Genealogy Tips: How to Start Researching Your Family Tree #surnameproject

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When I was young my father discovered the joys of genealogy. What did that mean for me? It meant that we went to every family reunion armed with paper and pencil to interview everyone that was willing to talk to him. It mean that we spent a LOT of time wandering around old grave sites and doing rubbings and taking photos. It meant that the basement started to gather a huge collection of old books and an impressive photography setup. Dad was passionate about genealogy and even now, 30  years later, he still has an active database of family that he spends time researching. The one thing you need to know about genealogy is that it is never ‘finished’!

 Genealogy Tips: Researching Your Family Tree

Genealogy Tips and How to Start Researching Your Family Tree
Base Photo Courtesy of Morguefile

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Genealogy can be an incredibly fun and educational hobby. It can also be very frustrating trying to dig through all the data (and lack of data in some cases!). If you are considering getting started with genealogy, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Talk to every single person in your family that is currently alive.  Ask them not only names and dates of birth but where people were from, where they lived, how and when they died. Put it down on paper so you don’t forget.
2. Make copies! If your people have copies of birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licensees  or just a clipping from the newspaper make a copy of it. Documentation is vital when starting your genealogy project.
3.  Look at libraries for old books.  Many towns have written histories that discuss the important people in the area when the town was founded. If you know your family was from Connecticut, check out old books about the history of that state for references to past family members.
4.  Visit graveyards in the area your family is from.  Bring a camera! Take photos of the graves of family members but also write down the details in case your photo does not come out well.
5. Back up ALL data.  Do not trust your computer to keep everything safe. Print out hard copies of your family tree and keep it in a binder. Send a copy of your database to another family member for safe keeping.
6. You may uncover a few skeletons.  Keep those to yourself! Babies born our of wedlock, babies put up for adoption, married people cheating and having babies with other people…those things happen! Keep those details to yourself unless everyone involved is already deceased and wont be hurt or embarrassed.
7. Get active online with other researchers.  There are a lot of people who have discovered the joy of genealogy so connect with them…maybe someone already has information on your own family tree!

When I got married I wanted to help my dad continue the family tree by bringing in my husband’s branch of the family. He had a few aunts that had already gotten started on the project so I made copies of what they had and sent it off to my dad for safe keeping. I’m hoping that as the kids grow up and move out I will have more time to get started researching and adding even more info to our family tree.

Researching the Family Tree

The thing about genealogy is that every time someone gets married there is another branch of the tree to start researching! My dad has done a great job on the Emery side of the family but now that I am a Hoffmaster there is plenty more for me to learn! What I have always been really curious about is the actual MEANING of Hoffmaster! There has always been a bit of debate about whether it was German or Austrian so when I got a chance to check out I was excited to see what they said about it! Just a quick search on showed that there is already a lot of research and data on this last name! Now, to find out which of these Hoffmasters are related to my husband!


I found it particularly interesting to see that most records for people with the last name Hoffmaster are located in the Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York and Ohio areas. My husband was born in Baltimore and still has quite a bit of family in the area. If you have no clue where your family history ‘started’ this is a really nice feature to take advantage of! As we suspected, Hoffmaster is an Americanized version of the German Hofmeister. We have civil war records for at least one Hoffmaster in our genealogy file but will need to do a bit more research through the immigration records on to learn exactly when the family came here to the US.

Ancestry is the world’s largest online resource for family history. Ancestry strives to fill the fundamental desire people have to understand who they are and where they came from. With a unique collection of billions of historical records, including handwritten historical documents and state and local government archives, Ancestry is the perfect place to learn fun and interesting facts about your family’s tree.

If you would like to explore the origins and meanings of YOUR last name you can sign up for a FREE TRIAL of!


7 thoughts on “Genealogy Tips: How to Start Researching Your Family Tree #surnameproject”

  1. My mom traced our family tree on last year. She was able to go back to the 1600s on one line, and reconnected with cousins she hadn’t talked to in years.

  2. My grandmother traced back a lot of our genealogy… took her a LONG time and lots of travels to collect the info. This looks like an easier way to do it! Might check out the trial out of curiosity!

  3. These are excellent tips! I’ve been meaning to get started with genealogy and it’s one of those things you shouldn’t put off! Thanks for the kick in the rear to get started with all of this again. Time to give my mom a call and go through old pictures.

    • I need to have my dad update our database. We keep the backup for him in case he loses his but it has been a few years since he updated it!


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