Genealogy Series: Tips for Researching Your Family Tree

Researching your family tree is a fun, exciting hobby that can instantly turn into an addiction. As you begin your search, the photos, stories and historical data become threads. When woven together, you will discover the very fabric of your roots. So, how do you begin? Well, you may not like the answer: you simply just need to start.

Tips for Researching Your Family Tree

1. Get Organized

Researching requires note-taking and gathering data. Setting up a small space to gather your research is one of the best ways of staying organized.

  • File cabinet
  • Folders and binders
  • Plastic holders to keep clippings and photos safe
  • Computer, printer and the Internet
  • Printing paper
  • USB’s or backup discs

Depending on your organization preferences, you may also want to purchase colored pens, markers, and highlighters.

2. Just Start

After gathering your basic organization materials, just start. Yes, there’s the simple advice again. Start with the information you already know about your family history. Begin by building your family tree online or simply start making notes. Gather any relatable materials already in your possession.

  • Family photographs
  • Newspaper clippings
  • Birth certificates
  • Family Bible
  • Letters
  • Invites, thank you notes, or other saved material
  • Diaries or journals

The smallest piece of information may provide larger search details in the future.

3. Start Asking Questions

Asking questions prior to loved ones passing is crucial for gathering firsthand information. Begin by asking parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles about your family history.

  • Who? Ask who your ancestors are?
  • Where? Ask where did they originate? Where did they live?
  • When? Ask for any dates that may help with your search.
  • How? Ask how your ancestors came to live in a specific area?

Go beyond asking about the facts, ask about the memories. Writing out short stories about your ancestors is a great addition to your family tree.

4. Use the Internet

Using proper documentation techniques, the Internet can be a wonderful resource tool. Some sites are only available with payment. Others are free to browse. Backing up the sources should be part of the search to verify the data is correct.

5. Join Local Genealogical and Historical Societies

Contact your local genealogical and historical society for help. Many organizations will help you without charge. Over time, you may want to join the organization to learn about other researching techniques. Many societies have weekly or monthly meetings. Others go on trips to local cemeteries or other historical sites. One of the greatest aspects about joining a genealogical group is each member understands your quest for knowledge. Often a fellow genealogy buff will know how to research a subject area, helping you further your research.

Genealogy research is both fun and frustrating. However, over time the journey may bring you closer to your family roots.


Genealogy Series: Identifying Old Photographs

Did you recently find a box of old family photos? When working on your family tree, photographs offer a vital piece of information. A photograph can show you a glimpse into your family’s history.  Identifying the people or location may require a lot a research and a little luck.

Best Ways to Identify Old Photographs

When dealing with old family photographs, start with organization. Store your valuable pictures in photo boxes, photo albums or other protectable containers. If you decide to use albums, consider the 3 ring binder types. The photo binders allow you to protect photos and insert notepaper with details of your photo. Keeping all your information in one location will help in your future genealogy research.

1. Go with What You Know

If you are lucky, some of the photographs may have names written on the back. Or you will be able to identify your family members simply on sight. When using the 3 ring binder method, you can make notes of the known family members. Numbering the photos and logging the information on to your computer is another great option for keeping track.  

2. Ask Family Members

Older family members are a key resource. Spending the afternoon with your parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles may provide you with valuable information on your photos. At the same time, you may learn more personal stories about the people in the photograph.

3. Analyze the Photograph

Your actual photograph may hold numerous clues to help you identify the person in the photo.

·        The Photographer: Many older photographs were printed with the photographer’s name and the place of business stamped on the front. Researching the photographer and the location enables you to narrow down your search.

·        Clothing Style: Check your potential family member’s appearance. The type of clothing, hairstyle, jewelry, dolls, or other items may hold valuable clues. Learning about different fashion trends will help you in narrowing down the year and location of the photograph.

·        Background: Along with appearance, noticing the background of the photograph is another way to find clues. Helping you narrow down the year, studio photos may have props or furniture that can be dated.  Analyzing the background of outdoor photographs or candid photos may allow you to identify a building, a home, landscape, or other information.

4. Type of Photograph

Daguerreotype to the digital era, the landscape of photography is ever changing. The type of photograph may help you identify or narrow down the year. Early photographs are specific to the time period. For example, a daguerreotype was first introduced in 1839 to the general public. The tintype was popular after 1860. Knowing the different eras of photography will help you narrow down the year.

5. Online Databases

Using online databases or social platforms can help you narrow your search, gain insight and meet new people who are interested in exploring family history. Many groups on social websites focus on specific locations. Generally, the members are friendly, knowledgeable resources who are more than happy to help you learn about your photo or answer questions about research. Regardless of the type, keep a record of your resources. Some information may not be as reliable or accurate. But later, you may come across another valuable resource to back up your assumptions.


Learning about your family history is a fun way to spend your leisure time. Photographs are a valuable clue.  Identifying the photographs may take research and persistence. But the reward is unmeasurable.

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