Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Ready, Set, Jump into Genealogy!
Did I leave some of you hanging in mid air since my February 9th post: Are You on The Fence? My apologies. I could not help posting a Valentine's day special: 1920s Love Story. Today, I thought, I would follow up and offer some advice for those ready to dive  into genealogy!

My friend Andy, who read all top 10 reasons I listed for getting started with family history, shared her frustrations with me: "I have tried to search and keep hitting the same wall..." Andy is not alone. Often when people hear about my research and book, they confess their desire to explore their own family history but admit they haven't done so either because they are unsure as where how to begin or, like Andy, have tried, got frustrated and stopped. My reply is simple:

The best way to start researching family history is making a family tree! This may seem very obvious to some, but I can not stress this basic and simple idea enough. Your family tree is the heart of your research. It's the nerve center of your work. It's the place you will centralize and organize all your information. Since the internet age, family trees have evolved in amazing ways. Don't misunderstand—paper trees are and were incredible!  They contained vast amounts of information and helped families document, trace, understand and preserve their lineages for generations. On-line trees do all that and much more.

Build a tree with what you know!
Starting a family tree is easy. Most of us attempted a family tree at some point. The most important thing to understand about your tree and your family history research in general is: START WITH WHAT YOU KNOW—START WITH YOURSELF—AND WORK BACKWARDS.  You or your children can be the center of your tree. Then you will add immediate family: siblings, parents, grandparents. This information is mostly stored in our brains, requires no research and easily accesible. For some, going back as far as grandparents can be challenging (see my post: Never Give Up and Good Things Will Come). No worries, start with what you know, and leave the rest blank. Next comes your first test: how far can you go? Great-grandparents? Further. Not to worry. This test is not graded. What ever you know is perfect. Armed with this information, you are faced with the decision of choosing an on-line tree.

Personally, I a big proponent of on-line trees. While many genealogist still work with tree softwares such as Family Tree Maker which lives on their computers, I dare say, this technology is dying and recommend you skip this step. Many on-line trees are free and reside in the cloud and like with tree software, you can maintain full control of your on-line tree as the sole administrator. On-line trees are much more interactive. Having to update both an on-line tree and a tree on your computer can be tedious, confusing and lead to mistakes. So lets proceed directly to choosing an on-line tree.

There are many companies offering on-line trees and the choices can be overwhelming. I myself have three on-line trees and that is where I draw the line. All you really need is one. I will highlight each of my three trees to help you choose. I believe all the companies are great and you really can not go wrong with these three or the multiple other options out there, just do some research.  One important factor to consider as you are shopping for a host for your tree is to see if someone in your family has already established an on-line presence for your family. It's easy! Just google yourself or other close relatives such as your parents or grandparents. You might be positively surprised discover that your family forest has been planted on-line for you. This will save you a lot of work! Ask to join the existing tree and voila! A vast amount of information is at your fingertips and instantly you have motivated collaborators.

This brief discussion will give an overview of what to look for when choosing a home for your on-line tree. Much of this, I learned over time and by summarizing  what I learned, I hope to save you time and aggravation. There is no need to get into the more advanced features of the trees in the beginning, but a heads-up is always helpful.

 MyHeritage- I love my MyHeritage tree! It's my first tree and that might explain why it is my favorite. Originally, I chose MyHeritage because I liked the layout. The site offered all the features of the other major genealogy websites, but I found it was the simplest to use. The tree graphics are the easiest to understand. I still use their classic view to navigate through my tree. From all the trees, I find, the classic view, the clearest way to understand the tree and the relationships between people. When I explain to my children, how they are related to someone, I show them the MyHeritage classic view. Just this week, they gave their website a great new look!

The other main reason, I enjoy MyHeritage so much is that it's very social. The site allows you to invite family members to join your tree and participate without giving up administrative powers. This to me is key to maintaining the validity of the information on my tree. I know where the information came from, since I'm the one who puts it there. If I make a mistake, I am responsible. If a relative finds a mistake, they point it out to me and I fix it. This requires more maintenance on my part, but that is my choice. Other fun features include the newsletter and my family's favorite: the calendar with birthday reminders. It has great access to research, new DNA testing feature (in partnership with Family Tree DNA), as well as lets you create posters and family books. I find MyHeritage to be an innovative company, always at the forefront and looking for improvements. genealogists, professional or amateur soon or later works on ancestry. They are excellent at what they do. I myself only use my ancestry for research. Their data base is massive (though not perfect) and they collaborate with so many different databases that it saves you a lot of time at least for the initial search. To get the most out of the research capacity, you need to have a tree on ancestry. This is a good enough reason to pick Ancestry as the home of your on-line tree, especially if you don't want to be like me, administrating more than one tree.

The more information you provide the search engine about a person, the more precise the search will be and the more likely it will find relevant information. You don't need to start with a lot of information. You just need to start. The best way to do so is to input your tree onto ancestry. Later on, as you progress in your work, start adding details. The more the better. Dates, relationships, names and locations will all help narrow your searches. Their famous blinking green leaves, will let you know when the search engine suspects it has a record that may pertain to a certain ancestor. This is a great feature because as the database grows, new records may be found pertaining to your relatives and you don't have to redo the search. The engine itself is constantly searching for you. Another advantage of the Ancestry tree is that you can easily identify the sources of your information, key for keeping your research accurate and organized. One draw back with ancestry is the cost. The main drawback with ancestry is that it can be pricy (there are free features) and it's not as social. If Ancestry is the google of genealogy, then is the Facebook. I really did not want to join Geni, because I already had two trees and that seemed more than enough. I did so, out of respect to my elderly cousin Martha who suggested Geni because many of my Bloomfield family was already on Geni. At the time I knew nothing about my great-grandfather William Bloomfield (you can read about his 1920s Love Story with my great-grandmother, in my previous post), so meeting some living Bloomfields seemed like a good idea. I'm very grateful to Martha for her insistance and recommendation. Geni is the most interactive of my tree. It's set up a lot like Facebook. Everyone has a profile (dead or alive), with a newsfeed and a timeline. Note: family tree websites have had a timeline way before Facebook. People can post on each other's walls. Novices have a very easy time using Geni, because they are familiar with Facebook. Geni even has a facebook app connecting the two. One other feature that I love on Geni is the family relationships. While all the trees have a feature that will outline how you are related to each relative, Geni has this feature prominently displayed at the top of each profile.

If you are wondering why you need Geni, if you already have facebook, the answer is simple. Geni really focuses on family history, a subject of low priority on Facebook. It fosters collaborations and gets family members excited and involved in the work. I think of all my trees, this is the site that is the best at getting people to dig up old photos and share them, write stories etc. The problem with this on-line tree is that you lose control. Relatives can merge trees. Unlike MyHeritage or Ancestry who alert you of overlapping trees—but keeps them separate—Geni trees can actually be merged. This is a great feature, because it increases collaboration, but it also causes huge problems, and can lead to a lot of mistakes. Once you merge, the administration of certain parts of your tree might be moved to someone else and the reliability of their work can be questionable. While you may be selective in merging, others in your family may not be and this can generate huge headaches. Also, if a relative is more than four generations higher than you, the administration becomes public automatically. This is very problematic as not everyone has the same standards for checking information.

So there you have it! Don't wait! Choose a website, plant a tree, nurture it and soon you will have a family forest!

Dive into genealogy! Getting wet is lots of fun! 

In future post, I'll give practical suggestions about how to get through the forest when hitting a brick wall.Are you using a different tree that you would like to recommend? I would love to hear about your various experiences. Are you a beginner and have some questions? Need some help? Write me a comment!

Photos by ToussaintCramer


  1. I just found your website through Geneabloggers. Welcome to Geneabloggers.

    Regards, Jim
    Genealogy Blog at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

    1. Thanks JIm. I think Geneabloggers is a great listing!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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