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How to build your family tree

sandwich generation

Were your ancestors humble farmers or wealthy nobility? Did they travel to find their fortune or have they always lived close to your current home? Exploring your genealogy can be fascinating.

n the 2010 U.S. Census, 34.7 million Americans claimed Irish ancestry, the nation’s second most frequently reported ancestry, representing more than seven times the population of Ireland itself.

Those of Irish descent, or those who suspect they have some Irish in them, may be inclined to do some research to prove their Irish heritage. Now, the process may be even more revealing, as a new set of records is now available online which tells the harrowing tales of families in the Great Irish Famine.

“The Great Famine caused widespread starvation and disease in Ireland 1845-52. Over one million people died, and one million emigrated, many bound for the United States,” said Brian Donovan, Irish records expert at Findmypast, an online family history site. “The records of their arrival can help many Irish-Americans put together the pieces of their family story.”

“Family history is much more than facts and statistics. It’s an opportunity to discover your story and connect with your family – past, present and future,” said Donovan.

So how do you go about discovering yours? Here are tips for getting started:

Building a family tree

Start by building your family tree with information you have already. When you’re done, ask family members to contribute their knowledge. Important information to gather includes names, dates, life details, stories, romances, physical descriptions and anecdotes.


Sit down with relatives for interviews, starting with older relatives first. Face-to-face is ideal However, phone calls or video chatting work well too. Record the interviews to help with your research later or merely to serve as a memento.

You may hear inconsistencies in stories from relative-to-relative, but avoid interrupting or asking leading questions. Ask to see family photos, certificates and other documents. If you have any to share, bring them along to help jog more memories.

Search online records

Register with a website that can help you explore your family history. A good choice for those of Irish descent is Findmypast. Their Irish records date as far back as the 14th century, including estate records, military, prison and court records, and passenger lists. Searchable transcriptions and scans of original historical records from Ireland, the U.S. and beyond make it easy to trace your family tree back hundreds of years.

Common setbacks to genealogical research, such as variations on spellings of names, are hurdles that are easier to overcome using certain features on the site. Findmypast also offers plenty of resources and tips to help you discover facts and organize the information, including an easy to use online family tree builder.

In the past, family history research could, at times, be a difficult and laborious process. Now, with online records and features, it’s easier and more fun than ever before. — AP

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