Genealogy research and tracing my family tree history has been an interest and hobby of mine for several years. October is Family History Month and there is no better way to celebrate but to begin creating a family tree of your own with names, stories, photos, vital records, birth dates, marriages, divorces, deaths etc for a complete family history of your ancestry and roots.
Genealogy or ancestry research can seem rather daunting for a beginner, especially when you consider the time it takes collecting family documents and records kept in old Bibles, going to libraries checking through large volumes of books and files, family history databases, charts and vital records reports.
Then there are the newspapers, obituaries, cemeteries, tombstones, census records, church records, land and property records, deeds of ownership and much more. It would be great if diaries, personal letters, Bible notes and photos were all we needed to build a family tree, and it would make the process of building a family tree pretty easy.
Free Family Tree Makers
When I first started searching for information on relatives and ancestors to create a family tree online to pass onto my children and grandchildren, I wanted to collect as many details as I could for free. There are genealogy search engines and websites that provide information about family records and data for little or no cost at all (Geni.com), to get help in finding your family tree history and create a family tree online, or you can use family tree software on your computer.
MyHeritage.com is also a free family tree maker that allows users to create and print a family tree for free, but after trying it for awhile I chose Ancestry.com instead. Some “free” tree maker sites are really just a free trial period, where after a certain period of time, your free trial runs out and you must become a paying member to continue using the site. Personally, I would much rather go with a well known, highly respected and user friendly website or trusted genealogy software on my computer than to risk having to start all over again.
Even though you don’t need to become a paid member of a genealogy research site such as Ancestry.com in order to make a family tree, perhaps with the help of the free family tree finder from the Mormon Church Genealogy records site (LDS) or Yahoo Groups, it sure helps to have thousands if not millions of genealogy researchers doing much of the work for you.
To get an idea of the amount of information you can gather with or without the help of genealogy software for PC and Mac users, or family history sites on the internet besides those already mentioned, here is a list of some kinds of records hobbyist and professional genealogists use in their research:
- Vital records – birth records, death records, marriage and divorce records
- Adoption records – which, if you’ve ever gotten stuck while researching your family tree, adoption records can make genealogy research very difficult
- Church records – baptism/christening, confirmation, bar or bat mitzvah, marriage, church membership and funeral records
- Court records – civil and criminal records
- Emigration, immigration and naturalization records
- Medical, military and conscription records
- Ship passenger lists
- Hereditary and lineage organization records
- Newspaper articles, occupational records, oral/dental records,
- Passports, schools and colleges attended, alumni association records
- Social Security, pension and tax records
- Voter registration, wills and probate records
- Deeds, land and property records
Family Tree Genealogy Software
Family tree software programs are available in compatible Windows versions and for Mac users to run on the Macintosh operating system, making your genealogy research a simple and easy process. Be sure the program you choose is not an old version and that it allows you to import Genealogical Data Communications, also known as GEDCOM files, and offers upgrades. Reviews of genealogy software for Mac users say Reunion 9 is the best family tree program, and while MacFamilyTree by Synium was given good mention, most preferred Reunion 9 overall.
Reviews for PC users show Family Tree Maker to be at the top of the list of genealogy software, easy for beginners and experienced family tree researchers to use. Legacy Family Tree tied for second place with RootsMagic. Software programs like Personal Ancestral File and The Master Genealogist weren’t given the best marks all around, with most recommending Family Tree Maker overall.
Surname Origin and Last Name Meanings
Have you ever wondered what the nationality of your surname is or what the origin and meaning of your last name is? Do you know what your family crest or coat of arms looks like? Discovering the origin and meaning of your last name is fun too, and you can get a lot of detailed information about your surname by using a free surname finder online.
Reading surname histories and discovering the meanings behind your family name, family crest or coat of arms symbols, shield and colors is very enlightening and fun. Being of part German descent, reading the history of the German coat of arms featuring an eagle with colors similar to that of the Flag of Germany in black, red and gold offered a good history lesson for me, which is now included in my family tree.
If you ever need a translation of the motto, flags and banners for your coat of arms or family crest and what they all mean, Wikipedia has a complete list of coats of arms articles, motto’s, emblems and descriptions that include Presidents and Vice Presidents from every state in the U.S., Canada and other countries.
Common surnames such as Miller, Jones, Brown, Smith and similar last names can make researching genealogy and creating a family tree tedious, time-consuming and overwhelming while trying to find past relatives and ancestors, which is why I personally recommend Ancestry.com to create a family tree online.
The list of things you can do with a family tree are virtually limitless. You can design or make a coat of arms that matches your family tree, look at coat of arms pictures and clipart online where you can download a printable copy of your coat of arms for your records, and even purchase a coat of arms plaque to hang on your wall at home as decoration.
I’ve learned a lot about my family history since I started a family tree online a few years ago, and I have found and met cousins and distant relatives who use RootsWeb, even connecting with them on Facebook and sharing family stories. If you haven’t already started your own family tree, I would encourage you to start a family tree today. You never know who you might find in your family line, and just how easy and fun it is to make some interesting discoveries along the way.