Record Keeping Options for Researching Your Ancestry

Getting Started with Record Keeping for Your Ancestry

When you start working on your family research, a tablet of paper or a set of pre-printed forms usually feels like it will be all that you need. Before long, however, you will find that you have dozens and then hundreds and then thousands of names and dates stored. One word to the wise: write down the source of all of your information. At the beginning, it feels like you'll be able to remember where each bit of information came from. After a while, you may have two pieces of information that conflict and, if you don't remember where each came from, you won't be able to evaluate which one is probably right.

Storing Research either on a Website or Your Home Computer

The best way to deal with all of this information is to store your research either on a website or your home computer. These make it possible to keep adding new information without have to re-type all of those relationships. Best yet, they offer places to keep notes and miscellaneous information. The decision is whether to exclusively use a website or if you should keep your records on your home computer. Some software also allows you to synchronize your home computer records with those on a website.

The Importance of Documenting Family Trees Using Source Records

If you have researched family trees on the internet, you most likely have come across family trees that have no supporting documentation. Such trees are good hints as to where you should do your research, but they are not documentation itself. To document a family tree, you need records such as birth, marriage, death, census, church, etc. Yes, this is the list of records shown in the menu at the left of this page. Once you have a record, it is good to be able to link that record to the people in your family tree. If they are not linked, you end up with a family tree and a pile of records. At some point, it will become hard to keep track of everything.

The Importance of Collaboration on Family Trees

I have benefited immensely from collaboration with other researchers. Almost all of my collaboration has occurred through the other researchers coming across my public family tree on Ancestry.com. I have been able to collaborate with cousins in Europe whom I did not know existed until the reached out to me because of my public family tree. This is a strong argument for placing your family tree on a website and making it avaialble to the public so it can be found by other researchers. This would not be possible if you just kept your family tree on your home computer. My opinion is that you would miss out on opportunities to collaborate with other researchers.

My Experiece of Moving From a Home Computer to a Website

I started building my family tree back in the mid-1990s using Family Tree Maker on my home computer. I don't recall exactly when, but I synchronized my home computer files with the Ancestry.com website. For a brief period, I continued to synchronize updates between Ancestry.com and my home computer, but eventually found it to be cumbersome and not necessary. I no longer do so and exclusively use the website. Ancestry.com has an extensive database of source records that continues to expand and it is very easy to link those records to people in my family tree. It is also easy to link my DNA information with my tree. I can store my family tree as long as I like at Ancestry.com, but if I want to view source records, I need a membership. That is one of the downsides. This other is the risk that Ancestry.com may go away and so will my tree. To protect myself from the latter, I have uploaded a GEDCOM of my Ancestry.com family tree to FamilySearch.org.

Websites That Store Family Trees and Have Source Records

Here are some options for storing your family trees on a website and linking the information to source records.

Software to Store Family Trees on a Home Computer

Here are some options for storing records and family trees on your home computer.

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