My family history map, zoomed in on the Netherlands — from RootsMapper.com

How to Map Your Family History

Humans can do some incredible things when you put 3.7 billion of us in the same room together. That’s essentially what happened with the internet — it connected diverse people and places around the world, and of course, it’s still growing.

And when it comes to humans, we do some pretty incredible things when we’re connected.

Like, build huge family trees.

Family Tree — Image from WaitButWhy.com

Family Tree — Image from WaitButWhy.com

Digging up my past

I’ve jumped down the genealogy rabbit trail a few times before, but I’ve been especially interested lately because of an upcoming trip I have to the Netherlands, my family’s motherland. I knew some ancestors on my dad’s side came from the province of Friesland, but when you’re dealing with family history, you have exponentially more great-great-etc.-parents as you go back each generation (4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16 great-grandparents, and so on) — so where did they all come from?

In other words, where on earth do I really come from?

Naturally, I turned to the Internet for answers. There were almost too many tools to choose from — from Ancestry to MyHeritage to Geni — and plenty of them could build detailed family trees.

But I wanted to see that tree on the map.

After doing some digging, I finally found a way — using FamilySearch.org with a tool called RootsMapper.

Here’s how it works.

1. Sign up for FamilySearch.org, and start building your tree

It’s free. Just go to www.FamilySearch.org, click sign up, and create an account.

I’m sure this part will vary quite a bit from person to person, but if you know the names of your grandparents, or even better, your great-grandparents and even further back, there’s a good chance that your tree will match with someone in the FamilySearch database. Once you confirm the match, it will start to populate more of the branches for you. I only had to add a couple great-grandparents on my dad’s side and mom’s side, and suddenly I had branches going back to the 1600s.

A (small) part of my ancestry — FamilySearch.org

A (small) part of my ancestry — FamilySearch.org

2. Check location, location, location

Hopefully, your tree automatically populates with location data about some of your ancestors (birthplace, place of death, marriage location, etc). Chances are you won’t know for everyone, but do your best to add what you can. Also, don’t forget to add yourself to the tree! This is how FamilySearch integrates with RootsMapper.

FamilyTree.org — Image from Genealogy's Star

FamilyTree.org — Image from Genealogy’s Star

3. Go to RootsMapper.com, and log in with FamilySearch.

This is the fun part. In the top lefthand corner of RootsMapper, your name should be listed. Click on the “Start” drop-down menu just below your name, and choose how many generations you want to see displayed on the map. Wait a few seconds for it to plot and …. there it is! Each number on the map indicates how many generations back are being displayed in that specific location.

Screenshot of RootsMapper

Screenshot of RootsMapper

Tip: Personally, I like to switch to satellite view and turn off the highlighted countries so it’s easier to view. To do this, click on “countries” under the “Map Options” tab on the left, and switch to satellite view in the top right-hand corner. There are a few other options, like viewing one generation at a time, so be sure to click around and explore.

Also, if you’d like to see the ancestry of a specific side of your family, or for a specific ancestor, find that person’s unique code in your tree on FamilySearch.org; then paste it in the box just below your name on RootsMapper. Here’s where to find it:

Highlighted code — from Genealogy Star

Highlighted code — from Genealogy Star

In the end, I ended up with an interactive map that showed some interesting findings. As expected, quite a few of my ancestors are clustered in the province of Friesland, but it turns out they were also scattered across other parts of the Netherlands.

My family history map, zoomed in on the Netherlands — from RootsMapper.com

My family history map, zoomed in on the Netherlands — from RootsMapper.com

It’s only a sliver of my family history, but it sure is more than I knew before this. Best of all, it adds new context to a place I’m excited to explore.

Thanks, Internet.

And for those of you who weren’t able to add many branches to your tree, rest assured, the Internet is growing every day — and so is the family tree of humanity. Who knows — given enough time and enough people connecting their knowledge, we may eventually even see how everyone is connected with a master family tree of humanity.

We’ll see. One branch at a time.

 

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