Tips on how to get started
Occasionally someone who knows I'm into the genealogy stuff
asks me how they can get started. Here 's my list of ideas for the beginner.
- This is probably the
first and MOST IMPORTANT thing to do - Talk to anyone and everyone in your family
- the older the better! Pick their brains for any knowledge they have
of your relatives and ancestors. Write down or record everything they say.
Someday you 'll be glad you did this. I can 't tell you how many times I
've wished I could talk to one of my grandparents now that I know that they
knew things I 've been digging for.
- For every individual,
learn as much as you can. The essential
data is full name (be alert for nicknames and people who go by their
middle name), birth date, birth place,
marriage date, marriage name, spouse, death date, death place, and burial
place. These are the most useful pieces of information. But don 't stop
there. You 're really working on a story ñ the story of your family. Every
bit on information helps tell that story. Learn (and record) everything
- Get organized. From the
very beginning establish some good record-keeping
habits. There are many very helpful forms you can download and print.
One nice collection is available at
http://www.familytreemagazine.com/freeforms Two I would really urge
you to use: a family group sheet,
and an ancestor or pedigree chart. Use family group sheets to keep track
of the members of a family (parents and children). Use the pedigree chart
to build your family tree. There are many other useful form, but it 's easy to get buried
- Document your sources. This is important.
Note your source for every bit of information you find. There 's lots of
data out there that isn 't document and is based on assumptions, often faulty.
When you look at data, look for the sources to decide if it 's really a
certainty, or if it might be questionable.
- After you 've done your
initial interviews and gotten some good data, look to the web. A great starting
point is the free WorldConnect database at Rootsweb.com (http://wc.rootsweb.com/)
The database has over 1/2 billion user-contributed names. Start by
searching for the oldest ancestors you 've found. Keep in mind that it 's
bad form to post data about living people on the web. You will find some
information, but for the most part, what you find on the web will begin
with people several generations back in your family. Rootsweb
also has many other tools and databases. Ancestry.com
is another powerful resources with innumerable pieces of information. Some
of the content is free but you have to pay a subscription fee for full access.
FamilySearch.org is another free database. This one is
operated by the Morman church. In all cases, be cautious and skeptical when
viewing family trees on thes sites. They are mostly contributed by anyone
who has a computer and often contain undocumented and incorrect data. Look
at the sources cited. If their are none use the informaton cautiously.
- Another way to search
the web is using your favorite search
engine (I prefer Google). Use your family
name and "genealogy"
as search terms. You might get really lucky this way. Beware about one
thing. You will get a lot of hits that lead you to data that costs money,
mostly from Ancestry.com. This isn't bad, but dig deeper. I have rarely
had to pay for anything I 've found. There 's almost always a better way.
- By now you 've probably
gotten yourself buried in forms and are starting to get a bit confused about
how everyone 's related. It 's time to spend some money on computer software. If you are WIndows user I'd suggest Legacy (http://www.legacyfamilytree.com
). It 's as good (if not better) than most other software and it 's cheap! The starting version is a free
download. The full-function version is only $29.95. There are also Legacy
version available for iPhone/iPad, Android, and Windows Phone devices. If
you are a Mac user, look at Reunion (http://www.leisterpro.com ). It's a
bit pricey ($99.00) but well worth it. Reunion also has versions
for the iPad and iPhone. These protable apps sync with your computer or
work as stand-alones making them very useful when you are out in libraries
- If you 're like the rest
of us, you 're probably now obsessed! It 's time to start learning how to
dig into census records, church records, vital statistics, and other sources.
You will want to visit county historical societies, courthouses, and genealogical
archives. That 's another set of instructions!