Genealogy is a record or account of information about individuals and family lineages derived from public records, family documents and other sources. However, it is more than a simple list of people, places and dates. It is the history of individual lives and experiences across decades and centuries. Genealogy is flexible. You can start anytime, take a break, then with ease start again. Furthermore, new data is constantly becoming available on the internet, meaning a review at a later date can add significantly to the family story.
Any attempt by us to write about the general process of genealogical research would barely scratch the surface of the many books, articles and YouTube videos published on this subject. Instead, we are pleased to save you time by providing some of the best, free-access sites we and our members have found useful when taking their first steps. In addition, here and there we add a few insights and ideas, plus references to supportive sections of the PGSA website.
We wish you the best experience on your journey through time, place and family history.
General Sites About Getting Started in Genealogy
- Family Search from the Mormon Church provides an excellent collection of information, essays and guidance on starting and developing your genealogical program. Begin with a visit to: Family History for Beginners
- A short, but excellent supplement to the information at Family Search is a checklist from the National Archives: National Archives
- Here are two, self-paced tutorials that walk you through everything to know about starting your adventure in genealogical research. First is from the Genealogy Learning Center, and then Tutorials from Genealogy.com.
- And the National Genealogical Society lists helpful guidance on 14 very important “Getting Started” topics.
Start with Your Family
When opening to the first blank page of your family history, begin with all the information you have near at hand plus the knowledge and documents possessed by your living family members.
- Interview Parents, Grandparents and Relatives – These are the people who have the facts, the histories, the stories and the documents to point you in the right direction (and sometimes in the wrong direction) to prepare the groundwork for your future research objectives. The extended family is an important resource. Write to relatives, even distant ones you might never have met, telling them about your genealogy project, asking for their support, and stating you are pleased to share the results with them. You could find another family member doing genealogy. Request copies of documents and photos they have in their possession.
- Record Oral Histories of Family Stories – In addition to taking notes, consider recording the conversations. This is especially valuable when they relate stories and events. A recording captures all the details, word for word. Be prepared with a list of questions.
- Find Family Parishes and Cemeteries – This information is invaluable for discovering many vital records. What people have forgotten, or not remembered correctly, parish records and gravestones often reveal or correct.
- Collect Dates and Places of Events – In addition to where individuals were born, married, died and buried, seek out the addresses where they lived, the schools they attended, where and for whom they worked, to what organizations they belonged, etc. Gather dates corresponding to these events. These facts can be very useful in locating census records, parishes to which they belonged and sources of other information.
- Locate as many documents, photographs, diaries, scrapbooks, memorabilia, obituaries and newspaper articles, funeral cards, diplomas, mortgages and deeds, employer information and anything else that provides an insight into the lives and locations of your ancestors or are signposts pointing to other locations for information. With photographs, try to identify as many people as possible, the event, the date and the place it was taken. Pencil the information on the reverse being sure to note how your written names and relationships refer back to the positions of people in the photo. It is a great loss to have a collection of ancestral images but not to know who they are, and who is who.
Other Local Sources
- Your Public Library is ready to help. Begin at the information desk or reference section to learn what services they provide, if they have a genealogy librarian or genealogy club, what sites are available through their computers, where the genealogy books are located, how to use interlibrary loan programs, etc.
- The county courthouse is the repository of local data. Obtain the directory of offices to find which handles the register of deeds, births, marriages and deaths; the probate office for wills, probated estates, etc.; the Clerk of the Courts for land sales and property transfers or forfeitures, court cases; and other offices such as for business and professional licenses. Much of this information is becoming searchable on the courthouse website.
- The Family History Centers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and their affiliated public libraries provide a vast collection of national and international records. Family History Site
Organizing Your Research
As your databases and holdings of documents appear to grow exponentially, from the start you need to have an organizational plan to prevent your drowning in an ocean of uncorrelated information. As you found in the getting started guides, setting objectives with a course of action toward what you what to discover and accomplish is necessary to set your direction. It also is vital in determining how you will organize you data. One very important point is to be consistent in organizing and structuring your data files and databases. There are a variety of approaches, both hard copy and on computer. Here are some sources for your consideration.
- Once again an excellent place to start is the Organizing Your Files page on the Family Search site.
- This article from Family Tree Magazine identifies 27 habits of highly-organized genealogists plus links to more material.
- Of course, you need forms to record and correlate the data being accumulated. Beyond lined paper and 3-by-5 cards, you want to consider standardized genealogical forms. A selection of these can be acquired at no cost from Ancestry.com.
- From there, moving your data to a software system allows you to create trees and other reports plus save and protect your data in an electronic format. The New England Historic Genealogical Society provides a good comparative list of genealogy software.
- Searching by “organizing genealogy records” and similar key words on GOOGLE and YOU TUBE will result in a very large number of offerings to explore.
Finally, a Few Planning Points to Keep in Mind.
- Establish a pattern for your research activity.
- Prepare a strategic aim for each step supported by tactical approaches and methodologies.
- Before beginning any search, establish your needs and objectives for that search.
- On any search, be sure to bring all the supporting facts related to your search objectives.
- Keep all records because time plays tricks on us and memories fade.
- Remember that minor details can, at some future date with more data, become important details.
- Record in detail all document sources, locations on microfilms, titles and page numbers in books.
- Make backup copies and duplicate records to be stored at an offsite location.
- For those who follow you, print clearly, limit abbreviations, check spelling, be consistent and systematic.
- Never hesitate to ask for assistance and other interpretations.