After I had kids, I got to thinking about my family tree. I jotted down what I knew on a piece of paper. After I wrote it all down, I thought that isn’t very much. I began talking to my mom and got a bit more. On my next trip to my grandparents who live in the next state over, I got more info from them.

When I asked about their parents, they were pretty happy to give me the info as these are my direct ancestors. When I asked about their siblings, it was met with more of a “why do you need to know that” sentiment. I didn’t know it at the time but the correct answer would have probably been, “So I can get in contact with some of my 2nd cousins.”

geneology
SmartFile can help organize and backup that giant family tree!

Next, it is probably common sense to talk to about every relative I could find. I got more info and I did find there were boundaries on what you could ask. There were also disconnects on both sides of my family due to loosing contact with some family members. So, being a computer geek, I turned to the internet to cross those boundaries and disconnects and finish out the family tree.

It seemed that Ancestry dominated the search results no matter how I searched. So, I signed up for the free trial. I am glad I had talked to family prior to signing up for the trial. The earliest census you can get at this time is the 1940 census. So, you really need to know at least back to your grandparents to get started. I was able to put enough info in there to start getting hints like crazy. The hints are pretty good but not full proof. You have to read each hint as if you are researching and try to match at least two facts before you accept that as a family member.

While I was researching my family tree, I found a couple other useful services. The first is familysearch.org which comes from the Mormons. It’s free and you can find images of some family records here. You won’t find nearly as much info as Ancestry and it is much harder to find the information. My favorite family tree research site is findagrave.com. This site has the number of grave records on it’s home page. The number has gone up about 10 million since I discovered the site. On rare occasion, you might find a photo of your relative and their obituary on findagrave.

Family Tree - Backup
Johnston Family Tree Files Backed Up in SmartFile

As you are searching these free sources, you will inevitably save off some records. This is where SmartFile comes in. I created a folder for each significant family member in my immediate family. Then, I saved records that branch off from that person into those folders. I also created a back-up folder. Wherever you keep your family tree, you should be doing regular back-ups to GEDCOM files. The GEDCOM file will enable you to open or upload your tree info to just about any program or website that handles family trees. The GEDCOM file will only store names, life events, and dates. So, you will need the photos, images, records, and pdfs saved in separate files.

Bonus Tip

  • Use loss-less compression on the jpg and pdf files to be smart about space in your family tree archive.
  • If you happen to have any old pictures in .bmp format, convert those to .jpg to save disk space.
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About Ryan Johnston

As an Interactive Web Engineer at SmartFile, I mostly work with JavaScript and a little Python. Since we "eat our own dog food" here, I have quite a bit of experience using the SmartFile API that powers the User Interface in the SmartFile Web Application.

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