Honoring our ancestors

Holidays a good time for genealogy


Now that you have reconnected with relatives over the holidays, it is the perfect time to start collecting family history information.

Many people are hesitant to start, but with all the information on the Internet, it can be fairly simple to collect a lot of information quickly. 

Even if you think you don’t have enough information to get started, you might because it’s really amazing how little you need.



Gathering information from those still living can bring about the most enjoyable stories to make the genealogy come alive with more than just names and dates.

This step can be the most important.

After gathering the information, you can move forward or store it until you are inspired to do more.

People’s memories may not be 100 percent accurate, but if there are any errors, the information usually points you in the right direction. 

It often helps to use a 


pedigree chart, family group sheets and blank paper to jot down notes.

Pedigree charts start with the most recent people you want to research and work back to parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. 

Family group sheets have the parents listed at the top and the children at the bottom. 

The forms also help to see what information you need to get.

Even getting remembrances of children about earlier years can prove to be very interesting.

If people don’t have exact dates, just get estimates. 

You’ll want to start with the same old “when and where” people were born, married and died and put it on a pedigree chart or family group sheet, but then you can flush the fun information out by asking:

- “What do you remember about your wedding day?”  “.... when your children were born?” 

- What was your favorite memory of your grandparents?

- What games did you play when you were young?

- When did you first feel you were grown up?

- Who was the funniest member of your family?

- What was your first job? Favorite job? 

- What pets did you have? 

Military information also is fascinating, but don’t forget to pull up a map of the area where your relative served and pinpoint those areas and little trips they took while they were in the area. 



The number of genealogical Web sites is continually growing.

The format of most of the sites is similar: just plug in what information you have and hit Enter.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been interested in family history for a long time and makes information available for free research in both the United States and in foreign countries at familysearch.org. And their collection is constantly growing.

Hit the search button and start typing information on different individuals. 

Ancestry.com is a top research tool, but a paid membership is needed to really make good use of the site.

Another paid (but worthwhile site) is myheritage.com. It seems to be particularly popular among European researchers.

Heritage Quest is a paid membership site, but the Miles City Public Library is a member and patrons can use the site for free.

You can also Google the county your ancestor lived in (like “Custer County, Montana genealogy”) and you will probably find sources that are free. Often county genealogy groups have their cemetery records online and more.

A genealogist becomes a historian as he or she conducts research. If your ancestor was involved in a particular industry, like the railroad, you will find yourself researching it, and you might even find your ancestor mentioned.



Libraries contain county histories, which will have stories of some of the people who lived there. The local library has many of the histories of the eastern Montana counties.

The library also has all of the Miles City Star editions on microfilm so obituaries can be found. County histories and obituaries can contain a mountain of information.

The library also houses many city directories that will pinpoint a local ancestor, cemetery indexes (to help find the date of death), and a large section on genealogy research information.  



Courthouses contain the actual documents you will be searching. In Montana, birth and death certificates are in the clerk and recorder’s office; marriage certificates, probate records and naturalization records are in the clerk of district court’s office.


These are just a few of the resources that are readily available to researchers. You can put as much or as little effort into it as you want. Projects are often set aside for several years, then pulled out, and you’re off again. 

The important part is to go at your own pace and enjoy it!