Tips for building your family tree

Perhaps you’ve watched the likes of Hillary Duff on an episode of TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are? as she discovered that her mother, long considered to be from the “wrong side of the tracks” was actually a direct descendent of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots. Alternatively, you may have watched an epsiode of Long Lost Family through tears as the hosts reunite adoptees with long lost family members.

You are now inspired or finally have the time to tackle your own family tree but have no idea where to begin.

The Kamloops Family History Society (KFHS) is a local group that meets monthly and takes a keen interest in this endeavor.

“We are a group of about 40 to 45 like-minded and helpful individuals promoting and encouraging the study of family history and genealogy in the Kamloops area,” explains Lindley Roff.

The group’s purpose is to encourage and instruct members in the scientific methods and effective techniques of genealogy research and to offer assistance and encouragement to members doing original research into their ethnic and family background.

Roff suggests that the best way to get started is to just begin “writing down what you already know about your family. Many people find it helpful to use an ancestral chart to record the ancestors from whom you descend. Start with yourself - filling in date and place of birth. Next, put in your parents and their dates and places of birth, death, and date of marriage, if known, then their parents and their parents and so on as far as you can.”

Once the basics are established, the next steps will involve doing the painstaking work of backing up each entry with actual records.

Roff points to a number of ways of building one’s tree.

“I started my family tree in written form; however, by the time I got to about 15 pages, I needed to move to a computer format,” said Roff.

“Although many techniques used to find your ancestors don’t require a computer, it will certainly be easier to keep organized with the benefit of one. By far the best is one which will help you store, organize, and later display the family tree information that you discover. This type of software is a benefit especially when a paper tree would be too much to keep organized,” advises Roff.

Suggested software programs to consider include Family Tree Builder, Family Maker 2017, Legacy 9, Family Historian and Roots Magic 7. If they integrate online with websites such as MyHeritage, Ancestry, Family Search, Find A Grave, FindMyPast, GenealogyBank and others, that’s all the better. Be aware that some of these require a yearly subscription.

Other sources to consider include entering your ancestor’s name in an online search engine (i.e. “John Smith”) or using Facebook to see if a person you are looking for is there, or perhaps a research group may be of assistance

to you.

“California Genealogy! Just Ask”, helped me find the death record of a missing relative,” says Roff.

Roff points to another key source of information, namely the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

“They maintain a collection of records, resources, and services designed to help people learn more about their family history. They gather, preserve, and share genealogical records worldwide. They offer free access to resources and services online at FamilySearch.org, one of the most heavily used genealogy sites on the internet,” said Roff.

Their local church in Kamloops can help provide free research assistance or guidance.

“Our local library holds other resources such as books on genealogy basics, local history, British Columbia books and records, British Columbia Vital Statistics on microfiche, Canadian books and records as well as some international resources,” says Roff.

The KFHS often helps guide people in their search as well.

Another important step is to share with living family members.

“After you have organized your information, make copies of your charts, photographs, and stories, and share them with family members. This will ensure that your family information is preserved and may help other family members in discovering their family history.Using what you have gathered, decide what you would like to do next. Decide which ancestors you would like to know more about and where you might find additional information about them. You could also leave a written history of yourself or your family for family members and posterity,” said Roff.

Common errors that people make when building their family tree is failing to double check and cross reference their findings. Reliance on sites like ancestry.ca can make it very easy to add people to one’s tree that don’t actually belong.

“The best way to avoid these types of errors is to do as complete a search for all reliable records we possibly can. We should also identify and record the sources we used to obtain the records so someone else can look at the same information if needed. Further, if there are differences in the information found, the researcher should analyse, resolve (if possible) and summarize any conflicting evidence. The most important reliable records most genealogists use are: birth, death, marriage, census, immigration and military records,” said Roff.

One potential challenge that can happen in any family tree is the existence of adopted members. Roff describes a couple of ways to illustrate and track these scenarios.

“Different people deal with adoption in their family tree differently. I add adopted people to my tree noting the parents are not the biological parents and that the child is adopted” said Roff.

“Not everyone agrees with this. I have seen trees showing the birth family as the roots of a tree and the adoptive parents as the branches. I have also seen trees with the adoptive and birth families entwined. There are samples of these on the website adoption.com where they say, “Done correctly, family tree assignments can become a beautiful opportunity to represent a child’s birth and adoptive families,” continued Roff.

The KFHS welcomes questions and newcomers interested in attending a meeting. The group hopes to work with the TNRD library in the new year to offer a public workshop on “Researching Your Family Tree.”

The proliferation of DNA testing for the purpose of discovering one’s ethnicity, family origins etc. has been a boon to the process and can provide new leads or help confirm already established connections.

The International Society of Genetic Genealogy notes, “A DNA test can sometimes provide surprising results, which might challenge your sense of ethnic identity, contradict your laborious genealogical research, or reveal unsuspected relationships. Your results may have an impact on your family members as well. You are your own best judge of your ability to handle the unexpected.”

Another consideration is that “not all of us have straightforward or happy histories. Children who were fostered; those of mixed parentage; those who were adopted and are seeking birth parents; or those who came to Canada under unhappy circumstances, may have great difficulties in searching for their past or those of their ancestors.

While the KFHS does not ‘do’ detailed research for people, they may be able to guide people in a direction to do their own research.

“My main advice for beginners is to not delay, start today. Your relatives are not going to live forever. Start small and build outward and upward. Organize your records, record where you found the sources and share your information,” implores Roff.

Regular meetings of the Society are held on the fourth Thursday of each month, September through May (not December) at Heritage House in Riverside Park. The regular meeting begins at 7:00 p.m. with the President presenting a brief overview covering important items from the executive meeting plus any upcoming events. There is a short presentation related to "Research Ideas" before a brief coffee break followed by the main event which is a presentation relevant to genealogical research. Following this part of the evening members are encouraged to relate their success stories and let other members know about unique and unusual sources of information. To round out the evening any members having difficulties are encouraged to ask the general membership for assistance. Refreshments (coffee, tea, non-alcoholic punch, home made cookies) are available throughout the meeting.

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