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Why the Apple Doesn’t Fall Far

If you’ve ever used the expression “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” you know that it’s a way of saying that a child’s tendencies have a lot to do with their parents. However, this simple phrase also may conjure thoughts of family trees. How far, exactly, has the apple fallen? A family tree is nothing more than a easy to read chart showing births and marriages in a family, but making one can help clear up your research, especially when you have family members with similar names. Create a family tree to make your genealogy quest go more smoothly.

It is probably easiest to start from the bottom and work your way back into history when you are drawing out a family tree or building one online. Begin with yourself and your children and grandchildren if you have them. Lines to show marriage connect couples, and the children resulting from this marriage are usually shown by drawing a line down from the center of the marriage line. Remember to leave enough space for everyone-draw your lines longer than you think they need to be if you are doing it by hand.

Continue to work your way back through the generations. A family tree can be as detailed or simple as you need it to be, so you can include not only names, but marriage dates, birth and death dates, places of burial, and other information if you wish. Some people even include pictures on their family tree when available. This can make a nice display, especially at a family reunion or anniversary.

If you seriously need to sort through your information, however, it might be more beneficial to invest in a computer program or web service that will make a family tree based on the information you input. This will be more neatly organized than one drawn by hand. Many companies manufacture computer software to help you with this task, but this can be pricey, so read product reviews before making a purchase to ensure you get the tools you need.

When your family tree is filled with the information you have gathered, you will be able to easily see the gaps in your research that need to be filled. You may also see new connections between family members that you did not realize before. A family tree is a great tool when you begin in depth research to help you stay focused and organized.

Why Should I Care?

When you begin thinking about genealogy, or hear other family members speak of the subject, you may think to yourself, “But why should I care?” Simple: It’s in your blood. All jokes aside, there are many advantages to researching your family history, and when you are done with your research, it is beneficial to your entire family to share the information for a number of reasons. Studying genealogy is an important pastime for you and your relatives.

Before you begin to grumble, realize that researching your family history does not have to become a major part of your life. If you find that you enjoy the work, great-make it a hobby you spend a lot of time and money doing. However, if you aren’t a history buff (or perhaps don’t get along with your family very well), you don’t have to devote hours every day to research. By learning a few simple facts, you can keep yourself and your children healthy and educated.

First off, studying your family tree is important for health purposes. There’s a reason your doctor wants to know your mother and father’s health history when you go in for a check-up. Many diseases are passed through your genes, so learning a little about the health of you parents and grandparents may help you and your children take preventative measures against such diseases. You can also make more educated decisions in your lifestyle choices if you know you have a predisposition for a certain disease. For example, if all four of your grandparents have diabetes, you may be able to prevent this in yourself by eating healthier from a young age and encouraging your children to do the same. If you find any trends in your family’s health history, you should share this information with relatives, so that they and their children can remain healthy as well.

Beyond your health, learning about your family tree also helps your stay educated about yourself. There are many resources online and in print that can tell you what your surname means, for example. You can also probably find information relating to your family crest, and other special family insignia. This may be a fun project for your children, and it will also help you and them both learn a little more about using a library for research or looking for information on the Internet. Other fun information your research could uncover includes burial places that would be perfect vacation spots, famous relatives, or information about family heirlooms that you may now own. In any case, it’s nice to at least know your family’s country of origin. You don’t have to devote your life to the pursuit of family history, but by filling in a few of the gaps, you will be able to pass these chunks of information on to your children to help them stay healthy and be proud about their background.

Using your Research to Stay Healthy: Genetics

Although genealogy may just be an interesting hobby for some, for others it has a very important role-by researching your family, you can learn about your family’s health history. This is especially important for people who have lost family information for as recently as one or two generations ago. Genetics are to blame for many common diseases and body traits, as well as some rare health problems, so by locating information about your ancestors, you can have a better understanding of your own health.

First, you need to understand a little about genetics and how you get specific traits from your parents, grandparents, and so on. Genetics is simply the study of heredity, done mostly by looking at your DNA. DNA is the building block of life, and it is a molecule made up by string four nucleotides together in a specific order. A piece of this string is called a gene. So, DNA is a sentence, genes are the words, and nucleotides are the letters.

DNA, in turn, combines to create chromosomes (like sentences create paragraphs), of which every person has 23 pairs (one from your mother and one from your father). Some genes are, in layman’s terms, more powerful than others are, which is what determines if you inherit your mother’s blue eyes or your father’s brown eyes. To go back to the sentence analogy, think of your 23 pairs of chromosomes as two versions of a story. The more exciting version is the one that people want to hear, so the two stories are combined to create the best story possible, taking characteristics from both versions. During conception, you receive one “story” that is 23 paragraphs long from each parent, and your body develops by copying these 23 chromosomes over and over until your are formed. Remember that your mom and dad each have 23 pairs (one from their own mother and one from their own father), but they only pass on 23 single chromosomes to you, a naturally random process.

There are many different health problems that can be caused by your DNA, but generally, they fall into two categories. Multiple gene disorders occur when your parents both give you a defective copy of the same gene. Generally, defective genes are less powerful, so you only need one healthy gene to override the medical condition. However, single gene disorders are much more easily passed because the defective gene is more powerful than the healthy one. By researching your family history, you can find out what health problems you may have in your future and what you may pass on to your children.

The Value of Old Junk

When you are cleaning out an attic or garage for a yard sale or after the passing of a loved one, before you get rid of anything, look at it with a researcher’s eye. Many heirlooms and keepsakes hold clues to your family’s history, so be careful to record information before selling it or throwing it away. When you come to a dead end in your research, something you have written down from this spring cleaning may come in handy to give you your next lead.

Some of the most valuable pieces of family history come from old books. Check the front covers for names and dates-when books were first being published, it was very common to print your name in it, since they were valuable but often lent to friends. Bibles are extremely useful, as most were given as gifts when a child was baptized, for their first communion, or otherwise inducted into the church as a member. Bibles and other religious books are common things to pass down through the generations as well, so multiple names and birth dates or death dates might be recorded, as well as church membership information. If all else fails, at least you can deduce that your ancestors were of a certain religion.

Clothing is another good way to find clues to your family’s past. You may be able to get a better visual description of a particular ancestor this way, making it easier to identify them in photographs. Check the tags for names, although this is a more modern practice. If you find military uniforms, this will tell you to search military records of a certain time period for your ancestors. Take notice to any special insignia or medals with the uniform in order to help you confirm facts.

Furniture and other homemade wooden items also provide clues. Check all of the drawers, and behind them, for old papers and look on the bottom of the piece for the name of the maker and date. Although this person may or may not be someone in your family, it will give you an idea of time period and the name of a person in your family’s community. His ancestors may be worth contacting, because if they are also doing family history research, they may have come across your surname in sources you have not yet accessed.

Finally, look for pieces that were engraved, such as jewelry. Although this may not give you much more than a name and date, you may find this information invaluable when fact checking at a later point in your research. In general, take note of your old junk before disregarding it and you may be happy you did later in your research.

The Secret Files that Might Save your Research

If you’ve never heard of the American Genealogical-Biographical Index, don’t be worried-although it is one of the best research tools available for United States genealogical research, it is also very unknown and unused. However, use this option when you begin your research and you won’t be disappointed; there are over 6 million entries, and most of these have never been published before and do not overlap with information you can collect at other places. Now online and on CD-ROM, the American Genealogical-Biographical Index, AGBI for short, is much more accessible and growing in popularity, as opposed to seven years ago, when only about 200 libraries nation-wide had access to it in print version.

Also known as the Rider Index, the AGBI began as a project by a librarian in the 1930s. He borrowed hundred of different kinds of records from researchers, churches, etc to publish an index in print form. As of the beginning of the 21st century, it included names from over 840 sources, many of which are from the New England states, but records from all thirteen colonies, as well as from other early states, are included. You can find this database online now at, one of the best online resources for people researching their family tree.

Each entry in the AGBI includes six parts: surname, first name, birthday, state of residence, biographical information (whatever is available, such as occupation or military service information), and citation. You can access this information online, or you can find a print version of the AGBI in your state’s major research libraries. Since print copies are huge and hard to find, the Internet is probably your best bet. However, if you live in Connecticut, you might want to consider traveling to Middletown to the Godfrey Memorial Library, where the project began over three-quarters of a century ago. There, not only can you find a print version of the AGBI, but many print versions of the sources sited in the AGBI as well. The Family History Library in Utah is another good place for research based on the AGBI.

Don’t overlook this wonderful tool when you are researching your family tree. Although you may not gain much more information than you already know, what you will find is a source for this information that may lead you to finding more ancestors. Thanks to modern technology, this information is not available online so that you can access it whenever it fits your schedule.

The Power of Pictures

When you are doing research on your family history, one of the most common resources you will come across is a photograph. Although it was more expensive as you go back in history, photography was still a common practice, and so pictures of your ancestors can greatly help you in your research, especially if your ancestors were good at recording information.

Start with you own collection. Make sure that your pictures are organized and safely placed in a container or album that is acid free and of archival quality. This will help you keep things in order when future generations want to research their family tree. For each photograph record the names of the people in the pictures, along with their ages, the date the photograph was taken, the photographer, and the occasion. You might remember what is going on now, but you may not after the years start passing by, and your descendents will have no idea.

When you start collecting old photographs, try to create a similar system of organization. Ask older relatives to help you identify the people in the pictures and give you dates and other information. People outside the family might be useful as well, so employ the help of your parents’ or grandparents’ childhood friends, classmates, and neighbors. Gather as much information about each picture as possible.

For older photographs, you will probably find that nobody living remembers the people pictured. In this case, you have to rely on the recording on the back of these pictures, if there is anything written. You can also use context clues to give the photograph an estimated date. What kind of clothing are the people wearing? If you know that the picture is of a specific family, who is present, who has passed away, and who has yet to be born? Many pictures also included images of the family’s house. Compare this house to real estate records, since many additions were added over the years, changing the appearance.

If you cannot find any of this information, don’t throw out the picture just yet. Keep collecting photographs of your family members-one day, you may find one from a similar time period that has writing on the back, identifying people and places. Check local flea markets, estate sales, and libraries to compare pictures, and keep a record of where you got each photograph so that anyone who picks up you research will at least have that bit of information.

The Hunt for Birth Parents

One of the most difficult and emotional processes when studying and researching your genealogy is the hunt for birth parents if you have been adopted. Because of privacy laws, which vary from state to state and time period to time period, your may or may not be able to locate exact names and locations from the adoption agency or even from your adoptive parents. Also, many times birth parents do not want to be found. The process can be long, so be prepared for quite a search.

The best starting point when trying to locate your birth family is your adoptive parents. Be sensitive when approaching them for information-make it very clear that you wish to know your genealogy has nothing to do with them or the love they showed you as parents. By finding your birth parents, you are in no way replacing your real family. Your mother and father may not to be able to give you any more than a first name for your birth mother or even any more than the name of the agency or adoption center that handled the paperwork. It will be especially tricky to find information from them if you were from an agency overseas. However, some adoptions are more open then others and your parents may have had some contact with the birth mother, even if they do not know her name. Even providing you with her age or some physical features may help you on your search.

Next, research the laws surrounding adoption in your state and country. You may want to invest in a professional to help you understand these laws, but be careful to always abide by them. There are many agencies, which you can find on the Internet or in your phone book, that can help you in this area, and their legal advice can be invaluable. On the Internet, you can also sign up for services such as adoption reunions. Perhaps your birth mother is looking for you too.

Finally, approach the agency that handled your adoption. They may or may not be able to help you, but it can’t hurt to ask. You might be able to send a letter, through them, to your birth mother, asking for her to contact you to help you research your birth family tree. The adoption agency may also be able to tell you about your mother’s medical records, if nothing else, so that you can be aware of your family’s health history.

Don’t give up. You may never locate your birth mother, but even finding out her name and age can help your draw up a family tree. Your birth father will probably be even harder to find. If you’re stumped, consider researching your adoptive family instead, because it is their name you carry and their love that raised you.

Talking to Grandma: How to Successfully Interview your Relatives

The first step to any kind of family history research is to record what is already known. If you haven’t been interested in family history in the past, this is most often done by speaking to your relatives, particularly the older living generations. If you don’t go into the interview with a clear agenda, you may find that you don’t get much accomplished other than chit chat, especially if you don’t often see your relatives, so it is important to have a plan before beginning any interview.

Take a notebook or tape recorder if possible to record information. Names and dates all start to run together if you don’t keep record of what your relatives are saying. Also, come with a list of questions. Some people may be slightly uncomfortable opening up to you, so begin with questions about the interviewee. For example, ask older relatives what his or her life was like growing up. When they mention their mother or father, jump in to ask about their names, dates of marriage, etc. Be sensitive about deaths of close ones, but you should politely ask this as well to fill in the gaps in your research. Record everything they tell you, even if it seems insignificant at the time. Later in your research, the smallest bit of information may lead you in a new direction. Take careful notes about names, and ask for full name spellings whenever possible. Even a common name, like Sue, might stem from Susan, Suzanne, Suelynn, Bobbisue, or any other of the countless variations. Also write down names of friends that your relatives mention. Even though they are not part of your family tree, if they are living and were close to your family, they might remember names and dates that your relative does not.

Be conscious and considerate of other people’s time. Even with your own mother or father, it is important to thank them for spending some time talking with you. Offer to share a copy of your research when you have progressed farther. A thoughtful way to say thank you is to conduct your interview over dinner and pay for the meal at the end. This will also keep you on a time schedule.

Remember that not everything your relatives tell you will be true or exactly accurate, even though they might not consciously be lying to you. Family stories get exaggerated over time, dates get confusing, and even important details are lost to the years. Use you relatives’ interviews as a starting point, but confirm all the details with other sources before you consider them facts.

Taking Your Hobby to the Next Level

If researching your own family is something you really enjoy, you might consider a career in the profession. People who seriously want to research as much about their families as possible often employ the services of a professional genealogist to help them. Turning pro is not just a matter of advertising your services after a few years of doing your own research. If you really want to supplement your income by helping others do research, there are a few important steps you need to take.

First, join a reputable genealogical society. In your own research, you’ve probably come across a few of the bigger organizations, and membership to one of these will help your career begin. Your best option is The Association of Professional Genealogists. Visit their website to learn how you can become a member of this organization and what benefits members have. They can also send you literature about turning professional.

Your next step is to become accredited. Chance are, no one will hire you if you cannot show that you are certified in the art of genealogical research. You can receive accreditation in six different areas of genealogy and there are six different titles to go along with that: Certified Genealogist, Certified Genealogical Record Specialist, Certified American Lineage Specialist, Certified American Indian Lineage Specialist, Certified Genealogical Lecturer, and Certified Genealogical Instructor. Research all of these options before choosing one so that you will find a good fit for your skills.

Next, do your research. By that, I mean that you should have lots of experience researching your own family history before you attempt to help anyone else. Learn how to use the Internet to do searches, and know your way around a library. Also find resource centers from each of the fifty states and ask for information about the services they provide. Know what type of information you can get at the courthouse and where you can find other records. You can learn this by reading books about genealogy, and also by participating in workshops or taking classes, another important step towards becoming pro. Stay up to date about new advances in the family history research world by subscribing to magazines and websites.

Lastly, it is important to know how to run a business. You need to be able to successfully operate your own business, including all financial and legal matters, before you attempt to turn pro. By doing this, you can be well on your way to a career in genealogy, and hopefully you will be happy and successful with your new business.

Stealing from your Family: Copyright laws

Since all kinds of genealogical information is available on the Internet, in libraries and through countless other databases, you have endless sources of research for your own work. However, if you intend to publish your research when it is complete, you need to protect yourself from legal issues of copyright infringement. It’s hard to imagine that information about your own family might not belong to you, but by learning copyright laws, you’ll be able to understand why you need to be careful to not steal from other sources. Remember to protect your work with copyright registration as well to prevent people from stealing from you!

There are many things that cannot be copyrighted no matter how much time you spend researching it. For example, a simple pedigree chart or list of basic facts, no matter where you get them, cannot be copyrighted. What can be copyrighted, on the other hand, is your personal narrative. Information in this narrative that can be found in many sources is not copyright-able, and neither are titles, charts, etc, but your exact words cannot be taken and used by someone else, so remember that it is illegal to copy and paste information directly from an Internet source and then publish it as your own. If there is any question in your mind, it is best to contact the original author and ask permission to use them as a source in your research. This person is most likely a very distant member of your own family, so he or she should be more than willing to grant you access, with certain limitations.

Whenever you write something that is original, it is automatically yours-you don’t need to protect your work with copyright registration to make it illegal to steal it. However, when court battles arise, it is impossible to prove that a piece of work belongs to you if you do not register it. Your opponent can simply turn the tables and say that it was you who was doing the stealing. To obtain protection, you must pay a flat fee to register with the Library of Congress. The form for registration can be mailed to you or downloaded and printed from the Internet, but in either case make sure to follow the directions completely. They will require two copies of your finished piece for their archives, and you will receive documentation of your copyright protection in case any legal problems should arise. Remember to be responsible-you don’t want other people stealing your hard work, so don’t steal from the people who’ve published before you.