How to Begin Family Tree Research

My first rule of research:  You don’t need to spend money to begin discovering! 

When I began, I knew very little about genealogy websites and had no extra money to pay for special websites or research.  I was excited to find great advice and tips for free online, and there are some basic guides to be found in genealogy magazines, bookstores, libraries and online.  Some websites are totally free; some use trial periods and then charge; and some offer graduated plans, by the month or year. 

Genealogy societies and libraries can be wonderful help, and exist in all 50 states.  Many are organized by counties.  They are independent, usually depend on volunteer staff and donations, and have different types of resources, records and cost of dues.  Some offer research time for free, some have hourly costs, and partial year plans.  I personally joined the genealogy society in my county because much of my family originated here and I live here as well.  I have joined and paid dues most years, unless I did not have time to research and access their resources.  There are volunteers available to help you decide how to research your family. 



Many new upgrades to this site, making it more user-friendly and easier for beginning research, many databases that can be searched….

This part of gives free access to online family trees, tips for getting started, search engines and databases, links to resources, and the extensive World Connect Project….search but verify what you find, since trees may have mistakes or not be “sourced” well….

National Genealogy Society, with resources and training, dates for conferences….

Great place to find graves of loved ones, search through grave records, search for cemeteries, and some listings have additional family information and links to more people…..

Old Buncombe County Genealogy Society – Local group that covers most of the western part of North Carolina, with extensive library of resources and great volunteers to help guide your research, bookstore, and several great speakers to present genealogy information during the year….

Volunteers working to keep research free, with links to each state genealogy project, which link to more local websites and resources…Click on your state, then to your county for more local resources….

National Archives and Records Administration – resources for genealogists, tips, tools, free databases….This is where national records are housed, information on site for obtaining specific records (at a fee for locating and printing)….

Cyndi’s List, just what it says, lists under categories of aids for genealogy, supplies, forms, magazines and journals, websites for all things related to genealogy…


GENEALOGY MAGAZINES:  Some on store shelves, some online

Family Tree Magazine       

Family Chronicle                

Internet Genealogy            

More magazines and journals are listed on Cyndi’s List, especially if you are interested in research in countries outside the US.


There are several more websites that provide varying amounts of helpful guides on how to research.  They have examples of forms you can start with.  Although you can record a lot of details on your computer software, you still want to have some initial worksheets to start from.  This gives you a back-up in case of computer problems.


  1. I found a simple family tree chart and started with my own details – my name, my dates and places of birth, school, marriage and children.
  2. I added my own parents information, along with their brothers and sisters. 
  3. Work backwards one family at a time with as much personal information as you already think you know.
  4. As you work on your close family, gather copies of birth certificates, school diplomas, marriage and death certificates. It may seem unnecessary, but sometimes you find mistakes or differences in dates or spellings of names. And you may know the info, but others won’t when you’re gone.
  5. Record sources of documents, when and where you found them or who has possession of them.  (Who has the family Bible or copy of the grandparents marriage certificate?)  This is a good way to check back if other sources don’t agree.
  6. When talking with family and asking questions, I found some who did not want to share for emotional reasons, and sometimes that has to be okay!  If someone experienced childhood trauma of some kind, it is not always welcome to bring it up.  For example, one relative didn’t want to share the name of his birth father who abandoned him and his mother. Out of respect, his name is not in our family tree.
  7. Any information on a living relative should never be made public without their permission.  Many websites offer to help you build a family tree online, but details on living relatives should be off-limits.  I use my family tree software on my computer, but I have not published it. I have only made personal copies for our parents and siblings and other family members that want a copy.


For more on how to create a gift for your family, see my post Family Tree Binder.



Recording Cherished Family Memories

My husband and I were blessed with 2 beautiful children.  Our first child, our son, was born 28 years ago and our daughter was born almost 5 years later.  There were 4 grandparents, 4 great-grandparents, and one very lively great-great-grandmother who shared their young lives for many years.  Our children got to know these special people along with aunts, uncles and cousins.

During my journey to explore our family trees, we learned about many experiences that had not been shared until I asked!  I only wish I had started asking sooner before many loved ones were gone and their stories were gone.  Knowing dates and places are great, but it is fascinating to know more about the journeys your loved ones have taken!

Something that is mentioned a lot in genealogy circles is taping or at least writing down personal stories.  Sometimes people are hesitant to share family stories because of embarrassment, or concern over social or illegal behaviors.  Reassure them that the reason for sharing is only for personal use, and these special memories for them make them special to those that follow behind……   These stories may even help one of their loved ones to understand who they are and who they were along their journey.



  • If your loved one agrees, video them talking, answering your questions and telling stories.  Keep it informal so they won’t get nervous and clam up!
  • People remember fun stories when reminiscing with other family and friends.  I hear better stories with more details if 2 or 3 family or friends are just talking. Try video taping them while they talk naturally.
  • Family REUNIONS are great times to get a few family members together and talking!  If they agree, video them talking and remembering!
  • Have a list of questions or topics that might get them started.  I usually take some written notes if a major family story is brought up, but their words make it more real!
  • 2 or 3 people are going to remember different versions of a story, and that’s great!  It’s more real and more interesting!
  • If you have an old-fashioned hand-held tape recorder, you can use that, too, so you have a back-up.  You might hear something that you didn’t notice in the video.
  • If someone really refuses to be taped, jot down some topics, and questions and interview them.  But keep it relaxed and informal.  This might be better with one person at a time.  If they go off on a tangent, let them finish their story.  You might discover a gem of a story you did not expect!  Let them talk and lead the conversation instead of “grilling” them with lots of questions.
  • Try using topics to get them started, like “did you like school, have any favorite teachers or interesting bus rides?”.  That kind of question usually lets them bring up stories they haven’t thought about in a while.
  • I have asked direct questions, when the person could not think of anything to say, but when a natural conversation mentions a familiar person or place, then I would hear a long detailed story about them.
  • Most important, get permission to share their stories!  If you are planning a “family only” notebook or tree, usually there is no problem.  If you want to formally publish something to distribute more widely, make sure they understand where it’s going…….
  • For my family tree binders (see post from 5-6-13), I asked each of our siblings and children to write memories of our parents.  Some were paragraphs, some were 2-3 pages, and some were lists.  They were all great memories that reminded our parents of special times with their kids and grandkids.  They ALL brought tears and smiles!
  • Don’t wait till someone is gone before you let them know how important they are to you…….AND how much their story —  their journey — means to you!!

For more ideas and information, you can check out any number of genealogy websites, many for free!  A few resources I’ve used……..

Most libraries have a great collection of genealogy information and resources, with free access to genealogy websites.  Check with your local library for more information on those services!



Summer Caprese Salad or Sandwich

What is Caprese?   I learned it is a great combination of flavors that taste especially light and healthy when it is hot outside and tomatoes are fresh!  Caprese means a salad in the style of “Capri”.  From Italy, it is a simple salad made with mozzarella cheese, tomato and basil. 

I have seen versions of this salad in many Food Network and other television cooking shows and in many magazines. I realized which flavors I liked, and that I could use them in a salad or in a sandwich.  As I have mentioned before, you can adjust amounts to your taste and what you have available. This is my version, depending on what ingredients I usually have in the fridge.

Summer Caprese Salad 

1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes (cut in half to bite size pieces)

1/4 cup diced mozzarella cheese (any variety)

3 Tablespoons olive oil (approximate)

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1-3 cloves of garlic (chopped)

3 leaves of fresh basil (chopped or torn)

Mix ingredients and let sit for 2-3 minutes till the flavors really combine well. Enjoy!

Tips:  Suggestions if you don’t have exact ingredients…..

  • You can use pieces of mozzarella string cheese cut to bite size.
  • You can use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic powder instead of fresh.
  • You can use a squirt of basil from packaged basil in a tube.
  • You can chop up any kind of regular tomato instead of the cherry tomatoes.


Summer Caprese Sandwich

Toasted bun or 2 slices of favorite bread

1 thick slice of tomato

1 thick slice of mozzarella cheese

2-3 basil leaves (leave whole)

1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar

Sprinkle of garlic powder (optional – especially if at work!)

Mayonnaise (optional)

Assemble ingredients onto the toasted bread or bun. I like a thin spread of mayonnaise on my bread, but it is optional.  Drizzle the balsamic vinegar carefully. It may be a little messy, but it’s sooo worth it!


  • For lower sodium content, I do not add salt and pepper to the salad or sandwich.  There is plenty of flavor without!
  • If you like onion, you can add that to this sandwich.
  • For variety, you can add a slice of bacon and slice of lettuce to make a BLT with mozzarella.
  • For transporting to work for a great homemade lunch – take mozzarella and tomato in the balsamic vinegar (marinating in a small plastic zip bag). Place in your work fridge until ready to eat, then place on bread. Taste is amazing because it has marinated for a few hours and no soggy sandwich!


Baked Crab Dip

Along with learning to like more seafood and fish, I discovered different versions of crab dip. Of course, since they usually include cream cheese, it didn’t take much to convince me.  Any recipe involving cream cheese gets my attention!

This is my version of a very easy crab dip that can be mixed in a few minutes and baked at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes till hot and bubbly.  When we go on a vacation, we make this our lunch one day during the week. I pack all but the cream cheese in a plastic zip bag to travel, then pick up the cream cheese at the local grocery store.  We serve it with toasted bread slices. Yum!

Baked Crab Dip

1 can crab (drain well)

1 8 oz. block neufchatel cheese (lower fat version of cream cheese)

1/4 cup diced onion

1 tsp. worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika (mix in or sprinkle on top)

Mix ingredients and place in baking dish. Spray with baking spray for easier cleanup. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes until it is hot and bubbly. 

Extra idea:   If you like, you can try adding 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese on top and bake till cheese is lightly browned.

Toasted Bread

Cut 1 small baguette loaf into 1/2″ slices.  Place on baking sheet.  Drizzle or brush on olive oil.  Sprinkle slices with pepper and a little salt.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes till lightly browned and crisp.  Serve warm with hot crab dip.



Healthy Smoothies

Smoothies can taste great, but they are not all healthy!

I have tried and like some fast food smoothies, but was not aware of all the added sugar or preservatives they include.  Trying to control my sodium intake, I found that some of the foods that were lower in sodium also contain extra sugar. Trying to maintain a healthy balance and not create a new sugar problem, or diabetes, I found better options in smoothies.  Fresh homemade smoothies are easier to control.  They are what you put into them!

Disclaimer:    Anyone with food allergies, please adjust recipes

as needed.   Any health, dietary or nutritional

suggestions I share are based on my personal

experiences only, and are not meant to apply in all

cases.  I am not a medical or nutrional professional!

The basic ingredients of a healthy and great tasting smoothie are simple and can meet most of your daily nutritional needs.  With the right ingredients, one smoothie can provide the protein and vitamins you need for one or two meals.

Basic Healthy Smoothie

Preparation time:  2-3 minutes       Blend:  10-15 seconds

In blender or food processor  (I have a very useful Ninja blender that I use several times a week and easily handles the frozen fruit), place smoothie ingredients and pulse, then puree until the smoothie is mixed.  It usually takes me about 5 minutes to create a healthy smoothie.

Smoothie Base:  Amounts can be adjusted to your taste and preferences.

1 cup vanilla soy milk (or your preferred milk)

1 banana (fresh or frozen chunks for colder smoothie)

1/4-1/2 cup of Greek or regular yogurt (I use fat free)

2 Tablespoons peanut butter

Add proteins such as wheat germ (1-2 Tablespoons)

Add fresh or frozen fruits or veggies (don’t worry, you don’t taste the veggies!)     1/4 cup frozen berries, peaches, shredded carrots, etc.

Blueberry Spinach Smoothie

Blueberry Spinach Smoothie

For Spinach Smoothie:   Add 1 cup fresh spinach

For Pumpkin Smoothie:   Add 1/2 to 1 cup canned pumpkin

and 1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

(works with or without the peanut butter)

For Blueberry Smoothie:  Add 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

and 1 teaspoon vanilla (if not using vanilla

flavored milk or yogurt)

Helpful Tips:

  • Frozen ingredients will give the smoothie a milk-shake consistency.
  • Before you freeze banana, cut in smaller pieces since the blender cannot work with a whole frozen banana!
  • I use vanilla soy milk. It adds another layer of flavor to all smoothies.
  • Honey or non-sugar sweeteners can be used if you must, but I’ve never found that I needed them.
  • Mix and match your own combinations!  Don’t be afraid to experiment.  Add some shredded carrots to the pumpkin smoothie, and it will still taste like pumpkin pie!

Let us know what combinations you come up with!


Baby Gifts by the Month – Piggy Bank Savings

As new grandparents, we have found that we constantly think of something we want to do or buy for our young grandson.  As new parents, we had to concentrate on learning how to parent and were watching our budget just to buy diapers and food and pay the bills!  Now that our children are grown, we are proud of how they have worked hard to become independent and pay their own way.  As their parents, we still want to support where we can!

Our grandson is now 4 months old, and though we could keep buying clothes and books, we realize he has plenty of clothes and a good start on books.  He was given a piggy bank, so we decided to help him get started saving!  It’s such a hard thing for all of us to do, and maybe this will help him when he’s old enough to understand it!

Baby Savings Gifts

At each monthly milestone, put a mix of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters in a little bag, baggie or wrapper.  Use a coin wrapper as a label, with baby’s name and age in  months, with amount.

Baby Gift

Baby Gift

               Example:     $4   for   Ryan – 4 months old!   

At age:    1 month:    $1 in change

               2 months:  $2 in change

               3 months:  $3 in change

               4 months:  $4 in change

               5 months:  $4 in change, and $1 paper bill

               6 months   $4 in change, and $2 in bills

               Continue each month until One year old……..

At the end of the year, your little one will have a savings of $78 already!

At age:     1 year     –        Begin your choice of amounts…..

                 examples:    $12 dollars for 12 months (or)

                                     $1 per year (or)

                                     12 quarters ($3) per year

As he or she gets older, they can count the one-to-one correspondence of $1 or 1 quarter per month. 

Don’t worry so much about how much money you are giving.  Remember you are supporting his learning and desire to start and continue saving.  I think I need to do this for myself, maybe I would save more, too!