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Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Genealogy Tips for Beginners: How Genealogy Is More Than Names and Dates


    When most people think about genealogy, they conjure images of dusty old records, family trees with names and dates, and the occasional grainy black-and-white photograph. And while these are undeniably essential elements of tracing one's family history, genealogy is about so much more than mere names and dates. It's about stories—stories of love, hardship, triumph, and the myriad of human experiences that have shaped our ancestors and, in turn, our own lives. In this blog post, we'll explore why genealogy is not just about names and dates but is fundamentally about preserving and sharing these captivating stories. We'll also introduce you to some of the best products and tools available today to help you tell your family stories and pass them down to future generations.


    The Power of Family Stories

    Stories have always been at the heart of human culture. We use them to pass down knowledge, traditions, and experiences from one generation to the next. Family stories, in particular, serve as a bridge between the past, present, and future. They connect us to our roots, our heritage, and our shared human history. Here are some compelling reasons why genealogy is more than just a list of names and dates:

    Understanding Our Ancestors

    Names and dates can only take us so far. To truly comprehend our ancestors, we need to know their stories—their hopes, dreams, struggles, and accomplishments. A story can transform a name on a family tree into a living, breathing individual. It allows us to empathize with their experiences and understand the challenges they faced.

    Strengthening Family Bonds

    Sharing family stories fosters a sense of belonging and unity among relatives. It helps build stronger connections between generations, as younger family members learn about their heritage, the lives of their ancestors, and the values that have been cherished within the family over the years.

    Preserving Cultural Heritage

    Family stories are often intertwined with cultural heritage, customs, and traditions. By passing these stories down, we ensure that our cultural identity is not lost with time. They become a link to our roots and a source of pride and identity.

    Learning from the Past

    Family stories offer valuable life lessons. We can glean wisdom from the experiences and mistakes of our ancestors. These lessons can guide us through our own challenges and decisions, making genealogy a source of personal growth and self-improvement.

    Honoring Ancestors

    Telling and preserving family stories is a way to honor our forebears. It's a tribute to their memory and the legacy they left behind. By sharing their stories, we ensure that they are not forgotten and that their impact on our lives is acknowledged and celebrated.

    The Tools for Unearthing Family Stories

    Now that we've established why family stories are at the heart of genealogy, it's time to explore the tools and products that can help you uncover, preserve, and share those precious stories. In the digital age, there are numerous resources at your disposal to make your genealogy journey more engaging, informative, and enjoyable.

    Genealogy Software

    One of the first and most important tools in your genealogy journey is genealogy software. These software programs allow you to create and organize your family tree, record information about your ancestors, and attach stories, documents, and photographs to individuals in your tree. Some of the most popular genealogy software options include: Ancestry® is not only a popular genealogy website but also offers robust genealogy software. It allows you to create and share family trees, search for records, and connect with other researchers.

    MyHeritage: MyHeritage provides a user-friendly platform for building your family tree and offers features like Smart Matches, which help you discover potential relatives and merge their information into your tree.

    Family Tree Maker: Family Tree Maker is a standalone software program that syncs with It's known for its powerful family tree-building capabilities and robust charting and reporting options.

    Legacy Family Tree: Legacy Family Tree is another popular standalone genealogy software known for its comprehensive feature set and user-friendly interface.

    Using genealogy software not only helps you organize your research but also allows you to attach stories, documents, and photographs to individual family members. It's an essential tool for bringing your family stories to life.

    DELL Outlet

    Digital Archives and Online Resources

    The internet has revolutionized genealogy research by making vast collections of historical documents, photographs, and records accessible at your fingertips. Here are some key resources for uncovering family stories:

    Ancestry® and MyHeritage: These websites provide access to billions of historical records, including census data, birth and death certificates, military records, and immigration documents. You can often find original documents that shed light on your ancestors' lives.

    FamilySearch: Run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch is a free genealogy website with a massive collection of records from around the world. It's an invaluable resource for those looking to trace their family's history.

    Newspaper Archives: Websites like and Chronicling America allow you to explore historical newspapers, providing insights into your ancestors' daily lives, achievements, and even scandals.

    Discover you family history through historical newspapers at

    Archives and Libraries: Many national and local archives have digitized their collections, making it possible to access historical records and documents online. For example, the National Archives in the United States offers a wealth of information about military service, immigration, and more.

    DNA Testing

    DNA testing has become a game-changer in genealogy research. Services like AncestryDNA®, 23andMe, and MyHeritage DNA allow you to discover your genetic heritage, connect with potential relatives, and uncover stories of your family's past.

    DNA testing can reveal surprises and mysteries in your family history. You might find long-lost relatives, uncover hidden adoption stories, or discover unexpected connections to different parts of the world. DNA testing has added a fascinating layer to genealogy, emphasizing that our stories are often more complex and interconnected than we initially thought.

    Living DNA

    Family Oral History Interviews

    One of the most direct ways to unearth family stories is by conducting oral history interviews with older family members. The stories, anecdotes, and memories they share can be invaluable. Here are some tips for conducting successful family interviews:

    Prepare in advance: Have a list of questions ready, but be flexible enough to follow the flow of the conversation. Encourage your interviewee to share their stories in their own words.

    Use recording equipment: Recording the interview ensures you capture every detail. You can use a smartphone, a digital voice recorder, or even video recording if your interviewee is comfortable with it.

    Take your time: Be patient and allow the interviewee to reminisce at their own pace. Sometimes, the most meaningful stories emerge when the interviewee feels relaxed and comfortable.

    Ask open-ended questions: Instead of asking for specific information, use open-ended questions like "Tell me about your childhood" or "What was life like during that time?" This encourages storytelling.

    Respect and empathy: Remember that some family stories may be emotional or sensitive. Approach these topics with sensitivity and respect.

    Transcribe and share: After the interview, transcribe the conversation and share it with your family. These interviews are precious family treasures, and by sharing them, you're ensuring that the stories live on.

    Social Media and Online Communities

    Social media platforms and genealogy-focused communities are fantastic places to connect with fellow researchers, share your family stories, and seek help with your research. Websites like Facebook, Reddit, and genealogy-focused forums allow you to engage with a global community of genealogists.

    By sharing your family stories and research findings online, you may connect with distant relatives who can contribute their own stories and insights. It's also an excellent way to showcase your discoveries and inspire others to delve into their family history.

    Organizing and Preserving Your Family Stories

    Now that you've collected a wealth of family stories and historical information, it's essential to organize and preserve them for future generations. Here are some methods and products that can help you achieve this:

    Family History Books

    Creating a family history book is a timeless and enduring way to preserve your family stories. You can compile your research, stories, photographs, and documents into a professionally designed book that can be passed down through the generations. There are several online services that can assist you in creating a family history book, such as Mixbook, Blurb, and MyCanvas.

    These services offer customizable templates, which make the design process more accessible, even if you're not a professional graphic designer. You can include family trees, anecdotes, timelines, and photographs, turning your family history into a beautiful keepsake.

    Photo Albums and Scrapbooking

    Photographs are essential elements of your family's story. They capture moments in time and help illustrate the lives of your ancestors. Photo albums and scrapbooking are creative ways to organize and showcase these visual treasures.

    Photo albums provide a structured way to chronologically arrange photos and write captions or stories beside each image. Scrapbooking, on the other hand, offers a more artistic and personalized approach. You can combine photographs with memorabilia, handwritten notes, and decorative elements to craft visually stunning family history books.

    Digital Storytelling Tools

    In the digital age, there's no shortage of tools for creating multimedia family stories. These platforms allow you to combine text, photos, videos, and audio to craft engaging narratives. Here are some options to consider:

    Adobe Spark: Adobe Spark is a user-friendly platform that enables you to create web pages, videos, and social media graphics. It's a versatile tool for sharing your family stories online.

    StoryMapJS: This free tool from Northwestern University's Knight Lab allows you to create interactive maps that can illustrate your family's journeys and migrations.

    Legacybox: Legacybox offers a digitization service that converts old home movies, photos, and other media into digital formats. You can then use these digital assets to create multimedia family stories.

    iMovie and Windows Movie Maker: These video editing tools allow you to compile video footage, add music, and narrate your family stories. They are great options for creating documentary-style family history videos.

    Family History Websites

    Another way to share and preserve your family stories is by creating a family history website. You can use platforms like WordPress, Wix, or Blogger to build a site dedicated to your genealogy research and family stories. Here are some ideas for what to include on your family history website:

    Ancestral profiles: Create individual pages for significant ancestors and provide detailed biographies, photographs, and stories about their lives.

    Photo galleries: Showcase family photographs, organized by generations, locations, or events.

    Timeline of events: Create a chronological timeline that highlights significant family events, migrations, and achievements.

    Family traditions and recipes: Share family recipes, traditions, and customs that have been passed down through the generations.

    Blog posts: Regularly update your website with blog posts about your genealogy discoveries, research tips, and personal reflections on your family history journey.

    Family History Videos

    Video is a powerful medium for preserving family stories. You can create video documentaries, interviews, or even short films that capture the essence of your ancestors' lives. Consider these tips for making family history videos:

    Interview family members: Record interviews with older relatives to capture their memories and stories.

    Combine photos and videos: Blend historical photographs and video footage to create a visually engaging narrative.

    Add narration: Use your voice to provide context, explanations, and personal reflections throughout the video.

    Incorporate music: Choose appropriate background music to set the mood and evoke emotions.

    Edit professionally: If you're not comfortable with video editing, consider hiring a professional editor to ensure the video's quality.

    Once your family history video is complete, you can share it with your relatives through DVDs, digital files, or online platforms like YouTube or Vimeo.

    Passing Down Your Family Stories

    Preserving your family stories is only half the journey; the other half is passing them down to future generations. Your hard work and dedication to genealogy will be most meaningful when your stories are shared and cherished by your descendants.

    Family Reunions and Gatherings

    Family reunions and gatherings provide the perfect opportunity to share your family stories. Consider organizing a "genealogy corner" at these events, where you can display family trees, photographs, and family history books. You can also host storytelling sessions or workshops to engage younger family members in learning about their heritage.

    Genealogy Gift Giving

    Give the gift of family history to your loved ones. Family history books, photo albums, and multimedia presentations make wonderful gifts for birthdays, holidays, and special occasions. By passing on these keepsakes, you're ensuring that your family stories continue to be cherished and shared.

    Family History Challenges

    Create a sense of excitement and engagement by organizing family history challenges or games. For example, you can challenge family members to complete specific research tasks or compete in storytelling contests. These activities can spark interest in genealogy and encourage participation from family members of all ages.

    Online Sharing and Collaboration

    Use online platforms to connect with family members and share your research findings. Create private family groups on social media or genealogy websites where you can post updates, stories, and research progress. Encourage family members to contribute their own stories and insights, creating a collaborative family history project.

    Legacy Planning

    Incorporate your family stories into your legacy planning. Ensure that your genealogy research, family history books, and digital archives are included in your estate plan. This will make it easier for your heirs to access and continue your genealogy work.


    Genealogy is not just about names and dates; it's a journey into the heart of your family's stories. These stories are the living links that connect you to your ancestors and pass on their wisdom, experiences, and legacy to future generations. By using genealogy software, digital archives, oral history interviews, and other tools, you can unearth these stories from the past.

    To preserve and share your family stories, consider creating family history books, photo albums, digital storytelling projects, or even family history websites. And don't forget to pass down your stories through family reunions, gifts, challenges, and online collaboration.

    As you embark on your genealogy journey, remember that every name on your family tree represents a unique life story waiting to be discovered and shared. So, roll up your sleeves, dive into the rich tapestry of your family's history, and let the stories of your family's past come alive!

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