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Why Family Trees Are Key to Preserving Family History

Tina Gunn
By Tina GunnMay 5, 2014

There are many reasons to know your family history: to have a living connection to the past, to trace and find your origins and roots, and to be informed about vital hereditary information. Whatever your reasons are for wanting to preserve your family history — creating a family tree is an excellent start to your genealogical journey.

The subject of genealogy continues to grow in popularity as people want to know more about where they come from and connect with long lost family members. But, where do you start your research? What kinds of documents can you access? What questions should you ask your existing family members? Just getting started can be overwhelming for a beginner, and this is where a genealogical database like Ancestry.com can save you time and energy.

A Do-It-Yourself Approach to Family Trees

With a tool like Ancestry.com, you are provided the ability to not only create a digital family tree, but you are offered the opportunity to collaborate on gathering family history with others online and be provided with the discovery of connection hints through shaking “leaves,” including information about family members who have passed away. Genealogy is an intergenerational activity that will allow senior family members an opportunity to share their life story, and also help younger generations with digital research skills. It’s an opportunity to teach children about history in a uniquely personal and captivating way.

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“Ancestry.com is a do-it-yourself tool that gives you access to 13 billion records and 60 million family trees,” explains Crista Cowan, Corporate Genealogist at Ancestry.com. “People can just enjoy searching and researching right from their homes in their jammies.”

The pastime of genealogy allows an opportunity for families to connect by sharing stories and passing those stories down to younger generations. For adult children wanting to capture the memories of their senior parents and start documenting their own family tree, a tool like Ancestry.com can make the process much easier.

“I have always been interested in genealogy, but was overwhelmed by the amount of information available online and never knew where to start,” shares Caitlin Burm, Web Content Manager at A Place for Mom. “I began using Ancestry.com to research my relatives and was pleasantly surprised by how accessible the tools and website were to use.”

Ancestry.com adds 2 million records a day with a team that searches through and compiles the genealogical records, before another digital team uploads and indexes data.

How to Get Started With Your Search

Before you can start plugging in information into your digital family tree, there are a few steps you should take first:

  • Talk to your relatives, especially senior members of your family
  • Write down all the details shared with you, and keep a record of names, birth places, marriages and divorces, children and deaths
  • Sketch out a chart of the information shared onto paper, connecting dots and inserting relevant notes
  • Create a tree for free on Ancestry.com and start plugging in the information you’ve gathered

“Talk to your living family,” says Cowan. “Your living loved ones are libraries of information.”

Obstacles and Roadblocks

In the course of your research, you’re bound to hit some walls. There may be inaccurate records from people being less than honest when filling out their census records. The Census Bureau has collected records every 10 years since 1790; however, a single record cannot capture and relay the entire story of that family member.

Another obstacle that you may run into is when a living family member refuses to talk about their past. They may be worried about a secret they’ve been holding in, or may not be proud of a part of their past. Also, if you are adopted and have very little information to go on, such as only a birthplace, it can be really difficult to trace down your ancestry.

Here are six things you can do to help get around roadblocks:

  1. When approaching a family member to talk about their past, take something specific with you such as a photograph or census record, and ask them to tell you about it
  2. Ask specific questions about the home and the neighbors of your family member to encourage the stories to start flowing
  3. Share your research on Ancestry.com and make your tree public so others can help you connect
  4. Reach out to the active Ancestry.com social media community for help in your search
  5. Hire a ProGenealogist, an official Ancestry.com research firm, to do the heavy-lifting for you
  6. For adoptees, you can take advantage of Ancestry.com’s DNA service and testing that can often lead you to 3rd and 4th cousins

“We are always looking to make things easier for our customers through product features to make discoveries more often,” says Matthew Deighton, Sr. Public Relations Specialist at Ancestry.com. “The big one we’re working on is the DNA product, which opens great possibilities to find our ancestors. With AncestryDNA testing more than 700,000 markers in your DNA, we are offering more personal family history than ever before.”

Research That Leads to Connections

As Caitlin Burm started building her family tree, she immediately received multiple clues about her history.

“Within a week, I was able to follow my family’s line back to 1756 and connect with an 8th cousin, who shared even more information with me about our common ancestor,” says Burm.

Without this tool, she would never have known that her family fought in the Revolutionary War or that her relatives changed their name when they came to the U.S. Her own parents never knew this information and she felt great being able to contribute to the preservation of her family identity. “I look forward to passing down this information to my children one day,” Burm adds.

“Every family has a unique story,” explains Cowan. “Some are sensational and make for great books and movies, like my English grandmother who was imprisoned for stealing food, while others are simply about people who fell in love and made families — both are interesting.

Preserve Your Family History for the Next Generation

Whether you are at the beginning of tracing your roots, or already have a compilation of information shared by family members — we all have an opportunity to continue our family history preservation efforts, one memory at a time.

“I’ve been interested in genealogy since I was a child and had parents who have dabbled in it,” shares Cowan. “I have now been a pro-genealogist for 13 years and I believe that knowing your family history is a universal need.”

Cowan’s tips on how you can preserve your family history:

  • Create an online tree that will keep information safe and accessible
  • To avoid losing valuable information, do not only store family history information in paper notebooks or on a personal computer
  • Available for both iOS and Android devices, upload documents and old photographs using Ancestry.com’s free Shoebox app
  • Upload stories, documents and photographs to your online tree
  • Make your online family tree accessible so that others may discover and contribute missing information to your tree

“There are 200 million stories and documents that have been uploaded and shared on Ancestry.com,” says Cowan. “We have community members in the hundreds of thousands who can help each other and go through what someone may have missed in their search.”

What steps have you taken to preserve your family history? Have you discovered any surprising facts about your ancestry? Share them in the comments below.

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Tina Gunn
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