If you’d like to get going and jump in both feet, there is a multitude of information on the web to help you get started. Videos, databases, forms, you name it, you can find it on the web; it can be overwhelming if you are just starting out. Here are some tips and tricks to get you started:
How to Start
- GATHER information from family files, attics; ask that aunt, uncle or cousin that has been carrying the genealogy torch thus far. Ask for copies of vital records, birth, marriage, death. Many parents/grandparents retain these vital records in files even after a loved one has passed on.
- ASK family members what they know and if anyone has performed research before; seek out your oldest living relatives and record their stories – RootsWeb: Questions for Interviewing Family Members includes over 150+ questions you can pick and choose. Interviews tend to take on a wonderful life of their own! Be patient and allow enough time. Record the meeting and listen to it several times to ensure you haven’t missed any clues that might provide clues later.
- WRITE all of the information gathered on a family pedigree chart as you find it. This will help you keep the names straight, they multiply fast.
- DECIDE which ancestral line you want to focus your search on first. Look at the family tree you created in the step above above and decide if you want to take back a line in your family tree you already know about further or do you want to fill in the gaps you have? Having a research plan helps you stay focused and save time, here is an example. This Getting Started page on the Family Search wiki gives a more detailed list on how to begin.
- INVESTIGATE & RESEARCH what resources/database are available online (for free or $), on microfilm, and/or what you’ll need to order from different places; expect that you will need to research in or order records from more than one place. The Family Search catalog is a great place to start. The Family History Center in Salt Lake City holds the world’s largest collection of genealogical research. Fortunately, many of the microfilmed records have been digitized and are either available online at Familysearch.org or through visiting a local Family History Center and accessing the records through a computer there.
- VISIT local libraries, historical societies, university libraries and local genealogy groups where your family lived. Many have an online web presence with contact information and a list of their holdings.
- ORGANIZE & DOCUMENT all of the information you gathered. Set up a filing system (hard files and/or computer) so as you research its easy to keep the information organized. File Tree Sample: Surname> Record Type (ex. Birth) > files with name of person record pertains to (I also like to include year in my filename).
- PROFESSIONAL research assistance is available via librarians, professional genealogists, online messaging boards and more. When to call in a professional? When you don’t have time for the research, need access to records in a particular locality, cannot read the language in which the records are recorded, or if you’ve hit a brick wall and would like a consultation.
- GO and walk your ancestors footsteps!
- Warning Label: If you like puzzles, genealogy research is addictive!
- Share your research plans with other family members; they may want to assist you and/or participate financially as the cost of retrieving records online can add-up. Better yet, form a group and travel your tree!
- Training: There are some great videos online that can show you the basics step-by-step, more than I have space for here. Check You Tube and the Family Search Wiki has some great, free video how-to’s link to Family Search Wiki.
- Focus on one branch at a time. This spends your time efficiently.
- Sources: Note your sources as you go along; this will make it easier to find again and keep you form repeating your work, it saves you a lot of time. Tips for citing your sources here.
- Date Photos: We’ve all done it… stashed a bunch of photos in a box and looked at them years later wondering when they were taken. Our ancestors did it to. If you come across any photos in the attic ask relatives to help you date them for future generations.
- Copying Trees: Do not copy online trees willy-nilly! Check their sources and only include information on your tree that is valid.
- Online sources: Ancestry.com library edition is available at many public libraries. It allows full use of the service without paying the membership fees to work from your own computer.
- Review thoroughly: Review each record thoroughly, you may pick up a much needed clue. For instance, different US Census records contain information that colors the story of your ancestors lives such as: where they were born, when they immigrated, if they were naturalized, if they owned a radio, if they owner their home or rented, what they did for a living and even (in the case of 1900) the month and year they were born.
- Organize: If you go back 9 generations with your research you’ll have over 1,000 people in your family tree, keep your records organized. Surname> Type of Record> Individual records saved with name and date in the filename is just one of the ways to keep it straight and not waste time looking for records multiple times.
- Ask for help: In my experience, reference librarians are very happy to help with whatever project you may be working on. There may be a source they are familiar with that you are not.