Heritage for the Holidays: Building a family tree

Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part series from Secretary of State Jason Kander’s Office focusing on ways Missouri families can take advantage of holiday celebrations to better understand their past and improve their family records. The series will appear in our Monday editions.

From the Missouri secretary of state’s office


The holidays give us opportunities to celebrate, time to give thanks over shared meals, reminders to help others in need, special moments for prayer and spiritual rejuvenation, and occasions for family.

There’s no better time than December’s family get-togethers to start — or resume — exploring your family’s heritage. As you delve into your ancestors’ lives and backgrounds, expect countless stories to surface — of migration and conflict, hard times and celebrations, even new trends and old traditions. Many of people’s relatives found themselves at history’s critical bends, including the Civil War, the fight for women’s suffrage, World Wars I and II, and the civil rights movement. Others participated in important events at the local level, for example, decisions to open a shop or buy a farm. In some way, each person is woven into history’s fabric.

In this column and three others over the next month, the Missouri State Archives, a division of Secretary of State Jason Kander’s office, will highlight four ways you and your loved ones can better understand your family’s story through genealogical research. These guides will offer tips for building your family tree, rediscovering family photos, tracing your roots at historic sites and recording oral histories. By the end, you’ll be ready to branch out into Missouri’s large community of active and friendly genealogists.

“The Missouri State Archives is a national leader in preserving and providing access to the records that showcase our history as individuals, families, communities and as a state,” Kander said. “Whether you’re usingwww.MissouriDigitalHeritage.com, the Alex M. Petrovic Reading Room in Jefferson City or any one of the research tools it provides, the Missouri State Archives offers some of the best resources for genealogists anywhere in the country.”

The first place to start with any genealogical effort is the family tree, a useful tool that you will return to over and over again. Whether you’re new to the hobby or an experienced researcher, it’s always possible — at least in theory — to keep tracing your roots and grow your tree farther and farther into past generations.

As a first step, the State Archives recommends starting with yourself and working backwards, letting what you already know guide your research. To avoid any confusion, begin with your father’s or mother’s side and fill in any known life event information, including births, deaths, marriages and known residences. These details are essential when you, or perhaps another member of your family, attempts to locate additional information in the future.

The family tree can take multiple formats, as different in appearance as the fashions of each generation. The State Archives is happy to provide a template, available as either a paper copy or in a digital format with fillable slots for use on the computer. Just contact the reference archivists at archref@sos.mo.gov or 573-751-3280.

Once you’ve begun to document your lineage, be sure to share your progress with your siblings, children and other relatives. Take the opportunity to spread out your work on the kitchen table after the coffee has been poured and pumpkin pie cut. You never know what new details you will learn, or who you might inspire!

Finally, remember the family tree is just a starting point. If you get tired or stuck, don’t give up. There are plenty of other activities you can do to continue on your quest for your family’s history. Next week, for instance, the Archives will offer suggestions for making the most of your old family photos.

So get started on that tree and stay tuned!


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