I once took a writing class in which we had to learn to write directions for various activities. I can write you a fantastic "How to Make a Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich For Dummies." I am not sure if I can write a "How to do your Family History for the confused." As these posts go on, they will get better, I promise. Please feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or leave a comment. Or message me on facebook. I will answer all your questions to the best of my ability (even if you just need a waffle recipe, hit me up).
Like the title says, this is an unofficial guide, meaning I officially have no idea what my next step will be until I get there, so I can't officially say how to do any of this. This is just my way of doing it.
Alright, enough chit chat. Let's get down to business (not to defeat the Huns, sorry Mulan fans).
Asses the situation.
Many of you will have parents, grandparents, aunts, or even occasionally uncles, who have done a lot of the family history work for your family. It might seem like there isn't a whole lot to do. That would be false. There is always a lot to do.
For many, a lot of the work that has been done has gathered dates, places, and names. Those are incredibly important factors in this. But a lot of those items gathered have been collected on paper, or in scraps of paper tucked into folders. For some of you, that information might already be digital. You need to discover where the work ends, because that's where you will begin.
For me, it's a combination of things. Half of my family is digitized, the other half is collected in neat folders and messy boxes in many houses.
For this step, I'm going to help those of you who are not digital yet. Or maybe you don't know if you are digital yet.
There are a lot of online options for sorting, collecting, and organizing your family history. Ancestry.com is one. Familysearch.org is another. I use both. For the organizing part, I use Family Search. For finding records, I often use Ancestry.
Let's start by creating a Family Search account. (I neglected to mention, Family Search is free. Ancestry is not entirely free. That's why I use Family Search.)
You will want to create a new account on Family Search if you don't already have one. It's really quick. (Be sure to write down your password.) It's okay, I will wait while you do it.
Did you do it? Excellent.
Next we need to get your family tree going. If you notice, you will appear somewhat lonely on your tree, with no one connected. Let's add a parent.
You should see something like this:
Click on the parent you want to add.
Here's where it might get a little confusing. I'm going to create two mini-sections for this. Jump ahead to "Living Parents" if your parents are still alive. Continue on here if you your parents are deceased.
What to do if your parents are deceased.
You will need a few bits of information if your parents have passed. You will want their name (if they went by Ed, you will want their full name. Ed is really common. I know from experience.), their birthday (remember celebrating it? Get the real year. Your parents were likely not 24 the entire time you were alive like they led you to believe.), and their death date (this is likely scarred on your heart, and I am very truly sorry for your loss). These will help you find your parents so much faster.
When you have all of that information, you are going to click the little plus on the parent you want to add. This will prompt you to add the information you gathered. It'll look like this:
Enter all of the information you have. It will pull up a list of people who match the criteria. Here you will need to use your best judgement. Pick the person who matches best. I am always nervous about this. I always worry I will merge my tree with someone else's and all will be lost. Turns out, nothing will be lost. You can always correct the mistake later. (There will be a post on how to correct various mistakes I have made.)
Once you select the correct person, or most correct, your tree will have been started! You are now digital!
Jump ahead to learn how to continue growing your tree.
If your parents are still living.
Go visit them. This is important. Parents are important.
If your parents are living, you will want to add them as place holders in your tree. Living people (including yourself) will not have information on the family search sites. This is a privacy thing. While I want to invade the privacy of all family members, it's not a thing. You can't. But you can add them as a place holder so you can continue to add others in your tree.
If you are adding living parents to your tree, click the plus sign on the parent you want to add. You will make sure to check the radio button that says "living." You will then have a chance to add as much information as you have. (Again, just ask your parents for their real birth date.)
Unlike a deceased parent, you will not have the option of selecting record information already on the site. Your parent's name will appear in the proper place.
Adding to the tree.
Once you have your parents added, the next level will become available. The pattern of adding grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents will always be the same.
On occasion, some ancestors will already be linked. This means, when you add a deceased relative, many more deceased relatives will appear (their parents and grandparents). This is always the most exciting part of digitizing your tree.
Keep following the pattern for as long as you can. I have no idea how far back someone can really go. I've heard rumors that someone has gotten all the way back to the beginning of time. That is ridiculous. I haven't gotten that far.
Let me know how far you have gotten. Post a screenshot! I want to see it!