On April 2, 2012, the National Archives will release the 1940 census to the public, opening millions of records to genealogists. A census record is released to the public 72 years after the census is taken. According to Ancestry.com, over 132 million people lived in the United States in 1940 and today, 87 percent of Americans can directly link themselves to one of those people. What better time to start researching your family tree?

I have been researching my family history long before records became available on the internet. Now there are hundreds of thousands of sources to find your family’s roots online. My favorite is Ancestry.com. I am sure you have seen their commercials. NBC airs a show on Fridays (7:00 Central Time) about tracing the ancestral lines of celebrities called Who Do You Think You Are? Their stories and discoveries are intended to make you want to check out your own family. To make things even more enticing, Ancestry.com offers a 2-week free trial.

I also like FamilySearch.org. This is a free website provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have found tons of information on FamilySearch that were not as easy to uncover on Ancestry. For example, I was looking for a man named John Hughes. It is a popular name and with the limited information I had, using Ancestry was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. FamilySearch, however, had records on Cook County, IL Death Certificates. Since I knew he lived in Chicago, I looked there. His name came up on the first page.

To start researching your family tree, write down what you know. You obviously know your own dates, your parents and probably, your grandparents. Set up a family tree on Ancestry and type in those names and dates. Just like on the commercial, a little leaf will appear when they think they have a record match for that person. If you don’t get a leaf, you have the option to search on your own. You may find someone else that is searching for the same person or you may find a distant cousin.

A compiled family history is a great idea for a Mother’s Day! It is hard to come up with something for the person that has everything. If you don’t have time to research the family tree yourself, why not give her a gift membership to Ancestry?

A family tree project is also fun for the kids. Although my kids often ask me why I keep looking up dead people, they are amazed by some of my findings. For example, my great-grandmother was named Rosina. Fifteen of her descendants, including my middle daughter, use the name in some form – Rosie, Rosemary or Rose as a middle name. My oldest daughter has a slight build. When I showed her pictures of her great-great grandfather, and her great-grandmother, she could see how that trait was passed down to her.

If you like puzzles, a family history research is perfect for you. It takes patience. You try to place things together that you think make sense, but sometimes the pieces just don’t fit. Sometimes you have to walk away from it. When it finally all comes together, you are a left with a feeling of satisfaction and a priceless history of your family’s journey.