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If you have just become interested in tracing your family tree, the Internet has made it easier than ever before. But, there are some things you need to do before you dive into the Internet sources. Like any other topic on the net, you can get lost in the maze of web pages if you don't know where you are going.

Here are some tips in staying focused and getting you off to a good start.

1. Start with yourself.

Some genealogists get so caught up in chasing ancestors that they forget to document their own lives. Genealogy is more than names on a family tree. Documentation is an important part of a family history.

So, start by gathering the documents you have on your own life (birth, marriage, diplomas, etc.) Make copies for your records and store the originals in a safe place. Write down the significant watermarks in your life, include dates and places.

A good way to keep a perspective on your life is to imagine a descendent reading you genealogy a hundred years from now. What they would like to know about your life is the same as what you would like to know about your ancestors lives?

2. Gather together the information you have on your family

You may have at hand information to add to your family tree. Beyond the obvious of birth, marriage and death certificates, look for information from a family bible, newspaper clippings (such as obituaries, birth, and wedding announcements, and other events in your family's life), funeral cards, cards sent to you announcing births, weddings, and graduations, old pictures of your family, and letters.

Then, write down what you remember from family stories. Many of these stories might be right on target, others may be inaccurate. All are important for the clues they will give you.


3. Contact relatives

It is always important to talk to your oldest relatives while they are still alive. Visit nearby relatives; call, write and email more distant relatives. What you are looking for are records they may have that they will copy for you, additions to the family stories, and the work some of then may have already done on your family tree.

Remember that not everyone will be happy about your new interest in genealogy. Particularly, older relatives may think you will unearth family skeletons. In truth, genealogists love those tidbits as they add color to the family history.

4. Review the information you have for inconsistencies

After you have gathered your information, take a close look at what you have. Even among official records you will find inconsistencies in names, dates and places. As you begin to get more documentation, these will become clearer. Keep an open mind for the surprises that may pop up on records.

5. Set up a filing system

By now you will have accumulated a stack of papers. This pile will grow into a confusing mess if you don't start a filing system of sorts. Use whatever works for you.

I keep a filing box with hanging folders for general information about genealogy and the locations I am researching. Then, I have two binders for each surname. One is for family group sheets (you will later get those at various genealogical sites to copy on your printer) and copies of documentation. The other is for information that I am still working on, but have not proven or sorted out yet (I call those my research binders).

6. Visit your local genealogical resources

Even with the Internet, you still will get valuable information for your research from them. Before you start surfing, it is important to familiarize yourself with the resources they have available.

Visit your local library. Most libraries have a genealogical section. Become friends with the research librarian. The genealogy section is not the only one you will be using. After you get into your research, you will be needing historical, language and geographical information.

Visit and join your local genealogical society. Even if your present residence is not where you will be researching, they have sources other than local. They can provide help on research techniques, including the Internet. Their library of genealogical books is often extensive.

Locate and visit your nearest Family History Center, which is maintained by the Mormons who have done extensive genealogy research. Don't worry, you don't have to be Mormon, and they won't try to convert you. But, they will be happy to help you in your research.

7. Decide which branch of the family tree to start your search on

The mistake that many beginning genealogists make is to try to research too many family branches at the same time. It doesn't take long before you will be confused and lost with that method.

Start with the surname that seems most promising. A little bit of success will be helpful at the start. When you run into what genealogists call 'the brick wall', you can set aside that branch and start work on another.

Now, you are ready to find all those great genealogy sites on the Internet. Just type in genealogy in your favorite search engine. You'll be astounded. A good place to start is with the beginning genealogy tutorials that are available at one of the large sites.

Finally, a warning. Genealogy is addictive. Once you start, you'll never want to stop.