09/29/2014 04:54 EDT | Updated 11/29/2014 05:59 EST

Put Some Colour into Your Family Tree This Fall

Fall is my absolute favourite time of year. The leaves begin to turn and the heat of the summer (such as it was!) fades to cooler days. Kids are settling into school and everyone starts to get back into the swing of things. Fall is also a time when I like to get back into my own regular routine, when I hunker down and finally get to my family history "to dos" that I put off over the summer months.

Recently, while catching up on my online research, I made a wonderful discovery on someone else's family tree through a hint that flagged a shared ancestor. Looking further into this clue, I found that a name and date in that family tree matched the eldest brother of my great-great-great grandfather. This meant I had a distant relative I never knew existed!

My ancestor's will listed him as living somewhere in North America, but I never knew where. Looking further into the tree of my new-found relative, I discovered a number of documents about our shared ancestor, including a transcription of a letter from a lawyer that incredibly, and usefully, listed all of my ancestor's family names. I discovered that he settled in Cape Breton Island in the 1780s as a Loyalist which opened up a whole new and exciting direction for my research.

I continued to dig further into the documents and quickly learned that my ancestor, William Bown, and his two young sons arrived in Sydney, Cape Breton Island, which at that time was separate from Nova Scotia. It was a place rough and ready for Loyalist settlers. The Governor at that time granted the Bowns 300 acres of land and they settled down. William's son, George Bown, was the harbour master in Cape Breton for 20 years when he applied for land in 1819. He married Madeline Haire, also the offspring of a Loyalist and the two had nine children. It was a lovely surprise to discover that I have these Loyalist connections in my already very British family tree. I am constantly amazed by the things I can find about my family history online.

For those new to family history it couldn't be easier to get started.

Begin by jotting down what you already know and what you want to learn, to give your research a bit of direction. From there, you can start to build your family tree online. It's really simple. Start with yourself and work backwards. You can also add photos, maps (like the one above), video and stories about each person in your family tree. Once you've added the basics, you can get other family members to add what they know to help grow your tree.

You never know what you might discover about ancestors whose stories you've never heard. Or, like me, you could connect with brand new family members you never knew you had!