The Baca / Douglas Genealogy and Family History Blog

03 March 2006

Bob's Genealogy Lesson # 1: How to Begin Searching for Your Family Tree

Copyright (c) 2006 By Robert J. C. Baca

Most of us are interested in our family history. We want to know who our ancestors were and what they did. However, most of us don't know how to find out this information. Beginning with this article I will be posting tips on how to do family tree research. I will use examples from my own labors in order to illustrate how genealogist does his or her research.

As the old Chinese proverb goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Well, let us begin our search for a thousand relatives by taking our first three steps.

First Step: Write down everything you know. Write down the names, dates and places of family that you know about. Write down the stories that you heard about them. You will even want to write down the unsubstantiated rumors. Even if you think the information is irrelevant now, you may find it important later. If you don't write it down what you know now, you may forget it later when you need it.

Second Step: Create Pedigree Charts and a Family Group Sheets on your family. You may get free forms from a website at

Instructions on how to complete these forms which can be found on this blog at

Please use the “back” space on your browser to get back to this page after you have printed up the forms.

Third Step: Start asking your family questions. Talk to your grandparents about their parents and grandparents. If your grandparents are dead, talk to your parents, or your uncles and aunts. What you are looking for are names, dates, places and interesting stories about your family.

If someone only remembers a relative by their nickname, write it down. If someone says that a certain relative is from Germany, (or was it Switzerland?) write it down. Any information that you gather may be important to you later, even it is erroneous information. Half truths have a way of giving us clues that will help us find solid facts about our families.

When you are talking to your family, ask them for copies of newspaper clippings (especially obituaries), photographs and other documents. You will use these later in constructing your family tree.

How I began researching my own genealogy
My mother died in February, 1999. After her funeral, my sister and I talked to my dad about the family. My sister had found a website for New Mexico families and she wanted to find out if we were related to any of the names on the website. However, my dad did not feel like answering questions. Unfortunately, a few months later my dad died, too.

When I was younger, my parents told me a lot stories about our relatives. At the time I did not have a great interest in researching my family tree, so I did not write them down. When I did get an interest in the subject, it was too late. Both of my parents were dead. I remember some of the stories, but many of the details are gone.

The next year, a great-aunt of mine died. At her wake, I started asking everyone about their families. I was surprised at the amount of information that I was able to collect. I dispelled many misconceptions that I had regarding my relatives. There were certain distant cousins that I didn’t know were siblings. I figured out which distant cousins were children of certain great-uncles and aunts. I also got to know their children and grandchildren.

After the funeral, I asked my sister about a family tree that I thought my father put together. Originally I thought that he may have put it in a bible. What he actually did was write a four page family tree showing his and my mom’s ancestors going back four generations and the names of other family members. Surprisingly, once I was finally able to do my own research I discovered that much of his information was correct.

I started gathering other information from my family. I collected newspapers clippings including an article written about one of my 2nd great grandfathers, Samuel Zimmerly. Although this article had some mistakes, it did show the names and birthdays of all of his children and grandchildren.

I also started collecting photographs from my family. Throughout the years I have collected photographs of my parents, all my grandparents, all my great-grandparents and many of my 2nd great grandparents. I keep searching for more photos. Maybe one of these days I will actually be lucky enough to find a photograph of one of my 3rd great grandparents.

My research had just begun. Soon it would blossom beyond my wildest dreams! More about that in future posts to this blog.

If you have any questions regarding this article, feel free to post a comment or send me an E-mail. Since I moderate comments to this blog, your comments will not be posted immediately. However, I will post and try to answer any relevant comments to this article.

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