Series: Do-it-yourself

Do-it-yourself Family History, Part 2: Diving right in (almost)


DISCLAIMER: There are many web sites devoted to methods and techniques for developing your family tree. I’d seek them out, read what they have to say, and develop a plan that works for you. In other words, just because I hate Brussels sprouts doesn’t mean you need to hate them too. Pick and choose based on your comfort level.

In Part 1 I talked about how you can start your family history with what you have on hand. Most of us have our birth certificates or marriage records and I’ll bet we all have photographs. Together, these items serve as your starting point. As promised, I’d like to talk about some tools you can use you track your stuff.

“But why track it?” you ask. “I don’t have a very big family and I know where all my papers are.”

That may be true. However, over time you may find your family much larger than you originally thought. I started with my mom, my dad, and my sister – a very small family, to be sure. As I moved back in time, my “small” family evolved to gargantuan proportions. My database is nearing the 9,500 mark. That’s an awful lot of family to track on index cards!

My first tool is a computer and special family tree software. I use Family Tree Maker 3.0 for my Mac (currently priced at about $40.00) but there are many others. None are perfect and none will do everything you want them to do. That’s just the way it is. Nevertheless, software makes life much easier. Check out Cyndi’s List at for some free options. Visit to see her full list.

Recommendation: If you plan on making family research a hobby, make the leap to software sooner than later. It will save you time later on.

The next tool you’ll need is access to the Internet.

“What? Why can’t I go to the library and look stuff up in books? That’s what grandma used to do.”

Yes, grandma probably did and you should, too. However, libraries are limited to the resources they have on hand. If you need something and they don’t have it, you’ll have to wait (and who want’s to wait?). Besides, no library has everything. For what it’s worth, the Internet doesn’t have everything either but it does greatly extend your “library privileges”.

While they can be costly, I’d also suggest a photographic scanner of some sort. Alternatively, get to know your friendly customer service representative at Walmart or Costco. You will want to digitize your important papers and photos for three reasons. First, there’s a good chance than any older photos and paperwork you have are original copies. They can be lost, destroyed, or hoarded (yes, we all hoard photographs). Digitizing gives you a back-up copy in case something bad happens (like mice). Second, should you want to share your family history with others, you may want to include copies of documents and pictures to go with your story. Third, by having digital copies, you can file them on your computer for faster access. I have hundreds of originals photographs dating from the early 1800s to the present. Scanning them and naming them by subject, date, or title makes finding them easier. There’s nothing worse that “losing” a picture in the mess.

To recap my toolbox, I’d suggest a computer, a family tree software package, an Internet connection, and a scanner. Once you have these four items, you are ready to go. Next time I’ll talk about some of my favorite websites for finding family information.

Next time I’ll talk about some of my favorite websites that can get you going for little to no cost. In the meantime, get started. There’s no better time than now!



One thought on “Do-it-yourself Family History, Part 2: Diving right in (almost)

  1. Reblogged this on Lisa's Research & Reviews and commented:
    FTM is sold on

    Posted by Lisa | January 16, 2015, 8:44 am

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