The Family Tree
How to get started charting your family's history.
ver a dish of her famous pota-
to kugel, Aunt Bertha sudden-
ly makes a stunning
You are, in fact, the descendant of
entrepreneur David Goldberg, founder
of Cheesy Cheese, a business established
more than 200 years ago that continues
to thrive to this day. Goldberg was, of
course, married to the glamorous Ima
Starr, which means you have theater roy-
alty in your background — and you
should be in for a bit of the Cheesy
Cheese fortune, as well.
Or, maybe your family background is
fairly common. It's still yours, and it's
Finding out about your family means
finding out about yourself But what do
you do to get started?
If you're thinking about studying your
family, you'll probably encounter words
like "genealogy" "pedigree," "lineage,
"ancestry" and "family tree." Although
these words all refer to basically the same
thing, genealogy has the broadest mean-
You don't need any special training to
do a family tree or genealogy, just a good
sense of organization.
You can buy genealogical paper forms
and even genealogical software to help
compile your family tree, but these are
not necessary. A computer makes organ-
izing genealogical research easy and effi-
cient, but if you don't own a computer
or have access to one, you can still do
research using just index cards, note-
books, a loose-leaf binder or folders. You
can use just about any method you like,
as long as you keep your information
organized and accessible.
Before you begin, decide on the scope
of your project. Do you want to go as far
back as you can in your ancestry, or do
you want to trace your lineage only to a
certain ancestor? Do you want to trace
all possible lines of ancestry or follow
only one line? For example, do you want
to trace only your father's male ancestors,
or will you include the ancestors of the
wives, as well?
Are you doing this project just for fun,
or with a specific purpose in mind, such
as a school assignment? Maybe you want
to prove that you are descended from
someone like Cheesy Cheese founder
David Goldberg, to claim money from
that person's estate. The kind of informa-
tion you collect may have to measure up
to someone else's standards.
. lineage with a line or paragraph for each
member of the family. Like a chart, it
can begin with the earliest known ances-
Do you have a deadline? For example,
tor and work its way down to the pres-
are you going to a family reunion or a
ent; or it can begin with one person and
family gathering on a holiday and you
trace his or her ancestry back to the earli-
must have something by a specific date?
If you have limited time, you may not be est known generation.
able to do everything you want, and you
may have to scale back your ambitions.
Easy To Read
If you are doing genealogy as a hobby
Like a chart, a table must be easy to
with no specific purpose other than to
read and understand. One way to
know more about your roots, and you
accomplish this is to devise a numbering
are not trying to meet a deadline, keep in
system. Some people begin with the ear-
mind that a genealogy is never really
liest ancestor. Give him or her the num-
done, and you can spend years, even a
ber 1 and then add numbers for each
lifetime, on the project. Genealogy can
child, such as 1.1, 1.2, 1.3. Then for the
be the kind of long-term project you can
next generations, add new numbers such
work on intensely for a while, set aside,
as 1.1.2, 22.214.171.124, etc. You can see that
and come back to as new information
such a system can easily become cumber-
becomes available, or as your interest or
some and confusing.
Another method of numbering is
In planning a genealogy, two impor-
called ahnentafel This is a German word
tant issues are form and content. In
that means "ancestor table." In the
other words, how will the genealogy look
ahnentafel system, you begin with a per-
and what will be in it.
son and work backwards. The starting
A genealogy can be in the form of a
person is given the number 1, the father
chart, and here, too, you have choices.
is given 2 and the mother 3. To find the
The chart can be vertical, with your ear-
father of any person, double the number.
liest known ancestor on the top, and
To find the mother, double the number
then all of his or her descendants follow-
and add 1. Other than the starting per-
ing down. A horizontal arrangement
son, males always have even numbers
shows the descendants arranged from the
and females odd numbers. The only
right or the left across the page.
problem with this method is that you
The converse of a chart that shows all
cannot start back in time and move for-
the descendants of one person is a chart
that depicts one person and shows all of
You can come up with your own
his or her ancestors.
numbering system, so long as it does not
Some people draw their charts to look
itself become an obstacle to understand-
like a real tree, with a trunk, branches
ing who is who.
and leaves. Others make charts that look
To avoid the whole system of number-
like fans. Still others include photographs
ing, write out your genealogy in narrative
of each family member. You can be as
form, that is, like a story. This system
artistic as you like, but one point to keep
works if you remember to arrange the
in mind is that your chart should be easy
story in short paragraphs. A long, unbro-
to read and understand. If someone
ken block of type is hard on the eyes and
looks at your chart and cannot figure out
quickly becomes boring.
how people are related, you have defeat-
In terms of content, or what you will
ed your purpose.
put into your genealogy, here again you
Instead of, or in addition to, a chart,
must decide. The basics that every
the genealogy can be in tabular or narra-
genealogy must include are full names,
dates and places of birth, marriage, death
A tabular genealogy, which is the most
and burial. After that, you can add other
common, is a written table that shows
details, such as education, occupation,
military service, honors and awards, and
cause of death.
One question every beginner has:
Where do I get the information to do
At the start, the source of information
will be you, because the first step in
genealogical research is to begin with
yourself and then work backward. Your
parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and
grandparents all are sources of informa-
first, about themselves, and pos-
sibly about earlier generations.
Afterward, you can turn to written
sources. A good place to find informa-
tion is a cemetery. Some people are leery
about going into cemeteries, but most
genealogists love cemeteries because bur-
ial grounds contain so much useful
information. The engravings on grave-
stones often tell much about the person
who once lived.
The stones in most Jewish cemeteries
usually include inscriptions in Hebrew. If
you cannot read Hebrew, copy the letters
or take a photograph and show it to
someone who is Hebrew literate (the best
solution is to acquire at least a reading
knowledge of Hebrew).
Many people have heard about the
Mormon Church and its genealogical
library. The Mormons do, indeed, have
the world's largest collection of genealog-
ical information and materials. Keeping
track of genealogy is part of their reli-
gion, but they are happy to share what
they have with everyone, and they do
not try to convert other genealogists
looking for information.
The Mormons have a great number of
Jewish vital records from countries
around the world. Most American Jews
have roots in Europe, especially Central
and Eastern Europe. The Mormons have
records from most of these countries.
Because of the political situation, they
still have few records ftom the states that
made up former Soviet Union.
Otherwise, everything is available on
microfilm from local branches of the
library, what the church calls Family
The Internet is overflowing with