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Researching Your Family Tree 101 
by Shelley Livaudais September 01, 2005

Step Two: Lists

The next step in researching your family tree is to find out what you already know. Start with you and your siblings. Next, list your parents and their siblings. And so on. Go back as far as you can, and fill in any information that comes to mind; it doesn’t matter right now whether all you can remember is a relative’s first name or even a nickname. You’ll be filling in gaps later. And don’t worry about organizing it just yet; we’ll be doing that after the brainstorming session.

After you have finished writing the list, look it over. You may be surprised at how much you already knew! It will also become clear pretty quickly which branches you know the most about, and which ones need some investigation.

Step Three: Get Organized

After compiling the list of known ancestors, you should organize it so that additions can be easily and quickly made. There are many ways to do this, from notebook binders to computer software, but the important thing is that you find a method that works for you. Many people purchase ancestry software, which is readily available both online and in major computer retail stores. The benefit of these programs is that it organizes the generations for you, and calculates relationships between people. You won’t have to try to figure out how many times removed one cousin is from another. The software also allows you to add additional information about the people, such as occupations, places of residence, religious affiliations, and other notes. The downside of using computer software impacts people who do not have laptop computers; the file isn’t portable without one, and you’ll have to print out any information you want to take with you. Once you have entered a few hundred relatives (which won’t take as long as you think!) you’ll have a lot to print out.

A more low-tech solution is to purchase a few notebooks and split your information into logical divisions, such as by surname or by maternal or paternal lines. This will keep your information organized, and allows for portability. The method works equally well with manila folders, stored in a file cabinet.

Many people use a combination of software and folders or notebooks for holding their precious family data. For example, they might store the ancestral information on a computer, but keep notebooks for storing documents – such as birth, death, or marriage certificates – and pictures.

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