Family History Stories

Tips for Researching Your Family Tree

About four years ago my friend Nicole introduced me to We sat in her home office in front of the computer. We squinted at a marriage certificate on the screen. She showed me how you could search for records, follow hints, add pictures and stories, and connect to other people’s research. I signed up that Friday night.

Monday morning I sat at my desk as students entered my Grade 10 English class. Usually I tried to greet them at the door.

“Miss, you look rough,” they said. “Wild weekend?”

“Something like that,” I replied. “Don’t worry. You’ll get all the details.”

“You look fried.”

I told the students how I had hunched over a keyboard, searching for family records online for the whole weekend. They laughed as I tried to explain the frenzy of trying to trace my maternal grandmother’s line to Paris or my paternal grandfather’s roots in England. It felt like I was unlocking one family secret after another.

I have always loved family stories. I could listen to my aunts and uncles talk for hours about the old days. gave me a key to the past.

What I Learned Four Years Ago

  • Family history research can be tedious. Patience is required.
  • A second language is helpful. I wish my French was better!
  • Start with what you know for sure–marriage certificates, birth certificates, and tombstones are good sources of preliminary information.
  • Verify information you find with relatives if possible.
  • Focus the search. Although it is tempting to look for everyone and everything at once, be focused. Choose one branch and learn all you can about it before going to the next branch.
  • Be prepared to find information you would rather not know.
  • Our ancestors did not spell names accurately or consistently.
  • Learn some history to gain context about the people and places you are researching.
  • Not everyone finds the details of your family’s history as interesting as you (including members of your family).
  • Set a timer. Be in control of your research time. (Or, run the risk of hours passing by unnoticed).

What are your tips for family tree research?


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