Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Beginning Genealogy

I'm posting this in the hopes I can help someone who is just starting to figure out how to research their family history. While I know a person new to genealogy may not know that there are blogs to help, I believe that same person is likely to do a Google search to find out how to begin. Of course, everyone will have their own recommendations of how to start tracing your genealogy. This is the way I'd recommend.

Step 0: Maybe you won't actually do this step until you've found some information. Regardless, it's important that you do it if you intend to do genealogy as a hobby. Find a piece of software to document your family history in your own database locally on your computer. I don't recommend storing your original research online. You can read about my opinion here. Store it locally and backup your information. You can then upload it to other websites to share your information.

Step 1: Talk to your oldest close relation. It could be your one of your parents or grandparents or maybe an aunt or uncle. If they don't have the information you need, it's likely they'll know who the defacto family historian is. If you have a first or second cousin that has done some genealogy research, you'll definitely want to start with them. After all, why would you want to reproduce all their hard work? You could save a lot of time and effort by starting with what someone else has already found. Of course, when you do, you'll want to do two things:

   1a: Document where you obtained this information. Credit this person for all their hard work. After all, you wouldn't have this information if it wasn't for them. You'll want people to give you credit for your work, so give this person credit also.

   1b: Ensure that all of their information is documented. If they have copies of the documentation, great! Get a copy of it for yourself to prove that the work is accurate. If it isn't documented, use their information as a clues and track down the documentation yourself. Remember that if it isn't documentation, it may as well just be a story.

Step 2: Talk to your oldest close relations, even if they are not the family historian. Ask them questions about their life and their memories. What stands out to them as important people and events in the lives of your ancestors? Ask their permission and record the conversations and transcribe them. Save and backup the recordings for future generations.

Step 3: Ask your relations for photos and documentation about your parents, grandparents and anyone else they may have information on. This is the toughest step, in my opinion. It's easy to ask, but if you don't know about any specific item, you wouldn't know to ask for it. On top of that, someone who has had a piece of paper stashed away in a file cabinet may not think of it when you ask for these things. Just keep asking for anything and everything documenting your ancestors' lives. I'm still finding new photos and documents years after starting this journey.

Step 4: Visit Rootsweb and view the online family trees. Do a search for your known ancestors and see what information others may have about them. Rootsweb is a double-edged sword. It can give you good information that can break down brick walls for you but it can also contain information that is not accurate. Take anything you find here with a heavy dose of salt. Don't take it as gospel. Use it as a clue to where you can find documentation on the people you find there. Jot down the information and do some original research to verify the information is correct.

Step 5: Sign up for and use Family Search to search records. In my opinion, Family Search records search is the single best way to research your family history online. They have many documents digitized and most of those are indexed. Millions more records are posted there on a weekly basis. The most popular way to use Family Search is to enter surnames or first and last names into the search boxes and see what it finds for you. I believe the better way to use Family Search is to browse the catalog. Starting at the highest level, select the continent your ancestor lived, then the country, the state, the county and the city to narrow down your search. Once there, you can see what documents are available for any given area. Browse into them, even if a search isn't possible. Browse them page by page if necessary. This is where I've found some critical information that could not have been found otherwise.

Step 6: Search the Family Search catalog. Search by place and find the area you're interested in. Once you find the village or town you want to look at, you'll see a list of microfilms available to order. Read through my instructions about Family History Centers for more detail on how to search for, order and view microfilm at your local Family History Center.

Step 7: Find headstones on Find-A-Grave. Save copies of the photos and inscriptions in your database. Save information about the location of the burial. You may want to visit these burial locations sometime in the future.

Step 8: Post your information, read posts made by others and ask them questions. This is where I've had some of my biggest breakthroughs. Share what you've learned. Answer questions others ask of you and ask questions of others. I can't stress this enough. Share with others and ask questions. You'll hear me repeat it over and over. Just do it. You won't regret it.

Step 9: Visit the locations your ancestors lived. Talk with people in the area. Take photos. Go to cemeteries, churches, court houses, archives and anywhere else your family history might be documented. This step, to me, is the most rewarding. Even if you don't necessarily find new information, walking in the footsteps of your ancestors, seeing where they lived, can allow you to understand them more.



  1. Great post! I'm on Step #4 and can't wait to find more ancestors. Thanks! :-)

  2. I'm happy to help! I love it when I'm able to help someone make progress on their genealogical research. Feel free to post questions!