history and where you came from. The problem is that you can't simply jump in without a little preparation and a lot of research. Here are some tips you can't miss on how you can get started growing your family tree.

    • Start at home.

      Chances are you've got a wealth of genealogical knowledge just waiting for you in your own home. Papers, letters, photos and the notes on their backs, legal documents, and family heirlooms are all great sources for discovering your immediate roots. They can give you clues to your past and the people in it, and even jump-start your memory. Go digging through your own attic and filing cabinets, and then check with all your relatives to see what they're willing to donate to the cause.

      Remember that these are important historical documents, so be careful with how you handle them. Make copies when possible and necessary, and store the originals safely. The smartest way to preserve your history, in fact, is to start a digital archive right out of the gate by scanning the paper material you have, either with your own home scanner or by visiting a copy shop.

    • Notetaking and Organizing.

      Arrange the background material you've found roughly in date order (to make organizing easier on yourself!). Then with a pen or a laptop at your side, you start the fun part: sorting through your family's rich history. As you go through, start taking notes. Write down all the names you find, the dates associated with them, and any other background information you can glean from what you've got at hand.

      Note down any facts you find like birthdates, places they've lived, jobs they've held as well as any questions that come up, holes in the information you find, things you want to know more about, gaps between relatives, and more. This is the heart of your genealogy project. 

      Keep in mind that it's probably easiest and fastest to use a laptop or computer to take these notes, in order to organize them and to later start moving all this information electronically into the family tree you want to start building. 

    • Interview relatives.

      Your living relatives are going to be one of the most important sources you've got not just for dates but also for the stories and anecdotes that make your family history project so much richer. Factual questions about births and marriage dates and deaths and where they lived are important, but ask open-ended questions too, such as:

      • How did your family end up where you grew up?
      • What relatives lived near you? 
      • What is your first childhood memory?
      • What were your family members like? 
      • What religion was your family?
      • Have you ever been mentioned in the news?
      • Who was your oldest family member when you were growing up?
      • What do you know about your family surname?
      • Is there a naming tradition in the family?
      • Do we have any famous (or infamous) relatives?

      These questions will add depth and color to your family history. Importantly, they're also clues for further research. For instance, knowing you might have a famous relative, what religion your family was, or that all first-born boys were given the same middle name. This gives you new places to search for background information such as church registries or news sources, names to keep an eye out for, and more.

    • Distill and organize.

      Here's where your family tree really starts. When you go back through all the research you've done, organize all the information you have. Group new facts about the same person together, make a list of leads (churches and family names, for instance), and finally, make a master list of the names of all the relatives you know about. These are the very first branches of your tree.

    • Put it all together.

      Online family tree services are the fastest and easiest way to start building your family tree with all the information you've gathered out of the gate. They get you organized fast, and give you the opportunity to go back and edit, add information whenever and wherever you need, and share your family tree with other family members.

      A feature to look for when you're hunting down the best online family tree website is collaboration. Shared family trees mean that not only are you starting with the best background and history you've gathered from your own family, you have access to all the research, records and information that thousands of other genealogists have uncovered. With just a few clicks you can grow from a few branches to thousands of connections you didn't know existed.

    From there you can start exploring even further. The Internet has tons of tools and resources that can help you track down more family surnames, give you great background stories and information about the connections you've already found, and even help you improve your research skills and genealogical knowledge.

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  • Private vs Public Family Trees

    The Pros and Cons of Choosing a Public Family Tree vs. a Private Family Tree

    The best way to create, organize, grow and share your family tree is by using an online family tree website. But before you start signing yourself up, you need to make an important decision: will your online family tree be public or private?

    To start with, there are actually three types of online family trees:

    1. Private. Each submitted tree is maintained separately and distinctly from other trees in the collection. You can manually search for your ancestors online, but you cannot see the full family trees of other members of the website.
    2. Linked (semi-private). Your family tree is semi-private when it is in a linked family tree site. Your tree is still separate from everyone else's tree, but if one of your records is similar to another record in someone else's tree or elsewhere on the service's tools, you're alerted to it and can request that information be merged into your own tree.
    3. Public Family Tree. A public family tree means that your information is viewable and searchable by all genealogists. One of the best types of public family tree takes that a step further: the collective family tree. In a collective family tree everyone's information is pooled into a huge communal resource or database. You maintain and build your own separate family tree, but you also get to see how it links to the worldwide family tree.

    Each of these types of family trees has its benefits and drawbacks. We'll concentrate on the main differentiators, which is the private versus public concern. Most new family historians find it a difficult decision right out of the gate, citing either privacy concerns or a lack of connection as their main pro or con, but there are plenty more factors to consider when you're making the choice.

    Public Family Trees

    Pro: With full access to your tree, long lost relatives are almost certain to show up and help fill out your information and expand your knowledge.

    Con: When anyone can see your tree, those relatives can potentially find your information and use it on their own trees without contacting you or offering any information in return. On a collective family tree your data will connect but you might not get any personal information in return.

    Pro: You gain the benefits and advantages of everyone else's research, and you get to share the results of your own hard work and research.

    Con: Sometimes less serious researchers can let inaccurate information creep in, though collective family trees tend to reduce that possibility to a great degree, because multiple sources of facts offer greater credibility.

    Private Family Trees

    Pro: You have total control over who sees your information and with whom you'll share it.

    Con: Your private status causes extra steps and inconvenience when someone wants to connect with you, which may put off researchers, both casual and serious, who would otherwise get in touch.

    Pro: Your privacy feels more protected when your information is hidden.

    Con: Even private trees can be vulnerable to security issues, and many public trees offer highly secure privacy filters for living relative information.

    Pro: You have total control over all incoming and outgoing information.

    Con: Too much control could be a bad thing, blocking you off from new connections and new information that could open doors to more in-depth research.

    In the end, what it boils down to is making a decision between your time and the genealogy community. You put in all that work and all those hours and spent money building your family tree-why should you share it with someone who might just be lazy? The thing is, sharing is one of the most important parts of genealogy. Our family trees are not just personal history; they're part of a greater record of everyone's history, and how we're all connected to one another. A public, collective family tree is probably the purest form of genealogy research there is.

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  • Transforming Family History into a Narrative

    Transforming Family History into a Narrative: Bringing Your Story to Life

    Genealogists understand the power of family history and life stories. Too often, though, they become simple collectors of information, facts, and documents. They never share the knowledge they've gained or the stories they've learned because they're not sure how to take all that information and turn it into a descriptive narrative.

    In the end, taking all your research and turning it into a legacy for your family will be one of the most rewarding things you do as a family historian. That's why we've assembled these tips on how to make that leap from family historian to family history writer, and bring your family story to life.

    Interviews. Talk to your living relatives-as many as are willing to sit down with you! Take a tape recorder as well as a notebook and pen, and ask for their stories. Ask questions about daily life, family traditions, hobbies and interests they had. Encourage them to share the details of their personal lives, and the lives of those around them. You're moving beyond the dates and locations to really understand who your relatives were, and are.

    Research locations. Setting is one of the most important parts of creating a really compelling story. Research town and city news and events during the time your ancestors lived, and look for photographs and personal first-hand accounts. You want to paint a vivid picture of the place they lived in and the community they were a part of.

    Take trips. One of the best ways to really understand where your relatives came from is to revisit those places, seeing them in person instead of just photographs. Take a tour of their neighborhood to get a feel for the people who live and lived there, and talk to neighbors about their town and its history.

    Look at the larger picture. Your family history is intensely personal, but your ancestors were also deeply affected by the world events happening around them. Find out what was going on, from wars to natural disasters, political upheaval, epidemics, advances in technology and science, and more. Learning as much as possible about the world around them will give you real insight into their personal lives.

    Learn about the culture. This is especially important if you're writing about ancestors who come from a place that is very different than your current home. Research the culture your family came from, including food, music, and family and holiday traditions.

    Read fiction. Most historical fiction is careful to include real and authentic historical details, and can offer you a vivid sense of the atmosphere of the time you're writing about. Fiction can show you how to create a really interesting narrative, and also how to think of your ancestors as characters in a story, not just records you've uncovered.

    Create a plot. A family history can be just a recitation of facts and figures, but to make your story deep and moving, consider finding what writers call a "narrative arc." What goals were your ancestors trying to achieve? What were their obstacles? How did they achieve their aims? A plot not only makes your story more interesting, but it also helps you focus your efforts. Some potential plots include immigration stories, rising to success, living through wars or conflicts, and family upheavals.

    Choose a starting point. Begin at the beginning, right? Not necessarily. A story should grab the reader right out of the gate. Start with an interesting anecdote, a fascinating fact, a compelling conflict to make your story dynamic, interesting, and alive. You can use flashbacks or narrative description to fill in any important background information.

    Get personal. You've got a database full of facts and figures, but what your family is interested in is the real stuff: stories, traditions, special moments. Don't be afraid to focus on the personal, emotional details, even if it means leaving out some of the data you've painstakingly researched. The most valuable and important history you can offer your family comes from your heart, not your head.

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  • Webinars & Workshops

    A World of Untapped Genealogy Resources: Webinars Workshops

    If you're serious about your genealogy research, the web is full of untapped resources for learning more. Webinars are free interactive workshops led by genealogy experts on every facet of genealogy research, from tools to tips to lessons on expanding your research skills. They're some of the best, fastest, and most inexpensive ways to really expand your genealogy knowledge by giving you direct, usually free, access to experts in the field.

    The Benefits of Genealogy Webinars

    Genealogy webinars offer:

    • Live walk-throughs of complex genealogy resources that you need guidance to learn, such as local and federal census databases, family tree websites, online historical collections and other online genealogy resources
    • Q&A sessions that give you the chance to get answers from experts in the field to your specific genealogy research questions, as well as the opportunity to chat and make connections with other family historians
    • Courses on family, local and social history research for worldwide regions, the most important records to track down, writing family history and more
    • Copies of all the materials used and research done in the webinar, including the slides of the presentation, the handouts, and a recording of the webinar, to keep and refer back as well as share with your local genealogy community

    You can watch a webinar live, which is usually free, or you can access webinar archives, which usually either require a fee for each video or a site subscription.

    Where to Find Genealogy Webinars

    GeneaWebinars  is a free community resource listing all types of webinars presented by genealogy vendors, genealogy societies, and individual genealogy experts. You can also explore these resources for some of the most popular and useful webinars:

    Some conferences and seminars also offer live broadcasts of their programs and lectures, with presentations recorded and available online after the conference. If a conference you're interested in attending seems too expensive or far away, always check to see if they'll be providing online access too!

    Online Genealogy Courses & Workshops

    Other resources include online independent study classes and workshops you can complete at your own pace.

    • The Brigham Young University Independent Study Department  has courses on family, local and social history research for a number of regions including England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland, Germanic countries, and the American south.
    • BYU has free online courses , including Introduction to Family History Research, Vital Records, Writing Family History and more.
    • Boston University offers a 15-week online genealogical certificate program taught by well-known and respected genealogy experts.
    • When you join the National Genealogical Society  (NGS) you get to take all their online courses for free-plus get the benefits of being an NGS member.

    But don't stop there. The OneGreatFamily Resources page also has a ton of great resources you can use to expand your research skills, find even more in-depth information, and track down other webinars and conferences.

    Webinars are some of the best ways to get a quality genealogy education-no wonder they're becoming more popular. They allow researchers with a budget and other limitations to become involved in the genealogy community and get the kind of knowledge and experience they could never have found any other way. With webinars, you can uncover tactics and methods for adding generations to your family tree you never imagined you could find.

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  • How Do I View or Export an Ancestor's Descendancy?

    The ability to view the descendants of an ancestor is a powerful and valuable feature of OneGreatFamily. A descendancy view can help researchers identify collateral lines to research or can lead to the discovery of living relatives who have descended from a common ancestor.

    Viewing the descendants of any ancestor is easy using Genealogy BrowserT:

    1. Launch Genealogy Browser and find the desired ancestor in the pedigree (Starfield View)
    2. Select the desired ancestor within the pedigree (Starfield View) by double clicking on the box with the individual's name to put them into the selected individual box in the handprint view.
    3. Click on the descendancy icon in the toolbar OR select Starfield-Show Descendancy from the View menu within Genealogy Browser (see images below).
    4. The descendants of the selected ancestor will now appear to the left of the pedigree (Starfield View). Navigating and viewing collateral lines in the Starfield View may be slower depending on the number of descendants shown.

    When you choose to view the Descendancy of an ancestor, the Starfield view will look like this:

    We hope you will find OneGreatFamily a useful tool to trace the descendants of your ancestors.

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