Getting Started


So you want to find out about your family history. Maybe you want to learn the identity of your ancestors, find out where they lived and what they did for a living? Or maybe your family lore includes stories of a Mayflower immigrant? Perhaps you’ve heard that your ancestor fought in the Revolutionary War or the Civil War? Or you may have medical concerns and wish to find out about your family’s medical legacy. Curiosity, lineage, and medical history are all common reasons to take up the growing hobby of genealogy.

Steps to Creating Your Genealogy

Rule #1 of genealogy is to work from the known to the unknown. Genealogists quickly find out that their “unique name” is not so unique after all, that many people share the same or similar name and live in the same geographic area at the same time. To avoid accidentally attaching the wrong person to your family tree, you need to start with the known.

  1. Identify what you know. Begin your family history by writing down what you know onto a standard form. If the first rule of genealogy is work from the known to the unknown, genealogy Rule#2 is Write it Down. Capture key pieces of genealogical information: names, relationships, dates and places of birth, marriage, and death. Interview yourself. Talk to relatives: what do they know? What family stories were they told?

  2. Decide what you want to learn (research goal). Review what you have compiled and determine what information is missing. What individuals or families intrigue you the most? Make a list of the missing pieces and choose a few goals or questions to research. Focus on one genealogical question at a time – multi-tasking while doing genealogy leads to confusion (and potentially errors).

  3. Identify and locate your sources. Options for finding genealogical information exist on the web, in libraries, court houses, churches, and your own home. Start with your house and your family.

  4. Research! Systematically go through your list of research questions, finding and recording your information. Keep in mind Rule #2: Write It Down, which includes writing down where you found the information. A date or name without a source is merely hearsay rather than information. Consult multiple sources while collecting as many records about a family or individual as you can.

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  5. Analyze. Don’t just read, evaluate. Who provided the information for the record? Was the informant a participant in the event (e.g. bride and groom for a marriage record) or someone else (e.g. daughter or undertaker for a death record)? How long after the event was the information provided (e.g. the birth date on a death record)? What new questions occur?

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