Whether you’re just living the legacy of your forefathers, whether you’re told you came from a noble bloodline that spans three generations or a grandchild of a Native American elder with a lineage that traces back to the earliest Cherokee villagers before the European colonization, it remains important to know who lived before you. And it is perhaps by only doing so, that you get to understand where you came from.
Most of us were luckier, having been born in more fortunate times with parents who were prepared to make us feel what a family and a home was supposed to be. Some people weren’t so lucky, living in countries that stuck to hundreds-old traditions that often didn’t really speak to the kind of society we now live in. Learning about your family can be an interesting, emotional and sometimes challenging process. While you’re at it, it might be a great idea to trace your roots using a family tree with the following elements:
1. Generation: Deciding to go on a personal project to trace your roots also means discovering just how far back you can actually take it. This will determine the number of generations you can show in the family tree. Family trees are usually presented starting from your oldest ancestors at the top and the newer generations at the bottom. As the years come and go and as things change in the family, the family tree can serve as something much more valuable than just reference charts for telling one member from another.
2. Size: Back to the basics. A reliable family tree shows how big or small the family is. Some people grow up in extended families and some only keep ties with their parents and siblings. Depending on how much of your family’s history you want to find out, determining the size of your family may require adding cousins and other relatives or just keep it to direct descendants. The amount of work and time it takes to complete your tree would also be dependent on the size.
3. Names: Writing down the names of your family members tend to get tricky when you start to research about people that lived about a hundred years ago since family or even the town’s archives may not be enough to check their real names. However, you may have a chance with local offices if you want to verify. You can also ask the oldest members of your family in getting the names of your ancestors right.
4. Birth Dates: Make a list of your ancestor’s birth dates from your great-great-grandparents down to the present members of your family with birth dates of relatives, spouses and those of your brothers and sisters. As with trying to get the names of your ancestors right, birth dates can be a tad overwhelming because it is a piece of important information that you can’t just leave out, so it’s better to keep it to what you can only manage. Also, making sure that you have all these information and that you have them verified, is within the limits of what resources are available.
Just like thinking of the turning point of milestones in American history from the Revolutionary War to the civil rights movement, knowing what happened puts our forefathers in a historical context. Every family has a story. Some parts will leave you with pride and perhaps even encouraged to protect the family name and pursue greater virtue in the process. Others, maybe not so much. Follow these steps to create a family tree and know your story:
1. Decide what and how much you want to include: Start with an outline template on the information that needs to be included as well as the number of generations you can show. Draw a line tracing your name or from the oldest member of the oldest generation going down to the present and branch them out as you go along. A family tree often has each name in some sort of box or represented by a photo with lines tracing member’s relationship with one another. You can also include descendants or have them as your starting point.
2. Study your genealogy: Some people grew up with stories about their families that shaped who they are, and perhaps, to who they want to be. How many times have we been encouraged to follow in our fore father’s footsteps? How many fights didn’t make sense only to find out later on, they’re deeply rooted in what one member did in the past. “The sins of the father..” so the saying goes. We have to be familiar without lineage even if what we might discover could disappoint us. Before creating an outline for your family tree, gather all the information you need by doing enough research.
3. Know your purpose: First, ask yourself why you want to trace your bloodline and why it matters, before you embark on the actual task of creating a family tree. If you know of no one else in the family who had done this before and if there’s no record of any old family chart you can use an update as a guide, the templates in this article can be really helpful. But more than that, it might also be a good idea to involve the rest of your family members in the process, including those you rarely see by asking questions regarding your ancestors, especially if you can’t get the answers any other way. This might also turn out to be a really fun activity you can share with the whole family.
4. Do your research: As what has been previously mentioned, it might start getting challenging to fill in the names once you go back a few generations. In making sure that you get all information and that every member of the family from your older generations get included, you’ll have to do further research to make sure the data you have collected is sufficient and accurate. This is also a great way to learn more about the history of your family. You can continue talking to older members and find out more information. You may even get to hear stories about your ancestor’s roles in some of history’s turning points. And those are what makes great stories.
Some of us want to trace back our roots as far back as our efforts and the resources can allow us. Others create a family tree to see if they can find the missing link to some fact or secret they have just discovered. The rest do it for the sake of reference more than anything else. Whatever your reasons are, you may find these tips useful:
There are different types of charts genealogists use when they conduct research and trace bloodlines but you don’t have to be as precise. Below are the two most common types of family tree/charts you can use. It’s up to you to figure which one fits your family best:
There is no standard size for a family tree but if you want to have copies printed, it’s best to go with A4 & US Sizes or any of these: 16 x 20″, 18 x 24″, or 24 x 36″.
The degree of being cousins (first, second, third, etc.) determines how many generations are between two cousins and their nearest common ancestor. Your second cousin once removed is the parent or child of a second cousin, as your first cousin twice removed is the grandchild or grandparent of your first cousin.
The Guinness Book of World Records recognized the Chinese philosopher Confucius’ genealogical line as the longest recorded family tree in history with a total of 86 recorded generations spanning over 2,500 years. Confucius (551 to 479 BCE) is said to have 3 million descendants all over the world.
Researching your family’s history can be a challenging feat, in that it sometimes leads to family secrets that may change your faith or loyalty to your family altogether. It can also be a great way to forge stronger bonds between you and your siblings, cousins and other relatives just when you thought it’s too late. Having a family tree to refer to may not be able to get you the answers you want but it does have some great benefits to it that aren’t limited to just identifying people on old faded family photographs.