Genealogy How to...
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Westchester County, NY

Are You New to Research?

If you are new to genealogical research, please start here!

If you are new to genealogy and family history research, there are many things you can do even though you do not live anywhere near the area from where your ancestors came.

Start with yourself

First, start documenting everything you can about yourself and your parents. Write away for everyone's birth certificates, marriage certificates and death certificates. If you're not sure where to write to for these vital records, check out both the state and county web pages of your area of interest on USGenWeb. Keep doing the same for the next older generation and the one after that, if you know about them. Interview everyone you can in your family starting with the oldest members first.

Go to your local library and borrow a book on genealogy. Many libraries have such "how to" books or can borrow one from another library through the Inter-Library Loan program. Or inquire about ordering one at a local bookstore if you prefer to own a copy.

Document everything

Carefully write down who told you what and on what date they told you. There are some standard forms on which you'll need to write down the information such as a Family Group Sheet, an Ancestor or Pedigree Chart, and a Research Log. Check the web links at the bottom of this document for some web sites which show copies of these forms. Always be sure to include on your forms your source for every piece of information you received.

Family History Centers

Check your local phone book for a listing of the Church of Latter-day Saints of Jesus Christ (a.k.a. Mormons) and call them to inquire about the location of the nearest Family History Center (FHC). A Family History Center is a local branch of the Family History Library (FHL), the largest genealogical library in the world and located in Salt Lake City, Utah. Please note that, while the FHC is often located in a building of the Mormon Church, they are run separately and no one will try to get you to join their church. The FHL sends people around the world to microfilm records of importance to genealogists and then makes copies of these microfilmed records available to everyone at the local FHCs as well as in Salt Lake at the FHL. If you haven't used an FHC, you're ignoring a tremendous resource. The Family History Library can now be found on the Internet with some of their databases at

When you first visit a local FHC, ask one of their volunteers to show you around and explain what they have. Many FHCs have a short video tape which you can view on the premises. Also inquire about any Research Guides. If the local FHC does not have any in stock, ask for the address or phone number in Salt Lake City where you can obtain them. Besides a Research Guide for each individual state, there is one for the USA as well as many other countries. If your ancestors immigrated to the US within the last century, be sure to get a copy of the guide entitled Tracing Your Immigrant Ancestors. There is also a Research Guide for research about those who served in the military as well as some other specialty guides. Be sure to ask for a listing of all the Resource Guides which are presently available.

Census Records

Once you've begun documenting your family from vital records, you'll want to begin learning about them in census records. The Federal Census has been conducted every ten years since 1790. However, due to privacy laws the 1920 Federal Census is the most current Federal Census available to genealogists for research. Besides being available at an FHC, many large libraries, local historical societies and genealogy societies have copies of Federal Census records. Additionally, you will find Federal census records at Regional Branches of the National Archives which are usually located in larger cities around the country. Besides the Federal Census, many states also took their own censuses. The FHC Research Guides for each state will tell you what is available for that state. Census records whether Federal or local ones are an invaluable resource to any family researcher so don't ignore them.

Ships' Passenger Arrival Records

If your ancestor was a recent immigrant (that is, one arriving since 1906), then the passenger lists are a wealth of information about them and include information about their home town in the old country. Unfortunately, older passenger lists are not as full of information, but still can be very useful. In any event, once you've identified an immigrant ancestor, try to obtain their arrival records. Many years for many different ports are indexed, but not for all. Microfilm copies of available indexes and list are available at your local FHC, libraries, and, of course, the national and regional branches of the National Archives.

Post a Query

Post a brief yet concise query where other researchers who are interested in your surname, location, and timeframe will see it. You can post such queries in national genealogical publications, in newsletters of genealogy societies dedicated to the location where your ancestor resided, or at the county page of the USGenWeb Project where you believe your ancestor resided. For a full listing of the states covered by the USGenProject, go to their web pages at

In Continuation....

The above is only a small part of genealogical research but should get you started in the absence of any "how to" manual. Become a member of both historical and genealogical societies in your home area as well as in the locality of your research so that you will learn when new resources surface. And have fun climbing your family tree!

To further assist you, check out the following web sites:

Visit the pages for complete instructions on the basics of genealogical research:
Genealogy Charts & Forms
Online Genealogy classes
Cyndi Howell has several links on her web site which may be of interest:
Social Security Death Index (SSDI)
Social Security registration began in 1935. If you have an ancestor who was in the work force since then and has subsequently died, you can check the SSDI for their entry and then request a copy of their Application for Social Security Number, SS-5. The application gives their parent's names (including maiden name of the mother), date and place of birth, address and place of business. You can search the SSDI at many large libraries as well as a LDS Family History Center. Also, a CD with the SSDI is contained in many "deluxe" versions of genealogical software. Or you can search the SSDI on the Internet at any of the following sites. One word of caution, information can differ from one SSDI site to another so check them all:
For more information about the Social Security Administration you might try the following:   and click on the link for the "Frequently Asked Questions Social Security Online Services".

This page was last updated: Thursday, 05-Apr-2012 09:37:09 MDT

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