We tend to think we know ourselves, but learning more about your extended family can tell you about your place in the world and how you got there. This can strengthen your emotional foundation, be a great source of pride, and make your life more meaningful.
Your immediate family or nucleus tends to refer to parents and children. Knowing your extended family means getting to know grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and more. You could compare living without knowing your family history to traveling without knowing where you started; it’s not without its rewards, but it’s harder to describe your journey if you don’t know your origins or what other people in your family bring to the party.
Not only will knowing your extended family makes you more grounded but also this kind of nostalgia can be healthy, reminding us of the value and meaning of our lives. To help you learn more about your family and your place within it, here are 7 tips to help you delve into your extended family.
1. Use the Tree Format
Family history is often completed with the help of a family tree diagram because it’s such a practical, visual representation of the shape of families and the way each branch can sprout multiple branches. You’ll most likely find it helpful to use this kind of diagram for your exploration of your extended family.
Whether you begin with a template or you start drawing your own, remember that you will need plenty of space! You might use a large roll of paper rather than a notepad.
And equip yourself with colored markers and post-it notes so that you can make additional notes and cross-reference information. Before long, you might have something that looks like an incident map on the wall, only with much happier contents.
2. Build on What You Know
It’s imperative to start this research project with a solid foundation. In most cases, that means you and your immediate family. Write down all that you know about yourself and the people closest to you in your family. This is the trunk of your family tree so don’t skip this step.
- full names, including maiden names
- marriage dates and locations
- siblings and children
- dates and places of birth
- dates and places of death and burial
You may also wish to include professions or industries. As you extend your family tree, attempt to find this information first.
3. Talk With Your Family
While it’s important to respect people’s privacy, people may surprise you by how willing they are to share family stories. Creating and building out family trees is increasingly common, so you may find that one of your extended family members has already started. In this case, you may wish to work together.
Don’t be shy about asking your extended family members for their stories. Parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, if you have them, are excellent people to start with. The events, people, and places they remember can help you piece your family puzzle together.
You may find it useful to create a group where family members can exchange these stories and memories. A WhatsApp group, Facebook group, or email list could work well. A shared document, such as a Google document, might also be helpful, because anyone with the editing link can then update the history with information, saving you a task.
A benefit of having the stories in writing is having something everyone can refer to and add to. But remember to back up the document or documents regularly in case of accidental deletion or problems that could corrupt the file.
4. Use People Search Sites
People’s search sites have a lot of advantages when it comes to finding someone. They may reveal connections you didn’t even know you had.
Nuwber would be an indispensable resource for finding out more about your extended family. You can follow up on your leads by pumping details into Nuwber and finding more information. The details on this resource can provide or confirm some data and can help you keep moving toward your extended family research goals. The site also provides contact information so you’ll be able to connect with potential relatives in no time.
Because finding out more about your extended family can be a massive project, it’s a good idea to focus on one family member or one area at a time. Devote your energy to one branch of the family tree and get the details as accurate and well-documented as you can before moving on. This will prevent you from losing control of the task and the steady progress will keep you motivated.
6. Collate Physical Evidence
Letters and official documents, and copies of birth and death certificates are all valuable items for a comprehensive family tree. You might also include such items as passenger lists, employment records, and resumes. These physical items can help you make connections and verify facts.
Family scrapbooks containing newspaper cuttings, photos, letters, and other memorabilia can also be invaluable to a family history project. If you have an attic, take a look for a scrapbook, and ask other family members to provide theirs.
7. Stay Organized
With stories flying left and right, you will benefit from a system. The family tree diagram is a great starting point and reference, but when you get deeper with your extended family, you will do well to use folders or a box file.
Many people find it helpful to work with physical papers when embarking on a project like this. Store printed matter logically within a folder system. Plastic pockets are particularly good because you can see the information at a glance, protect your documents, and store them simultaneously.
Wherever your digital information is stored, make sure to backup regularly. Backing up to a cloud service is often automated and means you should be able to get your work back in the event of a disaster, whether that’s an earthquake or a finger slip.
Most people know their immediate families. Appreciating the extent and depth of your extended family takes commitment. The rewards, however, can be remarkable. Follow these tips and the rich life experience contained within the wider reaches of your family may astound you.