Family History Should Be Fun

Are you related to royalty?

Are you related to Prince William? Yes? No? Maybe? You don’t know? Well, it really doesn’t matter unless you are in line to get the crown jewels. But don’t let that stop you from doing your own family history. It’s fun.

Why royal lines were documented

If you find you are related to royalty in any country, then you have a better chance of finding some of your very ancient ancestors because royal houses were about the only ones that actually kept track of their family lineage. The reason they wrote down all that information is because land, royal titles, jewels and plain old gold was involved. They had to know who got what!

Skeletons in the closet

And yes, sometimes you don’t like what you find, but don’t let that stop you either. As one researcher wrote when he found an ancestor had been hung as a horse thief, he said, “my ancestor was killed when the platform he was standing on gave way.” I heard that story many years ago and I have no recollection of when or who to give credit to, but I am sure that the same comment or something similar has been used many times to cover up an ancestor we were not wont to discuss. But don’t let skeletons in the closet stop you from searching out who your ancestors were.

Terms to know

An “ancestor” is one that came before you. A “descendant” is one that came from you. A comes before D, so that should be easy for you to remember. A “surname” is the last name and a “given” name is the first name. A “nickname” is what most people call you when they shorten or change your legal name (Johnny for John). A “maiden” name is the name a women was born with before she married. Your “siblings” are your brothers and sisters. A “pedigree chart” is a form on which you list your ancestors in a direct line starting with you. A “family group sheet” is a chart that compiles each family into a unit in one place, listing the parents and all the children in order of date. Using the forms makes it easier to keep track of who is who. Each set of parents have a family group sheet. I think of the chart as a road map and the family group sheets as the towns on the map.

Software programs

As most of us now have computers, there are many genealogical programs you can buy or download for free that will make this job easier. But before you buy, make sure to surf the web and research each program to see which is a better fit for you. Buying the most popular or the most advertised may not be what works best for you. Some programs are downloadable for free. Some have free basic programs, but you have to pay a fee to get the bells and whistles. Ancestry.com has put out a Software Review for you. I would suggest also doing a more in-depth search for information. You could also download several of the free programs and play around with them to see what works best for you before you actually commit to any one of them.

Running the numbers

Each person has two parents, a mother and a father. Each of them has two parents and so on back until infinity. On a five generation pedigree chart, you will have 31 people. You are always listed as No. 1 and your parents are No. 2 – your father and No. 3 – your mother. On level three, you will have a total of four grandparents. On level four, there are eight great-grandparents, and on level five, you have 16 great-great-grandparents! You can do the numbers to whatever level you want. Husbands/fathers are always listed as an even number and the wife/mother as the father’s number plus one or an odd number.

Now the fun begins

Once you get a paper chart or a software program of your choice, all you have to do is fill in the blanks. That is where the fun – and the swearing – begins! You start out by filling in everything you know about yourself. Just remember that this is an “open book” test and you may have to get out that birth certificate or call Aunt Peggy for the answers!

And yes, you start with yourself as No. 1 and progress in order back as far as you can go. Use full names. Women are listed with their maiden names. You may want to capitalize the surname. Dates are written as 01 May 2011. Never use just the last two numbers of the year or you may be wondering if great great….. grandpa was born in 1711 or 1511 or you get the point!

Once you get as much of the pedigree chart filled out as possible just from memory, start putting families together beginning with your own father, mother and siblings in order of birth. Each set of parents gets his or her own family group sheet, with or without children, legally married or not.

As you put the families together, you can add names to the chart. You will not be able to find every single person in every line as you go. Once you get so far with the lineage, you may choose to work on one line or you can start to jump around from ancestor to ancestor. That’s OK, as long as you don’t pick someone famous and think you can work from them down to you. It just doesn’t work that way. And unfortunately some of us don’t know either parent or in some cases or neither parent. But don’t let not knowing your parents or grandparents stop you from doing family history. Just pick someone you love and work their family line.

Documentation

When you are first getting started, try to keep things simple. You can get complicated later on, but the one thing you do as you plug in the information is “document” every fact you get. Noting the information is from the original birth certificate has greater power than just saying Aunt Peggy said so. If you can’t document the information, you might want to also note that fact so you can go back later for the information. And remember, just because it is on the Internet does not make it so. Mistakes happen. Internet information is a map for where you can find the original! It is NOT the facts. Books are not facts. The exception to this rule is the microfilmed records you may find in libraries, on Ancestry.com or the LDS Family History Centers.

KISS

Just remember to KISS off your genealogy. Keep it simple, stupid. Once you start complicating things, it stops being fun. Regardless of what you find, remember that you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family … as much as some of us would like to! So get started to spend the rest of your life bogged down in the No. 1 hobby of the world.