Starting Your Family History
Step 1: Do your “home” work.
On your mark …
In most cases, you will need to know some background information about your family before you go to a library or archives or before you log in to an online genealogy database. The very best way to begin a successful genealogy project is to gather information that you already know about your family, or can find out by talking to relatives and looking at sources that you have in your home. These might include birth and death certificates, obituaries and other newspaper clippings, family Bibles, letters, diaries, the backs of photographs, yearbooks and diplomas or any other family papers. Older relatives often can give you information about previous generations that you may not know.
Step 2: Organize your facts.
Get set …
When you visit a library, it is helpful to have your starting information organized on a standard genealogy chart. This helps the librarian know at a glance where you should begin to look for more information, and also will help you keep track of the data you collect. Pedigree and family group charts are the most common types of worksheets used by genealogists. Many varieties of charts are freely available on the web. A good set can be found at the following PBS site: www.byub.org/ancestors/charts/. The most important information to gather when you are beginning your search are the names of direct ancestors, including the maiden names of women, and dates and places of birth, marriage and death. Other helpful information would include the places your ancestral families lived and the names of collateral family members, such as the siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles of your ancestors, and religious affiliation and military service.
Step 3: Continue your research.
Visiting a library’s website before making a physical visit is helpful. Even the most comprehensive genealogy collections do not have everything; it still is necessary to visit courthouses, county libraries and other facilities for records that are not available elsewhere. Library websites often have a collection description so that you can determine whether the records you seek are likely to be there. You also may have access to the library’s catalog and be able to create a list of books or microfilms that you would like to consult. Create a research plan with specific ideas about information you would like to find during your visit: “I want to find out when my great-grandfather John Jones died,” for example, rather than “I want to know everything about my Jones family.”
When using online sources, especially large subscription websites, the information you have gathered from home sources will allow you to create detailed searches in specific databases. This is likely to generate more meaningful results than a simple name search with no date or place specifics. Your background information also will help you distinguish between individuals of the same name.
It’s the adventure of a lifetime!