Monday, February 25th, 2013

Creating a Family Tree


Family Tree

I tried to create my first family tree back in 1992, a somewhat monumental task because my grandparents had a combined 26 siblings (all since deceased) and I only ever knew but a handful- this being part of the reason I decided to start digging in the first place. I grew up playing with 3 cousins from my Mom’s side and 2 on my Dad’s and I’d found it fascinating that there were dozens and dozens of cousins I’d never met that were from the same level on the tree. (If I met them, would we become instant friends? Would they look like me?) 

Up until today, I’ve been sporadically working on this tree for 21 years. I started a tree on in 2010 but only for the length of a free trial membership. The other day I discovered via their iPad app that you can buy a month to month membership so I decided to try again. I quickly discovered a ton of information but then started having mixed feelings that the entire project was in vain because I don’t really know what I’m looking for anymore. Part of me thinks it might be interesting to find more about where exactly my ancestors came from, as I’ve not yet been able to find anything prior to their coming to the US, but I don’t even know where to begin a search like that. Other than that, I’m stuck.

If you’ve ever worked on your own family tree, do you have any tips to share, and maybe what your intentions were for starting the project?

4 thoughts on “Creating a Family Tree

  1. Stephanie, for my 60th birthday, Lori purchased kits for several genetic genealogy tests by While I have a pretty idea of my heritage and both sides, I was in for some surprises, and it helped me answer a question. Tests on the maternal line connected me with Sami ancestors from Finland, Russian and Eastern European ancestors; on my Dad’s – an ancient relative from the Orkney Islands. I thought all of that was pretty cool, and gave me the desire to visit the Baltic region sometime in the next few years. Good luck on your search. It helps us claim and name all parts of ourselves.

  2. I looked up a few records on a whim in the summer of 2006–and got hooked.

    I’d grown up only knowing my immediate maternal family: mother, gmother, gfather, uncle, my grandfather’s aunt, and both ggrandmothers (one died when I was 12 and the other lived until I was 31 and she was 103!). I knew a few stories about my gg grandfather, but not much, and some of what I thought I knew was mixed up (I thought twin brothers married twin sisters; it was actually two brothers married two sisters).

    And then I found a posting from another Berkeley Brennan; it was quite a shock to learn that there were so many Brennans still around! He pointed me towards Canada, since he knew our gg grandfathers had been brothers and immigrated, but didn’t know when.

    I found the family in Canada, and later found more distant cousins who pointed me to the church in Ireland where my ggg grandparents had married.

    Just in December I found an online newspaper archive had scanned in the obituary of my gggrandfather’s twin sister, who’d married and stayed in Canada.

    It’s *addicting*, so be prepared!

    Like Dottie, I recommend Depending on where you forebears were, there may well be a local historical group with information or a local message board; there was a tiny message board for the county in Canada I was looking at, and that’s where I found the distant cousin who could tell me about the Irish church.

    There are personal websites that have quite a bit of information. One I like for Lanark Co, Canada, is Granny’s Genealogical Garden.

    Castle Garden and Ellis Island both have online records.

    Digital Newspaper archives are *amazing*, and some are at no charge (like the California Digital Newspaper Archive).

  3. Hey. I started my own research around the same time you did, in the early 1990s, and my reasons were pretty simple. Both my parents never knew their biological fathers (they knew of them, but were raised by stepfathers) and I wanted to know where I came from. I knew a little about my mother’s maternal family, but since then I have traced my lineage back to some pretty exciting places!

    The story includes plenty of immigration – at the moment I’d sat that Ancestry is a very good place to start. If you have a line that goes back to census returns then this will help. America (assuming that you’re American …) has a great wealth of records detailing immigrants and passenger lists.

    Very happy to help in any way possible!

  4. I’m a genealogy librarian so if you have any questions just shoot them my way and I’ll do my best to answer them. is free and it has improved a lot in the last few years. That is another site to use. Look for emigration and naturalization records. You might find out where they came from that way.

    We’re having a class soon on medical genealogy – basically looking at death certificates, how long they lived, etc. Information about diseases and problems that run through the generations can be important to know.

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