How to research a family tree

Start with the newest twigs on the family tree, yourself or your children, and trace your roots back through the generations. A loose-leaf notebook is useful for keeping data in order. An ancestor chart is a convenient way to show relationships; you can draw up your own or buy printed forms by mail through genealogical magazines or at genealogical libraries.

When you have completed your record of direct ancestry, you might want to attempt a genealogical chart that shows all the branches of your family. Start with a grandparent or a great grandparent and work forward. This is a far more complicated, but fascinating, task. The illustration below shows a small portion of such a chart.

With either record try to obtain for each person dates and places of birth and death, date and place of marriage, and the name of the spouse. To enrich family history, you might also make a biographical sheet for each person and include achievements, occupation, and other news, even photographs, if available.

Gather information first from relatives (take notes or tape record and note down the source), read through family letters, documents, diaries, baby books, and scrapbooks. Correspondence with distant relatives can lend a special dimension to the quest.

To widen your search, look at the genealogical resources of your library. Other good sources are county and church records, cemeteries, census, pension, and military records (the last three can be obtained from the National Archives in Washington, DC), and the Catalogue of Genealogies in the Library of Congress.