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Leaving a Legacy, Family History  

What is the Best Way to get Started with a Family History?

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What Is a Family History?

Family histories are written records of families, focusing on the lives of individual family members across many generations. A family history is usually written in book format, but can also be recorded as a scrapbook, as an audio or video recording or by other creative means, such as a website or blog.

Researching family history is an opportunity to conduct genealogical research, including the present day and as far back as you can trace. Many modern family history records also include the family’s health time.


Where to Begin Your Family History

Congratulations! You’re about to set off on an amazing journey of discovery. And the best news is that you will discover more about yourself in the process. You’ll be able to understand where your family—and you—came from, what you had to endure over the centuries, and how you got to where you are today. What discoveries you will make!


Click here to download ebook: How to Write Your Life Story


Whether you come from a small family or a large, extended family, you have the chance to research back through your family history through several hundred years. That’s a lot of time! And a lot of relatives! With parents, grandparents, siblings, and children, there will be so much to discover.

However, as with most research, at some point you reach a dead end. You can only research as far back as records were kept. And even in the beginning, those records are skeletal at best. Many stories have been lost over time, and many people have been forgotten.

So, where do you begin researching your family history? As with most other things, start from where you’re at. Start where you are today. Start with what you know. Start with you.


How Is My Life Important to My Family History?

That’s a great question! And it’s a question you may not find the answer to until you have completed your research. Writing your family history is a bit like putting a puzzle together. You discover different pieces along the way and find how they fit together. You are an important part of that puzzle, and it may take some time to find how you fit in with all of the other pieces. That’s OK.

You are an essential part of your family history. And if you are the one doing all of the research or spearheading the effort, then that makes you even more of an integral part of your family history. So, start with yourself and your life. Start with what you know about your parents, any siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. Then when you’ve written or taken notes about all that you know it’s time to move on.

Writing your part of your family history may be a bit like writing an autobiography. For some people, it’s important to record their family history so they can find themselves and their roots—where they came from. For others, researching their family history is an altruistic task, or a gift to one’s parents and for future generations.


Let the Family Research Begin!

Professional genealogists will typically research a family’s history by conducting oral interviews, digging through historical records, and running a genetic analysis. The good news is that you can do all three of these things too – you may not need family historians.

When researching genealogical records for your family, you have several resources available. You may want to start with your local library, a family history library, town hall, and a local historian. From there, your resources can help your branch out to other places to look. You may find out that your family originated from another part of the country. So, you may find yourself traveling there for research or at least making a few phone calls. But before you do that, you may want to check some online resources first.

There are many online resources available to help research your family history and family tree. Some resources are free or offer free trials. If you sign up for a free trial, be prepared to dedicate time during your trial period to acquire as much research as possible. After your trial period, you can work at a pace you choose.

Here are some online resources and historical records that you can use to research your family history.

  • MyHeritage.com
  • Ancestry.com
  • FindMyPast.com
  • FamilySearch org
  • U.S. National Archives
  • Military archives
  • Census records
  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificates
  • Death certificates


Along with 23andMe.com, some of these companies also offer DNA testing for individuals and families. You may be surprised at what you discover about your own family history from a simple DNA sample.

And don’t forget to research family names. You may find a lot of cultural history behind your family name: where it began, how it may have changed over the centuries, as well as famous ancestors in your bloodline.


Starting a Biography About a Family Member

When you’re ready to interview family members, it’s best to provide advance notice. By now, you may have already notified family members about your project and your purpose. If not, take the time to write a letter or an email to all of your family members. Let them know what you are doing and that you plan to contact them soon, so they can be a part of the project.

Decide if you want to record audio or video tapes of each interview. Let the interviewee know in advance if this is part of your plan. If possible, you may want to let them choose the method they prefer. And if they’re not comfortable being recorded, then assure them you’re happy to take a few notes during your conversation.

If you have a large family, you may want to consider having someone partner with you to conduct all of the interviews. You may want to start with the oldest members of your family (for obvious reasons) and work your way down to the youngest family members.

It’s important to make each person comfortable with being part of the process. Tell them what you plan to do with the information that they provide. And let them know how important they are to your family history. Be sure to set aside a time and place to meet with each person that’s both convenient and comfortable for them.

Finally, know that it would be impossible to ask each person to divulge every detail about their lives. You would probably end up with more information than you need, and more than anyone else may need to know. Instead, think of an angle for your story in advance. What role does each person play in your family? What lessons have they learned? What nuggets of wisdom might they have to share?

Write some questions in advance that you plan to ask. Ask open-ended questions; that is, questions that require an explanation or story instead of just a yes or no answer. You may have the same basic set of questions for each person, or you may want to change the questions for each person. Either way, be prepared to go off topic during any interview. You may discover something new about your family that grants more exploration.

Some family members may enjoy talking in detail, while others may not have too much to share. And that’s OK. You don’t want to force anyone to participate beyond their comfort level. And if they say no, then thank them and move on to your next interviewee. A ‘no’ today can turn into a ‘yes’ tomorrow; you just have to let that person get there on their own. You may also find that you’ll need to conduct more than one interview with some family members. So, be ready to adjust your schedule accordingly.


How to Start Recording Your Family Tree

As with your family history, start your family tree with yourself and fill in all those you know around you: parents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. Start with a large, blank piece of paper. If you’re not sure how someone fits into your family tree, pencil them in with a question mark.

As you conduct each interview, show your working family tree to each person and ask them to fill in what they know. And put a question mark beside each family member or ancestor that needs further verification.

Once you have completed your interviews, you can use local and online resources to help dig further back in your family tree or to simply verify what you already have. When you have your entire family tree mapped out, you can use online resources or genealogy software to create your own unique family tree.


Pulling It All Together

Once your interviews and research are complete, you can put it all together. You can write your family story in book format and have copies published to give to all family members. If you are not a skilled writer, don’t worry. There are many books and online resource that offer writing tips. Just be sure to hire a professional proofreader to avoid any embarrassing mistakes. You can also create a scrapbook or video or audio history.

If you’re looking to create a more permanent record that won’t be damaged by age, by accident or by natural disaster, then you may want to consider digital record keeping. You can create a blog or website to be a permanent record of your family history. And you can always use Lastly to upload your photos and video, add your family stories, and create your online family tree.

Again, congratulations on your venture! We wish you all the best while discovering your family’s rich history!


Writing Your LifeStory



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