FAMILY HISTORY BASICS #4 – Planting Your Family Tree Online
Four things You Can’t Recover
The Stone after the throw
The Word after it’s said
The Occasion after it’s missed
The Time after it’s gone.
— Author unknown
Poking around the Manu Design Studios after seeing several recommendations in our group for Heritage Designers, I ran across a layout with this quote and it stopped me in my tracks. I had to take a picture of it for the quote as much as the layout (which was beautiful as well.) I mean… the “time” sentence hit me in the gut because I run into frustrating “If I had only’s” in a lot of my research. If I had started to look at my family history even in my 30’s, I could have possibly gotten so many now unanswered questions checked off.
But, alas… I didn’t… so I take up the “Pass it Forward” banner and encourage others to begin their own journey into their family history (hopefully just a tad earlier!)
This is the fourth month in my Family History Basics’ articles and I hope that a few readers might have actually taken the baby steps outlined in my articles and are now and forever hooked on your own family history research! The first month we talked about “Us” and retrieving our own documents into one place and starting a timeline. The second month I encouraged you to branch out to the next two generations — our parents and grandparents, hopefully obtaining their documents as well. Last month I discussed my second favorite part of family history research, the stories, and suggested that you broaden your circle to talk with any living relatives that might know any of the older generations and their stories. (What is my first favorite part? We’ll hit on it a bit this month! Hands down, it is pictures — they draw me in – hook, line and sinker!)
Since I just gave away part of this month’s topic, let’s go ahead and get started…
In the genealogy world there is a funny term called “cousin bait” and let me just tell you that it is the most positive and rewarding part of the whole family history research process. Just a couple of days ago, I got a message from a DNA-linked 2nd cousin of mine and my heart expanded as she talked about the annual family reunion on our shared side of the family that has been taking place for well over 50 years. (I even have pictures that I found recently on a cousin’s Ancestry tree from some of the very same reunions!) Would I like to get more information about it? You would have laughed at how quickly I turned around and answered her message! And then guess what she did… She sent me five pictures that included my grandfather in each of them. She had gotten them from another cousin who recently passed away from cancer. (Refer to the “Time” sentence in the quote above!)
And this isn’t the first time that I’ve come in contact with cousins. Oh, my gosh…I’ve received booklets on family histories, photos that have never been seen before and enjoyed several phone calls with new cousins with new family stories that are priceless.
And how does this all happen? In this age of social media, you could pick FaceBook, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter and start with either one or all of them. You could start your own blog and write about your own journey and all the information, photos and stories that you uncover. You could also begin to add your own family tree to sites and see what your cousins, known and unknown, might have in the way of information, photos and stories! Let’s focus on the online family tree this month!
Online family trees — yay!
The rewards of putting your tree online in multiple places is definitely worth the few minutes that it will take to set up your tree(s). Remember the Cousin Bait aspect of getting your family’s information out there. Just a note on privacy concerns: It is valid and I would recommend looking into the privacy settings in each site. All the sites will keep living people’s information blocked out so that it doesn’t show unless you specifically share the tree with a family member and give them rights. You could also just enter “Living Person” in the generations that are actually living! Just don’t “not” upload your tree because of the privacy factor. (Sorry for the double negative!) The benefits are real. As I am writing this article, I have a photo of my grandmother in a little frame nearby from when she was a teenager. I wouldn’t have that photo or any idea of what she looked like, prior to the woman I always knew in later years, if I hadn’t put my family tree online.
So, where to begin?
Since I’m trying to slow down and stay on an easy pace with these monthly lessons, it makes sense to cut the choices down to just a few! There are actually quite a few places that you could pick to add your family tree but I’ll throw out just two to get us started:
Ancestry.com is a subscription based website and they literally have millions of records with more being added every day. Here are a couple of paths to consider:
- If you are simply looking to gain access to a really nice family tree program that gets searched by a LOT of people daily (remember cousin bait!), this is a great place to start. And they do have some databases that are FREE such as the 1880 U.S. Federal Census, just as an example. If you are unsure and really just want to test the waters, you can even go to your local public library and check to see if they have Ancestry Library Edition to use while you do some initial searching. (Remember that you can always email a “find” at the library to your home email and then save that document to your computer. It’s a bit cumbersome, but it is an option that allows you to kind of test the waters. Beware though… when you find your first treasure of a document, there is no going back! You might find yourself hooked — which is a good thing.)
- Here is the link that will take you to the listing of FREE worldwide databases available on Ancestry.com. https://www.ancestry.com/search/categories/freeindexacom/ Note: This is the same link where you can also get to the FREE Ancestry.com User Account Sign-up in order to start your own family tree. (There is no credit card required if you set up your tree from this path. If you decide to subscribe, then you can add it at that time.)
- After clicking on the link above, you will click on “Sign In” on the top right of the page.
- This takes you to a “Sign in to Ancestry” screen and look for “Not a member yet?”
- Click on the “Sign up today” link.
- This takes you to a place to set up your User Name & Password (without having to enter a credit card.) *** Remember to write down your information!
- Just a note: We all know that subscription dollars that Ancestry receives are what keeps it growing and continuing to add databases and bring extra value to their site. This is a good thing, but if you really would simply like to setup a tree, click on the link above and start your adventure! Just keep that “tree-only” mindset until you are ready to expand to actual research from home.
- Of course, if you would really just love to get in there and add your tree and then start searching, there is a free trial that you can use in order to gain access to the entire U.S. database. This is a great way to determine just how far you would like to take your research in the comfort of your favorite chair. A credit card number will be needed at this point in order to gain access to the Free Trial. (There is also a World-wide membership as well.)
- FamilySearch.org is a Free site that never requires a subscription. They are, in fact, a repository for one of the largest collections of microfilmed resources in the world. (Don’t hold me to that, but I’m pretty sure that having a mountain in Salt Lake City, Utah dedicated to holding all the microfilm they have accumulated over the years would put them in a league all their own.)
- FamilySearch will require you to set up a UserName and password but that is really the only requirement to use their resources. You need to know before you start to enter your family tree information that they are attempting to build one large family tree and at some point, you will most likely tie into someone’s line. You have to think of this as contributing to a larger project, but in the mean time, you can add your tree and possibly take advantage of what others have found so far that could really take you hundreds of years back in time.
One quick reminder for any online family tree site: You can tell how valid someone’s information is by looking at their sources. Don’t get caught up in the moment and just blindly add generations on because someone else has it on their tree.
The next several months will be all about the researching part of this, which is another favorite part for me personally! Alright, I love all aspects of family history! I admit it…
Let me know what your favorite part is and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!