How To Start Genealogy Research
Learn how to start geneology research: the best methods and sources of information for identifying ancestors and recording family histories.
Genealogy has become one of the most popular hobbies in the US. A record number of people are researching their family histories and gaining new insights into their ancestors and cultural heritage.
The first step for a beginning genealogist is to record all the information you know about your parents, your grandparents, and, if possible, your great grandparents. The information you record should include dates and places of birth, children's names, siblings' names, parents' names, and, where applicable, dates and places of death. Whether you use a computer, a pedigree chart, or a family history notebook, it is very important to organize the information in a format that is easy to reference. As you record data, note missing pieces of information that require further research.
Next, you should locate documents that verify the information you have recorded. Necessary documents include birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates. Other documents that can provide valuable information include obituaries, wills, school records, and Bible records.
You are now ready to interview your oldest living relatives to extend your ancestral charts back to earlier generations. If you have missing or unverified information in your records, try to fill in the missing data during these interviews. Now is also the time to gather personal information about deceased relatives such as physical descriptions, professions, hobbies, and any unusual facts or circumstances in their lives. Photographs and memorabilia as well as tapes of interviews can add further interest to your written records.
After you have completed your interviews, your next search will involve county libraries and the libraries of local and regional genealogical and historical societies. At this point, be alert for spelling variations in the names you are researching. If you are lucky, several generations of your family will have lived in the general area in which you live. Otherwise, you will need to contact libraries in the counties where your ancestors lived to obtain quotes for costs of searches and copies of records. Libraries often have census data and wills on microfilm. These documents provide the most valuable information when birth and death certificates are not available. Many genealogical societies publish books and transcribe records, and have accumulated a wealth of information including bound family histories, cemetery records, local histories, military records, land grants, deeds, and unpublished family files. Contact the state genealogical society if you are not familiar with societies in the counties or regions of interest.
Be aware that information found on the internet may not be from reliable sources. Whenever conflicting information is found, further research will be necesary to verify the data in question. The internet can be very useful, however, in locating addresses of state and federal agencies as well as webpages of genealogical and historical societies.
Once you have exhausted all local and regional sources of information, expand your search to state and national archives. Be sure to obtain official documents to support your records whenever possible and always indicate sources of information as you record data.
Whether you choose to write and publish a history of ten generations or to create a personal family history for your children, your research will reward you with insights and a sense of connection to your ancestors you have never before experienced.