Often, as newcomers to family history, we just do not understand WHERE to start. Hopefully, you will have a better idea as you read on.
A few years ago, FamilySearch started a concept called Discover, Gather, Connect. Getting to know this concept is very helpful in providing a framework of understanding how to get you and your family started in family history efforts.
To better understand our heritage, we should spend some time exploring what information may be present in our family tree. Explore each of your direct line ancestors and even collateral lines cousins. Are there stories or photographs attached to them? Look at the documents, like the Census Records, Draft Registrations, Death Certificates. There can be a lot of interesting side information in these documents. This process is called "DISCOVERY". You will need a FamilySearch account to explore your tree (See tips at bottom of this page).
Use the Fan Chart View to see what information FamilySearch may already have attached to your family. See the example below. You can click on the different filters in the Legend Box. You may first want to concentrate on which ancestors have stories or photos.
There are other types of "discovery activities" that you can explore as well. Explore these activities by clicking on the button below.
After visiting FamilySearch's Family Tree, you should have a better idea about who your ancestors are and where they came from. You may even have found some stories and photos about your ancestors that others in your "family" (living cousins, or immediately family) may have uploaded to FamilySearch. You may even realize that YOU have some old photos, letters, stories, and maybe even some old audio recordings of your family. Wouldn't it be great to upload those items that you have to your family tree? This process is called "GATHERING" (or preserving).
Another way we can "Gather" information about our family is to look for online historical records. These are increasingly easy to find, especially when FamilySearch finds these records for us and gives us record hints. These "record hints" are shown as little blue icons associated with our different ancestors. These records will often include Census Records that can help you fill in more family members, or give you a better idea about what their occupation was, or the house number and street name where they lived. You may find hints for marriage, birth, and death events. Death records often show the reason why they died, their age, family, and so on.
As we gather, preserve, and then upload the information we find to our family tree, we are also creating "discovery" opportunities for our children and other family members, even distant ones.
There are some ideas below that can help you know how to better preserve information like photographs, audio recordings, stories, documents, movies, etc. Take some time to look through these pages.
The third process in this family history concept is "CONNECT". As you spend time individually and as a family preserving your heritage, finding new ancestors, and discovering new things about them, you will naturally begin to feel that connection with them. You will better understand their lives, the challenges they faced, their talents and occupations, and so much more. Your "hearts are connected to them".
It is also important to connect with our own posterity. We will want to preserve the memories of our own life through stories, photos, audio recordings, etc and pass them on to our children, grandchildren, and on down. We want them to know about our own life events that shaped us, the legacy we leave, our hopes and aspirations for our posterity. Connecting to our posterity, AND they to us will also become a natural result of our family history efforts.
It is said that "90% of one's heritage disappears after 3 generations" unless it is preserved. We need to preserve the heritage that we have been given, as well as our own heritage. Photos may be preserved, but unless they have labels on them, they simply become "nameless faces" over time. Old movies may be fun to view, but if the participants in the film are not documented, they also become nameless persons to their posterity. Simple stories associated with a photo or two will make those ancestors "come to life" for generations to come. Audio recordings of a great-grandmother singing a song in her native language can become a treasure to pass on down generations.
FamilySearch makes it so easy to preserve our stories, photos, and audio recordings and then easily share them with our posterity. A grandfather telling a story about a life event with associated photos, can be priceless when shared with his grandchildren through a simple link in a text message or email.
DISCOVERY activities are one way to get you and your family members interested in your heritage. There are so many resources, fun activities, and ideas out there to help you discover more about your heritage.
GATHERING more information about your ancestors such as their stories, talents, occupations, trials, successes, and so forth is an easy next step in your family history efforts. "Gathering" also involves some "research", which used to be difficult but is now easy and fun. FamilySearch makes this process easier with their "Record Hints" feature.
CONNECTING with our ancestors comes naturally as we discover and gather more information about them. Feelings deepen towards them as we better understand them and their contributions to our heritage and to our living collateral line cousins.
Keeping this concept of "Discover, Gather, Connect" in mind will help guide you and your family in getting started with family history.