As you may have already noticed, a lot of websites these days host millions of family trees: MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Geni.com, FindMyPast.com, Archives.com and more. There are virtual forests and forests of family trees out there! How can you find a tree that includes your family? How can you be sure it’s yours? How do you know that what you see is accurate?
Get started with these 7 Steps: How to Find Your Family Tree Online:
1. Choose a site from the list above and create a free log in.
Which should you choose?
- FamilySearch.org is the only one that offers totally free access to all user-submitted family trees as well as the historical records that can help you with your research. However, the other sites offer a variety of free access options, especially to user-submitted trees.
- MyHeritage is known for its international user base (check out its user map here) and multi-language access.
- Some sites have different portals that specialize in records from different countries. For example, Ancestry.com (with a U.S. focus) owns Ancestry.ca for Canadian genealogy, Ancestry.co.uk for the United Kingdom and Ancestry.com.au for Australian records. Similarly, FindMyPast.co.uk (U.K. focus) also hosts FindMyPast.com (U.S.), FindMyPast.ie (Ireland) and FindMyPast.com.au (Australia). Check out additional sites for specific countries (including non-English-speaking) here. If your family recently immigrated, look for a site about “the old country.’ If you have pretty deep roots in your current country, or you’re not sure, pick a site that specializes in your current home.
2. Enter the name of one of your relatives in the Search bar.
Each site files its family trees a little differently: some with historical records and some separately. Search trees at FamilySearch here. On Ancestry.com, look under the Search option for Public Member Trees. Enter names of your relatives, along with any other details you know (like a birth date and place or a spouse’s name). Try different combinations, sometimes using the person’s first and middle name, trying a maiden name, entering a nickname, etc. Increase your odds of finding people by entering a range of years (like 1880-1890) for a date and a more general place, like a state, rather than the name of a little town. If you get too many results, enter more specific information.
Which relative(s) should you choose?
- One who is deceased, if possible. Records about living people may be restricted for some places (but not all).
- If possible, one with a relatively unusual name. They may be easier to spot.
- One you know several things about: a full name (including maiden for women), dates and places of birth, marriage and death; burial place; where they lived during their lifetime; names of their spouse(s), sibling(s) and/or child(ren).
- One who lived as long ago as possible, to increase the chance that someone has posted a tree. But a grandparent is a great starting point, if that’s as far back as you know. If your grandparent is still alive, ask them their parents’ names, and start with your great-grandparent.
- Need to learn more about your relatives first? Read this article on how to gather information about your family.
3. Click on results labeled as “family trees.” Are they “yours?”
Browse the search results. Do any of these names and details look familiar? Everything doesn’t have to be a perfect match for a tree to include your roots. Sometimes different information is handed down through different branches of a family. Sometimes people get their information from sources that don’t match yours. Sometimes people just guess or patch together parts of different family trees without looking closely to see if they’re right.
Tech tutorial: What exactly are you looking at when you look at a family tree online? Before the days of internet genealogy, researchers organized family history findings on their home computers in one of several specially-designed software programs. These programs could generate .GED files (often referred to as GEDCOMs) that would allow researchers using different software to share their findings. Many people have now uploaded their GED files to genealogy sites like the ones we’re talking about–or they’ve just built a family tree from scratch right on the site.
4. Evaluate the accuracy of what you find.
The best way to judge the accuracy of a family tree without researching it yourself is to see what proof is offered. Do you see any records mentioned (like footnotes) or attached to the tree? Common records include tombstone images; government or church vital records (birth, marriage or death records) and census listings. Do you see photos attached? Photos may indicate the submitter has access to family records or albums (bonus!).
If a tree mentions lots of sources, it’s more likely to be accurate–at least for the pieces of information that are sourced. If a tree doesn’t have sources, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means you don’t know if it’s right.
Sometimes you’ll find a “branch” on a tree that goes back many generations without a single source mentioned. Beware! Sometimes these branches are just copied from other trees. This may particularly be true if a branch is connected to a royal line. Royal lines are well-documented in history and some people have created family trees with the hope of running into royal relatives. These connections may not have been thoroughly researched–they might just represent “wishful thinking.” Again, look for sources.
5. Optional step: reach out to the submitter of promising-looking family trees.
Some sites allow you to contact them through confidential email routed through the site (you may have to purchase a subscription first). You might contact a submitter to meet a possible cousin, share information you have or ask for more details about what they posted. If you contact them, be polite–don’t open with “you got my grandfather’s birthday wrong” or you may never hear back. You may not hear back anyway, if the submitter is no longer researching, their email changed or they have passed away.
6. Google your surname along with the phrase “family tree” or “genealogy.”
See if any personal websites pop up with your family tree (or other family history information) in them. Evaluate the information by looking for accurate details (as far as you know) and lots of sources mentioned. Look for an “About” or “Contact” page to learn more about the submitter of this information.
7. Verify it yourself.
Wandering through forests of online family trees may give you the urge to create your own tree. An accurate, and sourced tree! If so, good for you. Keep reading the articles suggested below to learn how to get started!
Up next, read:
Get Started: How to Find Your Family History for Free. Perfect for the beginner!
Explore the Genealogy Gems website for more tools, tips and resources that can help you put together your family’s “bigger picture.”
Sign up for our free e-newsletter and receive my FREE ebook on using Google to find your family history.
Check out my step-by-step Family History podcast for beginning genealogists.
Post an Online Family Tree. Listen to a podcast episode (or just read the show notes) on how to post your own family tree online.
If you would love to take a genealogy travel adventure to your ancestral homeland, consider who might help you make it happen. Get inspired and ready with these tips!
Map: Wikimedia Commons image. Click to view.
Recently Joyce, a Genealogy Gems Premium member, wrote in to thank me for the new Premium video, Inspiring Ways to Captivate the Non-Genealogists in Your Life. Then she asked a great question:
“What I would really like to know is if you have any travel agent/agency that is great for Europe travel to do my own ‘Who Do You Think You Are.’ Any help or direction you can give would be much appreciated.”
I have just the thing for Joyce’s travel question! In the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 115, I interviewed Kathy Wurth, who specializes in family history tours of Europe. (You will find her contact information here on the show notes page for the episode.) Even if she doesn’t go to the locations you want to visit, I’m sure that she could help match you up with a travel consultant who does. Tell her “hi” for me!
Before you set off on your own genealogy travel adventure, get inspired and get ready! Here are some great resources for doing just that:
Get inspired! Listen to or read about these genealogists’ travel adventures to ancestral homelands that I’ve covered on Genealogy Gems in the past:
She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me by Emma Brockes. An award-winning journalist tells the story of her discovery of her mother’s tragic childhood in South Africa. This is a genealogical journey, complete with trips to archives, poring over old court cases and dramatic reveals. This is the ultimate how-to book for exploring and sharing sensitive family stories because she shows you how it’s done. Listen to an excerpt of our interview with Emma Brockes on the Genealogy Gems podcast episode 174 and the full-length interview in Premium episode 118.
Three Slovak Women, Second Edition by Lisa Alzo. A popular genealogy expert’s story of three generations of Slovak women in the steel-producing town of Duquesne, Pennsylvania, and the love and sense of family binding them together. Click here to hear Lisa in the free Family History Made Easy podcast talk about her reasons for researching her family history and what she’s learned along the way, including in her travels in Eastern Europe.
Running Away to Home: Our Family’s Journey to Croatia in Search of Who We Are, Where We Came From, and What Really Matters by Jennifer Wilson. In this book, Jennifer takes us on a once-in-a-lifetime genealogical journey. She walked in her ancestors’ shoes and lived among their descendants. I profiled this book in Episode 129 of the Genealogy Gems podcast and was so inspired by the story that she created this YouTube video on the book.
Get ready! Here are some free travel tips for genealogists from our friends over at Family Tree Magazine:
More Resources from Genealogy Gems on Family History Travel Adventures:
Family History Travel with a Non-Genealogist Companion: Tips and Laughs on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 124 (Genealogy Gems Premium website subscription required to access; click here to learn more)
Look for Genealogy Records in a State Capital When You’re Traveling There
Road Trip, Anyone? An Orphan Train Museum
If you want to take a genealogy travel adventure–or invite someone else to–please share this article with them! Just email a link or It’s easy, it’s free–and maybe you’ll pick up a travel companion! Happy travels!
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In this episode you will hear how one man’s passion for geography and history were saved from destruction, and you’ll find out what a portable scanner can do for your genealogy research and mobility.
My Latest Travels
I wrapped up my recent round of travels last week with a trip to Sumner, Washington where I spoke at the Autumn Quest Annual Seminar sponsored by the Heritage Quest Library. It was a packed room and we spent the day talking about how to find your family history in newspapers, using Google Earth for Genealogy, how to find living relatives and most importantly how to save your research from destruction.
There seemed to be a bit of serendipity involved in this particular speaking engagement, which was booked many many months ago. Recently Bill’s mom made the big move to a lovely retirement home and she really wanted her kids to get together and go through the house and pick up the items they wanted to keep, and then prepare the house to be rented out. As it turned out, amazingly enough, this was the ideal weekend to corral all four kids together to do that before the renovations on the house started.
So after Saturday’s seminar, on Sunday we all got together and although my mother in law was very happy to have moved and really wanted to the kids to do this, it was just hard to get started. Since I didn’t grow up in the house it was a little easier for me to see the task at hand from more of a practical point of view, and I was sort of nominated to guide the process. And it actually worked out really well. Everyone was very comfortable with how the remaining items were divided up, and there were lots of family photos to go around.
I was fortunate enough to receive my mother-in-laws father’s original Royal Typewriter. I think it’s probably from about 1910 and is in pristine condition. It’s all cleaned up and in my studio now inspiring me to continuing writing and blogging. And I also received a small journal with the handwritten life stories of her parents. So I have my work cut out assembling the stories and photos and I hope to get some coffee table books printed as well as do a video that the family can enjoy. We’ll see if I can get that done in time for Christmas.
I’m sure many of you listening have also gone through this process of closing down a parent’s household. If you have an interesting story, or came across an unexpected gem email me or call and leave your story on the voice mail line at 925-272-4021 and I might just share it on an upcoming episode.
Geographic History Saved
Now I mentioned to you that I taught the class Save Your Research from Destruction, and though that title may sound a bit over dramatic, time and time again it proves accurate.
One example is a story I recently came across originally in the LA Times
Quote: “I think there are at least a million maps here,” he said. “This dwarfs our collection — and we’ve been collecting for 100 years.”
Thank goodness there are folks like Matthew Greenberg, who came to the rescue of a century of old maps. He’s my hero!
Click Here to See it for Yourself
GEM: Interview with Gordon Nuttall of Couragent, Inc. and the Flip-Pal
I’ve been a longtime fan of the Flip-Pal portable scanner and I use mine all the time. You’ve probably heard me mention it before on the show, and I often have specials on the Support the Podcast page on my website where you can save money, and at the same time your purchase helps to support this free podcast. Over the years I have received questions from many of you who are trying to decide if it really makes sense to get a portable scanner, and wanting to better understand what it can do for you and how to use it. So I decided it is about time to get all the answers together for you in one podcast gem. And who better to get those answers from than the inventor himself,
Gordon Nuttall, CEO of Couragent, Inc., the company behind the Flip-Pal.
Use this link to Flip-Pal and use the special codes below:
“Carry On!” promotion: Save $20 when you purchase a Flip-Pal mobile scanner plus a Deluxe Flip-Pal mobile scanner Carry Case with Pocket, valid October 1-December 31, 2012. Promotion Code: C412A (Please place both items in your shopping cart first before using the promotion code)
“The Suite Life!” special: Purchase a Flip-Pal mobile scanner with Digital Creativity Suite 3.0 DVD and get a Flip-Pal mobile scanner Cleaning Cloth and Flip-Pal Window Protector Sheets 3-Pk FREE!, valid October 1-December 31, 2012. Promotion Code: TSL12A (Please place all items in your shopping cart first before using the promotion code)
These promotional codes cannot be used in conjunction with other promotion codes.
Thank you for helping make the free Genealogy Gems Podcast possible!
Just a Few More Things
Internet and Computer Prediction video
Premium Episode 93 – Evernote
Premium Video: How the Genealogist can Remember Everything with Evernote
Check out this episode
Did you know your iPad or tablet computer can be one of your best genealogy buddies? It makes it easy to access and share family trees, documents, and photos on-the-go. It can even help you gather NEW family history treasures: images, interviews and more.
However, iPads aren’t just miniature laptops. They work differently and in very specific ways, depending on what apps you have. If your tablet time has been limited to playing Angry Birds and checking your email, then it’s time to check out these 7 great ways to use a mobile device like an iPad for genealogy:
1. Access family trees
Access your online family tree (and even make changes) with apps like those from Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage and RootsMagic. Last we checked, Findmypast doesn’t have a mobile app, but its website is optimized for mobile devices (meaning it’s friendly to iPad users).
2. Take pictures
Snap digital images of old family documents, photos, memorabilia and artifacts when you visit relatives. From the iPad, you can upload and share them via Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, email, or access them from your other computing devices via cloud-based storage such as Dropbox or iCloud. (Genealogy Gems Premium members may access the video tutorial, “A Genealogist’s Guide to Dropbox”).
3. Share your family history
Access old family pictures from your iPad to share with your relatives. You can put them right on your device’s hard drive, which makes them accessible even if you don’t have a wireless signal, but space on iPads is often limited. So make the most of your iPad’s ability to access cloud-based storage by putting your pictures in iCloud or on Dropbox.
4. Image new research finds
When you research your genealogy in libraries, use your iPad to take digital images instead of wasting time and money on photocopies. Image pages from a county or local history or take a snapshot (and a closeup) of a historical map. You can even take digital shots of microfilmed materials! Learn more here, and always get permission at each library before you start taking pictures.
5. Organize on your iPad
Keep track of all your genealogy sources with Evernote–and keep all your sources at your fingertips by using the Evernote app. My new Evernote for Genealogists Quick Research Guides, available both for Windows and Mac users, are cheat sheets that will help you start using Evernote immediately across multiple platforms.
6. Access podcasts, books and magazines on your iPad
Genealogy podcasts are the online equivalent of radio shows–all about family history! You’ll find tons of free, entertaining and informative content in:
Save genealogy and history e-books, magazines and pdfs to your iPad so you can read them anytime, anywhere. Click here for more on how to do this. What kinds of titles might you read? What about:
7. More tasks you can accomplish with your iPad
The best apps for genealogy are the ones that help you accomplish what you need to, not just the ones intended for family history use (like the free family history game Family House). For example, sometimes you need a quick magnifier and flashlight to better see old documents or photos–here’s a great app suggestion for that. Also, many of us find ourselves turning more frequently to YouTube. Well, there’s a YouTube app–click here for ideas on using it for genealogy.
Genealogy Gems FREE e-newsletter. Subscribe to keep up to date with iPad/tablet developments other tech topics for genealogists!
Turn Your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse by Lisa Louise Cooke, with an in-depth look at over 65 apps, 32 fabulous tricks and tips to make you a power iPad user (and not just for genealogy!) and “see it for yourself” demos in recommended online videos. It’s available in print and e-book.
Genealogy on the Go with the iPad instructional video, recently updated and re-released for Genealogy Gems Premium members
Find Genealogy Apps with the FamilySearch App Gallery
Mobile Friendly Search Results Come to Google
The iPad, PC and Android Phone Can All Play Nicely Together for Genealogy
Thank you for sharing this page with others who may want to use a tablet or iPad for genealogy.