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September 9th, 2007


A couple times a year, I get on a major genealogy kick. I’ll try out different family tree programs, do a little research, talk to a couple of the relatives who have done research in the past and talk to them about merging work… and then it fades. I’m currently on my most recent genealogy kick and I thought I’d tell you about what I’ve found so far this time around in terms of the technological side of things.

I’m in the first stages of putting together a thorough family tree. I really want our daughter to have a good grasp on where she comes from, particularly since her family tree will extend into multiple countries many, many miles apart. Plus, both my wife and I have pretty huge extended families (I have a total of 40 great aunts and uncles).

This first stage consists of gathering the easy-to-find stuff into a good family tree application. After trying a bunch of applications, the one I like best (and which, thankfully, is also free) is Family Tree Builder, a desktop app that connects with, the free online storage location for your family tree. FTB/MyHeritage have very good UIs and some potentially cool features like facial recognition and “smart matching,” which looks for connections between your family and existing family trees.

I’ve been talking with my mom and dad, trying to find out all I can from them, going as far back as possible. This first stage also involves searching the Social Security Death Index, a great place to start for little things, like finding out the birthdate of a deceased relative.

Stage one will finish once we get as much information out of my mother-in-law as we can about my wife’s side of the family.

Stage two will consist of getting family tree information from extended members of my family. My dad’s cousin has done some pretty extensive research on one branch of our family tree, so I hope to merge her work with mine at some point.

Stage three will be the trickiest, perhaps taking years to work on. This will be the part involved in searching the family histories in Ireland, Scotland, Poland, and Vietnam. Once we get to a certain point, there’s just not much that’s known, so this is new ground. Poland and Vietnam will be particularly tricky because of the language barrier and questionable record keeping (questionable in that we just don’t know how well records were kept in these countries). It’ll be incredibly interesting, but potentially very frustrating.

Have you searched very deeply into your family tree? Any particular resources you can recommend to a relative newbie? There are a lot of ways to spend money researching your family and I’d really rather only spend money on methods that are going to provide good, accurate payoff.

Posted in Everyday Life, Technology

Paul September 9, 2007, 2:47 pm

Doing the family tree is a project I want to pick up every couple of months but end up not doing for any of a number of garbage reasons. But I really want to.

jk September 10, 2007, 12:47 am

Throughout my dad’s life, he was told that he had a distant cousin who was tracing the family history. He thought it was just an urban German legend.

In 1988, the genealogy showed up in the mail. The guy was able to piece it all together in ways that disproved stories we had heard over the years. It goes back to 1600 when the first ancestor left Austria for Germany. The guy was born when his dad was 76 (!) years old. My very Prussian grandfather would have been quite surprised at the findings in this book.

It’s absolutely fascinating and even allowed us to find previously unknown relatives in Denmark whom we visited in 2001.

I have no advice other than “hope that someone else has done all the work for you.”

Rob September 10, 2007, 4:23 pm

My dad was really into doing this a few years back. I don’t think he’s still pursuing it. He found quite a lot of information about the part of the family that’s lived in this country, but finding anything else would probably require going to Ireland or getting in touch with someone there. It was my great-grandparents who came over from there. I believe my dad said he found documents giving wildly different birth years for my great-grandfather, so I don’t think he was even sure about that. I only have one living grandparent left, so getting info from family is difficult. I’ve always been interested in exploring this, too, but I’ve never really done anything about it. All I can say is… good luck! 🙂

Ryan September 10, 2007, 8:16 pm

Census information has proven to be hit-or-miss, Rob, and I bet that’s where a lot of the wildly different birth years come from. In one case, they had my aunt as being 39 even though her parents were only 30.

Aanen September 11, 2007, 3:33 pm

One of my dad’s relatives was working on our family tree in Norway. Not sure if anyone on my mother’s side has done any work. I do remember looking through some really old photographs (some pre 20th century) with my grandmother, but she passed away a few years ago.

My friend’s mom has traced their family back to medieval times and also found out that one of their relatives actually invented the revolving door but never got it patented.

Rob September 11, 2007, 3:38 pm

Yes! You’re right. That’s where my dad had gotten his information. Census records from different years said inconsistent things about my great-grandfather’s age. I can imagine that that stuff would be pretty inaccurate, especially given how census information was collected back then.

Janice Brown September 12, 2007, 12:46 am

As someone who has researched genealogy for over 30 years, I can suggest that while some of your relatives are alive, interview them. As a matter of fact, seek out the oldest KNOW relatives, and spend quite a bit of time with them (video tape them even). I still refer back to some of the interviews I did years ago for additional clues. The information you get that way is not always correct, but it helps more than it hurts.

Also ask those same folks if they have any old photographs you might scan. Make your genealogy more than a list of names and dates.. put a face on your family tree.


jk September 12, 2007, 2:38 am

My dad just emailed me to ask when his half-sister’s birthday. Thanks to the genealogy, I now know it’s 18.September.

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