Family trees show you your history (Kevin Russ)

1. Get started by interviewing your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles -- all of your oldest relatives. With their help, you can start to put together what is known about your family tree. Important details to ask about? Names (including maiden names of female relatives), dates of birth and death, marriage, and military service.

2. Once you've collected the basics, conduct more interviews, but this time dig deeper. Use your video camera or tape recorder to document your conversations if you can. Talk to your oldest relatives to find out everything they know about your family's origins. Ask them what they remember most about their childhood and about the key moments in their lives. You should also find out if your family emigrated from one country to another, or even one state to another. We suggest downloading How to Trace Your Immigrant Ancestors.

3. Create a diagram of your family tree and include the names and dates that you've collected. and are great websites to use to get started on this.

4. Collect copies of any records that your family has: birth certificates, marriage licenses, baptismal certificates, death certificates. You can use these to help confirm the accuracy of the family stories you've collected.

5. If you live in the area where your parents or grandparents lived, check out what records are available from city agencies, courthouses, and local libraries. You can often find marriage, birth and death records if you don't have them, as well as old wills and property records.

6. Find out where the closest regional office of the National Archives is located. There, you'll be able to search for your ancestors in the census, uncover immigration and military records, and more. Bonus: The National Archives also offers tips on how to get started researching your family tree, free online access to some historical records, and a calendar of genealogical workshops around the country.

7. Think about using an online genealogical service, which provides access to historical records on your computer. For example, offers free online access to historical records, including birth, marriage, death, probate, land, military, and more from the United States and other countries. is another great site -- paid subscribers get access to genealogical records from all over the world.

8. Consider DNA testing. There are several companies that can help you find out more about your ancestry and your ethnic heritage this way. Two sites worth checking out? and

9. Most important, get together with the members of your family and share what you've found. You might inspire others to join in your search!

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