a site for those bitten
 by the genealogy bug

Getting Started in Genealogy

Are you just getting started in the adventure called family history?
If you are, here are my tips for you.

1.  Begin with yourself and your closest relatives. Work backwards from there
. Write down what you know: when and where you were born; your parents’ names, birth dates & places, date and place of parents' marriage; death date, place of death, and cause of death if your parents are no longer living. If your parents (or grandparents) are still living and know the same facts about their parents, obtain that information and write it down, too. Make notes about the source of this information so you will remember where certain information came from (and can later decide how reliable the information is).  If possible, obtain copies of official records from family members. Otherwise, you'll have to pay for copies from state agencies. There is often a restriction on obtaining these kinds of records during someone's lifetime (for privacy and security reasons), but individuals can access their own records and there is usually a provision made for family members to obtain documents.

2. Start a family tree using software options like the latest version of Family Tree Maker, Legacy Family Tree, or RootsMagic. You can also try the free online family tree creator at Ancestry.com. In making a choice between options, you might want to try each software for a free trial period so you can make sure it's easy to use.

I highly recommend that you select a program that has online-backup capability, so you don't lose your data in the event of a catastrophic hard drive failure (or back up data regularly). Choose a program that can handle records for 10,000 or more individuals, with picture and document storing ability. You might be skeptical that you'll ever collect that much information, but researching family history can be highly addictive. I've got more than 30,000 individuals in my primary database, both direct ancestors and "collaterals" who were connected to ancestors through intermarriage, etc.
 3. From the beginning, document your findings in your family file, recording where each piece of information originated. In the “olden days,” family history researchers kept handwritten family group sheets and handwritten pedigree charts. With the advent of computers, genealogy software, and online databases, the process of finding and recording information has gotten infinitely easier, but more complex at the same time. The sources and records seem endless! When you find information, make sure to write down the source as well as the facts.  Did your grandmother provide her parents' vital information? Then she's your source --- list her name, her address, the date she provided the information, and the form in which you received the information (oral, by letter, through email, etc.). Did you find an ancestor in the census? Record the census year; the series and microfilm roll number; the census page number; the state, county and township the family is found in; and any other pertinent data in addition to what you learned about the family composition. Do the same with land records, probate information, and anything else you find. If it's possible for you to download a copy of the records online and save it to your family file, that's even better. If your source is a book, then record the title, author, publisher name and location, publication date, and where the book can be accessed (e.g. Seattle Public Library, Genealogy Collection, 1000 Fourth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104). Then you -- and everyone who is given access to your records -- will be able to see or locate the source at any time, memory overload notwithstanding. 
4. Whether you're just getting started or an old hand at researching family history, work from the known to the unknown. Methodically use what you know to uncover new information. It's useless to try to discover your perhaps-mythological Native American third great grandmother if you don't know your grandmother's maiden name.
5. Keep an open mind and don't jump to conclusions prematurely.  Family history research is detective work. You need to carefully trace connections between you and earlier generations. Keep in mind that two people in the same locale may share the same name without having family connections. Just because the name's the same, don't make assumptions. Analyze information carefully and keep asking yourself if things make sense. You'll save a lot of effort in the long run.