What I wish I knew before I started my genealogy

how to start your own genealogy

I never could have imagined that what began as a Christmas gift for my grandfather turned into a passion that has been going on for better than 10 years. In fact, when I started my research the only information I had about my family history was that my great, great grandfather emigrated from Ireland to a very small town in West Michigan.

I assumed that when I began my research I wouldn’t find much. Nobody in my family was famous, or “well known”. Also, I vaguely remember another relative attempting to do family research and she came up empty-handed. So, needless to say, I wasn’t that confident I would find any information. However, I could not have been more wrong.

As I reflect upon my experience there are some things I think I did really well and other things which I wish I would have done differently. Perhaps the best decision I made was starting with a genealogist at a local museum. I gave the little old lady all of the information I had and waited two weeks to hear back from her.

Little did I know that most of the information I had about my great, great grandfather was incorrect (even his name). What’s more, the tradition that had been passed down through the family was not correct either. The genealogist gave me a thick folder full of information about who my great, great grandfather was as well as when he arrived in West Michigan.

Major Eugene McDonald
My Great, Great Grandfather Major Eugene McDonald. Circa 1922

Armed with accurate information, I signed up for a trial membership on ancestry.com. And once I put in my great, great grandfather’s name the rest was history (pun intended). I remember as I learned about my great, great grandfather’s parents and their context I had this excitement like a child at Christmas time. Each time I clicked on a new relative that excitement would begin percolating again. It turned out that there are 10 generations of McDonald’s that have lived in this country.

Since my initial experience, I have found hundreds of McDonald family members as well as developed relationships with distant cousins who have the same passion for our McDonald Family History.

I have included below a brief list of what I learned from my experience and the method that worked best for me to collect and organize my information.

Scenario 1

For those who believe the starting information they have IS accurate.

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    Filing System

    Create a physical and digital filing system to organize all of your information. I organized my folders by state.

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    Software

    Download open source software to help you organize the information within your family tree. See resources section for recommendations.

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    Ancestry.com

    Sign up for a 14 day trial with Ancestry.com

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    Research

    Ancestry.com and/or other research websites to gather information. Contact local genealogists within the community of your ancestor to help you research (most are not that expensive).

Scenario 2

For those who believe their starting information may NOT be accurate.
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    Filing System

    Create a physical and digital filing system to organize all of your information. I organized my folders by state.

  • null

    Research

    Ancestry.com and/or other research websites to gather information. Contact local genealogists within the community of your ancestor to help you research (most are not that expensive).

  • null

    Software

    Download open source software to help you organize the information within your family tree. See resources section for recommendations.

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    Ancestry.com

    Sign up for a 14 day trial with Ancestry.com

Below is a list of resources that I have compiled. They have all been reviewed and are ranked accordingly.

Ancestris

Description

Ancestris is not well-known software. However, the software was created by genealogists and is thus very powerful and full of options.

Pros

  • Imports/Exports GEDCOM
  • Completely free
  • Many options

Cons

  • The user interface is very convoluted due to the number of features the software has.
  • The software has no cloud-based system to store information. Everything stores on your computer.
  • The software only uses free services for research.
Visit Ancestris

My Heritage

Description

My Heritage is great genealogy software that has a free and paid version. This is a well-balanced software that has a robust free version and a very worthwhile paid version. The paid version gives you access to a robust online research library. It also offers cloud syncing between your computer and the internet. Has a strong community of researchers and allows you to sync new data easily in your own tree so you don’t have to type all of the information. This is definitely one of my favorite pieces of software. Both the free and the paid versions are wonderful.

Pros

  • Imports/Exports GEDCOM.
  • Has a robust free version.
  • Has a robust research library in the paid version.
  • Allows you to easily download other’s information into your own tree.
  • Auto-synching feature that allows you to have an identical tree on both your computer and online for others to view.
  • Has a 14 day trial for the paid version.

Cons

  • If you have more than one tree, the synching can become difficult.
Visit My Heritage

RootsMagic

Description

RootsMagic is a popular software choice for professional genealogists. It has an easy to use interface, imports Gedcom files very well.

Pros

  • Import/Export GEDCOM.
  • Easy to use interface.
  • Has a free version.
  • The paid version has all of the important online research connections necessary.

Cons

  • The free version is too limited.
  • No descendent tree in the free version.
Visit RootsMagic

Heredis

Description

Heredis is perhaps the most popular of the group. Their website boasts over 100,000 downloads. Heredis is very similar to RootsMagic with an easier to use interface. However, the Free version of this software is severely limited as it is only a trial version.

Pros

  • Import/Export GEDCOM.
  • Easy to use interface.
  • Has a trial version.
  • The paid version is very affordable.

Cons

  • The free version is too limited.
  • No real research capabilities.
Visit Heredis

Below is a list of places you can do research. The list consists of both paid and unpaid options.

Ancestry.com (Paid)

Family Search (Free)

Find A Grave (Free)

Family Tree Magazine (Free/Paid)

Geni (Free/Paid)

UsGenWeb (Free)

More to come soon!

Software

Ancestris

Description

Ancestris is not well-known software. However, the software was created by genealogists and is thus very powerful and full of options.

Pros

  • Imports/Exports GEDCOM
  • Completely free
  • Many options

Cons

  • The user interface is very convoluted due to the number of features the software has.
  • The software has no cloud-based system to store information. Everything stores on your computer.
  • The software only uses free services for research.
Visit Ancestris

My Heritage

Description

My Heritage is great genealogy software that has a free and paid version. This is a well-balanced software that has a robust free version and a very worthwhile paid version. The paid version gives you access to a robust online research library. It also offers cloud syncing between your computer and the internet. Has a strong community of researchers and allows you to sync new data easily in your own tree so you don’t have to type all of the information. This is definitely one of my favorite pieces of software. Both the free and the paid versions are wonderful.

Pros

  • Imports/Exports GEDCOM.
  • Has a robust free version.
  • Has a robust research library in the paid version.
  • Allows you to easily download other’s information into your own tree.
  • Auto-synching feature that allows you to have an identical tree on both your computer and online for others to view.
  • Has a 14 day trial for the paid version.

Cons

  • If you have more than one tree, the synching can become difficult.
Visit My Heritage

RootsMagic

Description

RootsMagic is a popular software choice for professional genealogists. It has an easy to use interface, imports Gedcom files very well.

Pros

  • Import/Export GEDCOM.
  • Easy to use interface.
  • Has a free version.
  • The paid version has all of the important online research connections necessary.

Cons

  • The free version is too limited.
  • No descendent tree in the free version.
Visit RootsMagic

Heredis

Description

Heredis is perhaps the most popular of the group. Their website boasts over 100,000 downloads. Heredis is very similar to RootsMagic with an easier to use interface. However, the Free version of this software is severely limited as it is only a trial version.

Pros

  • Import/Export GEDCOM.
  • Easy to use interface.
  • Has a trial version.
  • The paid version is very affordable.

Cons

  • The free version is too limited.
  • No real research capabilities.
Visit Heredis
Research Websites

Below is a list of places you can do research. The list consists of both paid and unpaid options.

Ancestry.com (Paid)

Family Search (Free)

Find A Grave (Free)

Family Tree Magazine (Free/Paid)

Geni (Free/Paid)

UsGenWeb (Free)

Additional

More to come soon!

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