Basic Instincts

By Allison Dolan Premium

Did you pick up this magazine on impulse? Maybe you’ve always wondered about your family’s history, and now you’re finally caving in to curiosity. It’s as if your ancestors were crying “Find me! Find me!” from the pages of this publication — you couldn’t help but take a peek.

OK, your progenitors probably aren’t prodding you quite so literally, but for many people, genealogy really does feel like a calling. Sometimes a specific event — the loss of a loved one, a child’s school project — spurs us to look into the past. In other cases, the urge grows from a desire to understand ourselves, or to leave a legacy for future generations. Whatever your inspiration, we encourage you to trust your instincts.

Exploring your family history is a fun and fascinating journey. It’s not just about collecting names, dates and places (though your repertoire of ancestral stats eventually will surpass your son’s encyclopedic knowledge of sports trivia). You’ll learn about the trials and tribulations that shaped your family’s experience and begin to see historic events through your forebears’ eyes. You’ll even meet new relatives and friends along the way. And you’ll discover that genealogy’s also about pride, sharing and understanding — the very values that shape our families today.

But how do you go from being interested in your past to actually investigating it? In this special issue, we provide the tools, advice and inspiration you need to do just what our title promises: Trace Your Family History.

We begin by outlining 16 easy ways to get your search “On the Right Track.” Whether you’re starting from scratch or you’ve already dabbled in documents and databases, these ideas will help you make genealogical headway right away. Our First Steps section continues with more research tips and techniques, including primers on interviewing relatives and finding beginner genealogy classes.

This issue’s get-started guidance comes from seasoned family historians who were once in your shoes — so they understand the common challenges beginners face. Our editors and experts also know (in some cases, from personal experience!) what research mistakes genealogists — both newbies and veterans — often make. T.

Invariably, some of the most common questions we hear from beginners involve genealogy Web sites and software. Entering the realm of genealogy technology can feel as though you’ve ventured into some parallel universe where everyone speaks in a secret code (“How fast can you burn a 5MB GEDCOM to CD-ROM?”]. Our articles on Computer Basics unscramble that high-tech lingo and address your key concerns: First, we tell you where in the World Wide Web to look for your ancestors. Then we introduce you to the wonderful world of genealogy software: You’ll find out how it works and why you need it — we’ve even provided a roundup of popular programs to help you pick one that fits your needs.

You’ll also find tons of tips for “traditional” genealogical research, including investigating your family’s surnames, tracking down published family hisrories (page 40), surveying cemeteries (page 44) and visiting libraries and archives. Of course, you won’t get far without the basic forms for keeping track of ancestral information. So to round out the issue, we’ve included several of those worksheets, as well as a special keepsake family tree chart on which you can proudly display your discoveries.

Now turn the page and get started — your ancestors are calling.
From the September 2004 Trace Your Family History