Knowing where to begin is confusing and intimidating! These 10 steps will get you off to a good start:
1. Start with yourself and work backwards. Record your own information first and then the information of your parents and siblings. Then record the information of your grandparents and all their children. Continue to work back, one generation at a time, based on the facts you have found.
2. Talk to everyone around you. Gather names, places, dates, events, copies of photographs and artifacts. Encourage your family members to tell their stories. Record what you hear, but consider what you are told to be hearsay until you can verify the information. This is usually verified through archival sources like birth, marriage and death certificates and censuses. Treat everything as a clue to your ancestral story.
3. Gather family records. Gather the archival sources you find – marriage records, old letters and photos, birth, naturalization, citizenship, and death certificates, etc. Obtain copies of those documents and photos, or take digital pictures of them and retain those for viewing again later. Looking at a document or photo again, even months or years later, can sometimes reveal things you overlooked or did not understand earlier.
4. Choose the approach you want to use for your research. Although most people research both sides of the family, some choose to focus on one branch only. Others record the members of extended families and build very large family trees. Others choose to undertake a One-Name Study.
5. Look in many different places. The Internet, library, or another researcher – these are all potential sources of information.
6. All families have some skeletons in the closet, and yours won’t be an exception. This raises issues of privacy and confidentiality. Use discretion and tact in deciding how and whether to make such information available to others.
7. Do your own research. You may rely on librarians, archivists or other family members for some information, but the thrill of genealogy comes in discovering new facts about your ancestors yourself.
8. Give credit where credit is due. If you get information from someone else, give them the credit they deserve for the information they provide. Research is hard work, even though it’s enjoyable. We all appreciate recognition for good work that we have done, so cite the sources you use, including other genealogists
9. Use local libraries and archives. Many libraries and archives have both genealogy resources and local history collections. Remember that libraries, archives and research centers apply rules for the consultation of their material. Also, be careful when handling old books and original archival documents.
10. Join a local genealogy society. Many local societies have collections that include resources specific to where you live and may have created finding aids and indexes. Consider joining a genealogical society.
A working genealogy kit is available in our store. The kit includes fill-in-the blank forms, charts and guides which, together with the information in this website, will get you well on your way to researching and recording the genealogy and stories of your family.
See our page Genealogy 101 as you work through your family’s genealogy for additional, detailed information and step-by-step help along the way.