10 Steps for Exploring Your Genealogy

Are you interested in tracing your family history? It can be fun and rewarding to learn about your ancestors and discover your genetic past, but the scope of the task may also be a bit daunting. We’re hoping to make your search less overwhelming with this 10-step guide to exploring your genealogy. Here, we’ll show you how to start small and gradually work toward your goal. Let’s get started!

family tree

1. Start with what you know

Before you start collecting documents and searching for your ancestors online, you should begin by writing down what you know about yourself, your parents and your grandparents. For each person, you’ll want to know their name, date and place of birth, parents, spouse and date of marriage, place of marriage, and children and their dates and places of birth. Knowing all of this information for every person will make it much easier to travel back through your lineage.

2. Begin documenting your family tree

This is a good time to start organizing your information so it doesn’t build into a confusing mess of names and dates. Ancestry.com offers several free, useful forms you can print out and use to collect your data. There are also a number of online family tree makers you can use if you’d prefer to do everything electronically. It doesn’t matter which method you choose as long as you have one. Remember to be as thorough and organized as possible to make your task easier going forward.

3. Gather additional information from your relatives

There’s a good chance you won’t know all of the information we called for in the first step. After all, that’s a lot of dates and locations. Your relatives should be your first resource for filling in the gaps. Talk to your siblings, cousins, parents, or aunts and uncles to see if they know things you don’t. Travel as far back through your family history as you can, documenting what you know to be true.

4. Consult family records

Next, you’ll want to begin gathering any family records you have in your home and seeing what you can learn from them. These could be items such as scrapbooks, photo albums, diaries, letters, newspaper clippings, and certificates of birth, marriage, and death. Don’t forget to ask your relatives about any documents they might have in their possession.

5. Join online social groups and email lists

Sooner or later, you won’t be able to gather more information without using outside sources. The first thing you should do is try to find out if someone else has already mapped out part of your lineage. If this is the case, then a lot of your work has already been done! We recommend searching for online groups and forums in which fellow genealogy researchers can share any info they have about your family or point you in the right direction. It’s also a good idea to join a mailing list such as one of the many you can find on this page.

6. Visit a local Genealogical Society

Just as individuals interested in genealogy may already have knowledge about your family history, there are also privately-owned genealogical societies that can assist you. Most societies focus only on lineages in specific local counties, so you’ll want to find one near where your ancestors lived. Many organizations are online, but you may also be able to find physical locations that house local documents. You can begin your search for these societies here.

7. Consult state and local government records

If you intend to trace your family line back as far as possible, you will eventually need to look at government records. It may be helpful to start with state and county records, which will typically be held at the appropriate government buildings. These institutions may hold types of records that the federal government does not, namely: birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce records, death records, deeds and wills.

8. Consult federal government records

The National Archives and Records Administration maintains documents dating as far back as the Revolutionary War, including census, military, immigration, naturalization and land records. However, the vast majority of these documents are not available online, which means you will need to visit the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. or one of the Regional Archives buildings throughout the country, or purchase microfilm from NARA, in order to view these records. The official NARA website provides a useful guide for beginning your genealogical research.

9. Join a genealogical website

If you’ve come this far and are really serious about finding your roots, you should consider joining an ancestry website like Ancestry.com or Findmypast.com. These sites require you to subscribe for a monthly fee, but they provide digital access to a wide array of government and non-government documents you won’t be able to find anywhere else online. The cost of using these websites is often worth the convenience and breadth of knowledge they provide.

10. Invest in a computer program

Paper documents, charts and forms add up quickly as you progress through your ancestry, making it increasingly difficult to stay organized. Purchasing software dedicated to building family trees and archiving relevant information will make your life a lot easier. Investigate programs such as Ancestral Quest, FAMware and Legacy to see which one you like best. Many offer free trials or free versions with fewer features.

We hope this article helps you on your genealogical journey! If you have tips or info for fellow ancestry researchers, let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

9 Things You Didn’t Know About “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”

As warm weather inches its way to the Midwest, we can’t help but look forward to what we view as the start of summer: Memorial Day weekend. For most people, Memorial Day weekend will consist of heading to the pool or grilling out with family and friends. But if you’re a Hoosier, chances are that race day is on your mind.

The Indy 500, also known as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, is celebrating its 100th running on May 29th. If you’re not from the Hoosier State and don’t know about the long list of traditions that surround Memorial Day weekend, we’re here to help. With over a century of history, we’ve put together a list of things that might surprise you about the Indianapolis 500. And if you are an Indiana native, you may still be surprised about the foundation of some of the infamous traditions seen on race day.

indianapolis 500

1. The race wasn’t always on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.

In fact, race day always took place on Memorial Day proper (May 30th) until the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (1971) moved the holiday to the last Monday of May. Before 1971, the Indy 500 always took place on May 30th, no matter which day of the week the holiday fell. The one exception? The race would not be run on a Sunday. Today, it’s always run on Sunday unless poor weather forces the race to be postponed.

2. A headlining concert has performed on Carb Day since 1998.

Carb day, short for Carburetion Day, is the Friday before the race. When cars still used carburetors (over 40 years ago), this day was used for drivers and their teams to make adjustments. Although the cars no longer use carburetors, the name “Carb Day” stuck, and today it represents the last day of practice for the drivers. Since 1998, Carb Day has featured a headlining musical artist. This year will feature Journey.

3. There is a non-profit dedicated solely to celebrating the spirit and legacy of the race.

The 500 Festival hosts events throughout the year to build excitement for the race. Two of their biggest events include the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon and the 500 Festival Parade.

4. A variety of songs and a parade are part of the pre-race festivities.

Actually, there are a plethora of pre-race songs that play before the infamous exclamation, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” The most notable of these traditions are the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” with a ballon release, and the Purdue All-American Marching Band’s performance of “On the Banks of the Wabash” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.” About two hours before the race there is a parade around the track featuring the 500 Festival Queen and Princesses, celebrities in attendance, and basically anyone else that is important.

5. Winners drink milk.

Forget champagne, we want milk! This obscure tradition began in 1936 when driver Louis Meyer asked for buttermilk after winning the 500. The Milk Foundation took advantage of this bizarre drink choice on a hot day and photographed the scene to try and bump sales. Milk was not available from 1947-55, but the tradition was brought back to the track in 1956.

6. There are multiple trophies.

Well, kind of. There’s the famous Borg-Warner Trophy that features relief sculptures of all the past winners along with numerous stats. The trophy itself is valued at over 1 million dollars and weighs roughly 110 lbs. Because the actual trophy is not given to the winner (it remains in Hall of Fame at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway), winners receive an 18-inch replica affectionately called the “Baby Borg” trophy.

7. This is the first time you can watch the race live in Indianapolis in 50 plus years.

The race, which you can watch live pretty much anywhere else in the United States, had to be watched by Indianapolis residents on Sunday afternoons until this year. The reasoning for “blacking out” the race was to get more people out to the track on race day. But because the race sold out for the first time in a long time (possibly ever, as the IMS never releases their attendance numbers), they have decided to lift the blackout, allowing Indianapolis folks the ability to watch the race live for the first time since the 1950s.

8. 100th running is not the same as the 100th annual.

Indianapolis is celebrating its 100th running of the Indy 500, not to be confused with 100th annual. Although the first race took place in 1911, the race was actually canceled from 1917-18 because of World War I. During that time the Speedway was used as an airstrip serving as a fuel stop for the Air Force. That race was again suspended from 1942-45 because of World War II.

9. Winners kiss the bricks.

The Speedway was originally made up of 3.2 million paving bricks. Over the years, the track has been updated and since 1961, the only bricks remaining are the 36-in strip at the start / finish. The first driver to kiss the bricks was Dale Jarrett in 1996, who began the tradition. Since then, victors kiss the bricks to pay tribute to the IMS (Indianapolis Motor Speedway).

Did you learn something new? We hope so! If you have any other traditions you want to share, let us know in the comments section or give us a shout on our Facebook page. Get ready for Memorial Day weekend, it should be a hot one!



11 Tips from Experts To Conquer Your First National Park

clingmans dome national park

The Grand Canyon. Yellowstone. The Great Smoky Mountains. Yosemite.

We can picture them all — vast, grand, and beautiful. But have you seen them with your own two eyes, hiked their trails, and been fully immersed in their wilderness? With National Park Week (plus free admission!) upon us and summer quickly approaching, we think it’s time for you to head to your nearest national park.

To provide some helpful tips for planning your next trip to a national park, we’ve interviewed Steve and Sheila Condra, a couple that has been heading to the outdoors for years. Together they’ve tackled 27 national parks, 13 national monuments, 15 national historic parks, and a variety of national battlefields, seashores, lakeshores, and scenic trails. Needless to say, they know a thing or two about the National Park Service.

bryce canyon national park

Allison, Sheila, Amanda, and Steve Condra at Grand Canyon National Park

11 Tips from the Experts:

1. Just Go

My number one tip for visiting national parks is to just go.  There are so many opportunities available to be enjoyed, but can only be truly experienced in person. No matter what anyone may tell you, pictures cannot compare to live experiences.  I’ve probably been to the Grand Canyon a dozen times, but each trip holds new and exciting discoveries. No amount of pictures can give you the feeling of walking up to the south rim in person and feeling the awesomeness that nature has presented to us.

clingmans dome national park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park — the Condra family’s “favorite”

2. Do Your Research

Know what to expect from any particular park and research in advance. If possible, plan your allotted time there based upon your preferences. Learn the history of the park and why it was chosen to be included into the park system.

3. Plan for Weather

Know what weather you may encounter and plan accordingly. Do I need a raincoat? Nothing dampens your spirits more than being wet, cold, and uncomfortable. Should I dress in layers? The temperature may vary as much as 50 degrees in some parks. Always pack some sunscreen; even cloudy days outdoors can result in nasty sunburns that can affect the rest of your stay.

4. Don’t Forget Food

Plan food and drink. Most parks aren’t blessed with readily accessible restaurants and/or stores. Always carry some water with you and stay hydrated. Snacks, such as nuts, trail mix and possible fresh fruits have saved the day for us on many occasions.

5. Wear the Right Clothes

Clothing designed for the activities you’ve anticipated make the visit much more enjoyable. Plan on some exercise and wear clothing that allows freedom of movement and won’t chafe. Also, clothing designed to keep you dry and warm, or cool if the situation requires, will allow you to have a more enjoyable experience.

yosemite national park

Amanda and Allison Condra in Yosemite National Park in 1999

6. Good Shoes are a Must

Wear the proper footwear for the environment— sore, wet or blistered feet are the absolute worst. Especially in back country experiences, don’t scrimp on footwear. Buy the best you can afford and make sure they are well broken in before you start on a trek.

7. Make a Few “Dry Runs”

If you plan to hike and/or camp, make a few “dry runs” locally starting with short trails and overnight camps so that you can get acclimated to the process. Along the way, learn which items are really necessities and which items are seldom used or needed. Don’t carry a five-pound hatchet on a thirty-mile wilderness hike if it is not needed. Minimal equipment is always preferred, in my opinion, and requires less energy to be expended, allowing for a more pleasant experience.

8. Remember, You’re in Nature

Learn what wildlife may be encountered, how to identify them, and what precautions may be necessary. Carry pepper spray if a there’s a possibility you could encounter a bear. Learn to identify poisonous spiders and snakes and how to avoid them. In all of our travels we have never run across a bear in the wild, nor a poisonous snake, but there is always a small chance that it could happen. It’s always best to “Be Prepared”, as my old scouting days taught me.

Speaking of preparation… there are no bathrooms in nature! 

9. Talk to Knowledgeable People

Talk to people about their experiences, before and while visiting parks. Information gained may be very helpful and very current while planning you daily visit to a park. For example, knowing that the elk are in a particular valley might allow you to see them when they would be otherwise missed.

10. Be Respectful

While visiting, be respectful of other guests. Stay quiet on trails and allow others to get those perfect photos. Also, respect the park by not leaving behind trash, causing damage to features, or carrying out rocks, flowers, etc. As the saying goes, “Take Only Memories, Leave only Footprints.”

canoyonlands national park

Canyonlands National Park in 2009

11. Consider a Pass and a Passport

Purchasing a National Parks Pass provides admission for one year to all national parks that have an admission fee. You can also buy a National Parks Passport to document all of your visits. Visitor Centers have cancellation stamps to stamp passports that show the location and date. That is how our daughter, Amanda, was able to make her list of places she had visited! 

With the 100th anniversary of the National Parks, it’s never been a better time to take a trip!

sequoia national park 50s

Driving through Sequoia National Park in 1961

sequoia national park vintage

Steve and his family at Sequoia National Park in 1958


5 Easter Traditions To Start Doing With Your Family This Year

Easter is right around the corner and we’re using the holiday to celebrate all things spring-related. From planting flowers, to cooking a big brunch, Easter traditions are a fun, memorable way to spend time with your family and get excited for warmer weather. Below are five of our favorite Easter traditions — maybe you’ve already been doing them for years, or maybe you can make this year the first of many more to come.

1. Decorate Your Own Easter Eggs

Dying Easter eggs is a classic tradition that you probably did as a kid, too. Buy a few kits at the grocery store and call it a day, or get a little craftier. You can decorate eggs with puffy paint, confetti, and anything else that sparks your fancy from the craft store. Just don’t forget to boil the eggs, first!

If you’re looking for some more ways to get creative with Easter eggs, we love this guide by Sunlit Spaces: 14 Fantastic Ways to Decorate Easter Eggs.

decorating easter eggs

2. Make (And Mail) Easter Cards

Handwritten cards are always a kind gesture. Teach your kids or your grandkids the art of sending letters by making your own Easter cards to send, snail-mail style, to friends and family. Construction paper and markers will do just fine, or you can find a template online, like this one by Martha Stewart.

3. Bake an Easter Quiche

Who doesn’t love a hearty Easter brunch with loved ones? If you’re getting sick of deviled eggs, try a quiche. It’s easy to make and you can prepare it ahead of time so you can spend less time in the kitchen, and more time enjoying the day with your family. If you don’t already have a quiche recipe in your lineup, check out these 9 different variations that are perfect for the occasion.

easter quiche

4. Host an Easter Egg Hunt

The main event — a neighborhood Easter egg hunt. Why not be the host this year? Recruit your kids or grandkids to help you fill up hollow, plastic Easter eggs (which you can usually find at a dollar store) with different treats and prizes.

This is where things get fun. You can stuff your eggs with candy, toys, gift cards, cash — whatever you think is best! Check out this article for even more tips and ideas for hosting the perfect egg hunt.

5. Plant Tulips

One of the most popular potted flowers to buy around Easter-time are tulips. Did you know that you can plant tulip bulbs outside after they’ve bloomed? This is a fun Easter day or after-Easter activity for you and your family, especially if you give each other potted tulips as a gift.

spring tulips

Sometimes it takes up to two years for the tulips to bloom again once they’ve been replanted, but you can make it a tradition each year to check on them and even plant a few more! For more detailed instructions on how to replant your tulip bulbs, take a look at this article.

How are you planning to spend Easter this year? We’d love to hear about your traditions, new and old. Give us a shout on Twitter or Facebook!