Getting Started

Hardly anyone ever embarks on that genealogical journey in search of roots without some feeling of trepidation and inadequacy.

Those who attempt to encourage us often frighten us. One well-meaning relative told me joyfully, “By the time you reach the tenth generation you’ll have almost 2,000 names on your chart.”

That’s enough to scare anyone away from the hobby. Especially when you do the math, as I did, and find it’s true! If each person [number 1 below] has two parents and each of them has two parents, then it looks like this:


Oh, you say, that’s ten generations all right, but it only adds up to about a thousand, not two thousand.

O.K., but isn’t a thousand intimidating?

And by the way, it doesn’t add up to a thousand twenty-four. That’s the number of the tenth generation alone. If you want to add up all those who go before, that’s an additional thousand twenty-three.

Yeah. I was scared. Is it possible to find so many ancestors?


If you’re a perfectionist, your goal may be to fill out the ancestral chart completely.

In that case, maybe you should make your goal to chart only five generations. Finding even sixty-three ancestors is a challenge, but most folks can attain it.

Parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents is a shoo in for most. That gets you the first fourteen names. And if your parents both know who their great-grandparents are, you add another sixteen names to your goal. thirty names. Only another thirty-two to go.

That will take some digging. It makes a five generation chart a possibly achievable challenge.

But what if you’re not a perfectionist. You. want to trace back as far as possible on any line or lines. You want the five generations, but you want more. You’ll settle for incompleteness.

There are resources to help you.


Your best resource initially is your family. Even dysfunctional families name the family members they hate. Perhaps they will spit the name out dripping with venom. But, at least you get the name. Names are important. If nothing else, get names

• parents
• grandparents
• greats as far back as you can get them
• aunts
• uncles
• cousins
• any relatives you can retrieve.

Get any other information available–birth dates, wedding dates, funeral dates, dates of important events in life, like graduations, enlistments, discharges, special awards, retirement, hospital admissions and discharges.

The name is the basic unit of search, but all the ancillary information you can add will (1) help you with further search, and (2) validate your research as genuine.

Charts have been mentioned several times. A very fine resource for charts and other information is Annette Brandes’ site: Family Research Bucket . In addition to the two following charts, she has a bundle of information.

There is a whole procedure for developing a family tree. It is more detailed than the bare bones of the task I provide.

In addition, she has collected a bucket full of goodies from other sites. Including mine! [Can anybody who quotes from my site be bad?] :-)

The two following documents are provided as .pdf files. You need Adobe Acrobat to read them. If you don’t have that program on your computer, it is a very useful tool. You can download it free from The first form you will need is a family group sheet. The family group sheet enables you to keep all the members of a nuclear family in one place. Download this Family Froup Sheet The next document you will need is a pedigree form. Yeah. Like those cats, dogs, and horses have. Aren’t you more important than a dog? This form is only five generations, but any line can be extended five more generations. Simply place the name of the fifth ancestor in that line in the first generation spot. Download your Pedigree Chart form.

When you download Annette’s forms, be sure to send her a thank you note on her comments page. One final comment about why every family member’s name is important, and another comment about getting baptized in the genealogical pool. I have a second cousin in California whose name is Genie Ragan. I discovered her through my search actions. She has an excellent family site at Our Brick Walls She consistently searches obituaries in cities around our mutual ancestral homes. Recently, one of my father’s two surviving sisters died in February. She lived in that area, but all of her siblings, including my father, were dead except for the other surviving sister who had moved to Florida. Hence, there was no one there who knew whether I was still alive, let alone where I lived. Thus, I was not notified of my aunt’s death. My second cousin in California was searching the obituaries for the current year in the following June. She saw my aunt’s obituary, sent me a reference to it and asked, “Is this your aunt?” Consequently, I found out about my aunt’s death four months after she died. And I found out about it from a second cousin three thousand miles away. Point made about all relatives. That little story illustrates another comment I’ll make. Searchers help one another. Discoveries are not hoarded. They’re broadcast. Like my second cousin, people contact me. Sometimes it is for information. The Internet makes it easy to share. Just as often, it’s to share something with me. What a blessing to get a 1902 family reunion photo. Even when you can’t identify each person, it spurs you on to search. Genealogical searchers are a great fraternity. In the final analysis, it’s a family fraternity. After all, when you go back fifty generations, you have over one hundred trillion ancestors. Your forebears and mine have got to merge before then.