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What You Need To Know

Once you understand these family tree basics, you’ll be ready to get started!

If you’re new to genealogy, this may be the most important page you read! Whether you decide to do the research yourself or hire someone to do it for you, there are some basic things everyone needs to know before getting started on a family tree. We’ll use the simple family tree example below for illustration.

To build a family tree, you have to step back one ancestor at a time.
The simple fact is you have to start with who you know and work backward one person at a time to make sure you are building an accurate family tree. In the example above, this simply means that you can’t find out who John Johnson’s grandparents were before you find out who his parents were.


You can start with any known ancestor you want.
Chances are, you have more information on some parts of your family than on others. In the example above, there is more information on Mary Smith's ancestors than on John Johnson's ancestors. As long as you begin with someone you have basic information on (name, birth/death dates, locations, etc.), you can start wherever you want!


Each generation you go back in time, you have twice the ancestors to research!
As you can see in the example above, your ancestors multiply quickly as you go back in time! In fact, they double with each generation. Although many people think of family tree research in terms of generations, it is more realistic to think in terms of individuals you want to research because a generation can mean a LOT of people!


Some ancestors are more difficult to research than others.
There are certain things that make researching some ancestors more difficult than researching others. For example, it is more difficult to research an ancestor with a common name like John Johnson than an ancestor with a more unique name. Some people choose to work on their “easier” ancestors first so they can learn as much as possible early on.


There are some ancestors you will never find.
It is entirely possible that there are some ancestors, who may even have lived in the last hundred years, who you will never find for any number of reasons. Additionally, it is not possible to create a family tree that goes back “forever”. In some countries, you can trace back to the 1500’s (or further), while in other countries even the 1800’s are difficult.


There is a lot more than names and dates to learn about your family tree.
Depending on when and where your ancestors lived you can learn a wealth of information such as what they looked like, what religion they were, what historical events they were involved in, what occupation they had, what kinds of possessions they owned, and much more. These are the details that bring your family tree to life!


The cardinal rule: Never rely on other people’s information.
You should never make assumptions about the quality of research done by others. Anyone can make mistakes. This includes people in your own family, people you don’t know who post family trees on the internet, and even authors of published family tree books. It is critical to verify all information by finding and analyzing the original records yourself.


Ready to get started with your family tree?