Step One: What do you know?
It is best to start with yourself. Use a family group sheet to write down all you know about yourself and your own familiy. Or purchase/download a genealogy program such as Personal Ancestral File(PAF) to organize your data for you.|
It is important that your information be as acurate as possible, so you will want to use the best sources of information possible. It is also very important to record where you got your information from, so that you can evaluate the accuacy of the information in the future, as your research progresses. Things such as birth, marriage and death certificates will become important in your search. You will probably want to keep photocopies of anything you get your information from for future reference.
Step Two: What does your family know?
Once you have documented yourself and your immediate family your next step should be to find out what your relatives know. This will allow you to begin filling out a pedigree or ancestral chart. This type of chart begins with you, and shows your parents, grandparents and so on. As you collect information about each of the families on the pedigree chart, you will probably want to fill out a family group sheet for each of them. As you are talking to family members, don't forget great-aunts and uncles, cousins, and even your granparents' younger cousins. These people may have different perspectives, letters, or other valuable contributions to your research. Sometimes, the stories handed down in the family vary from one branch to the next, and the similarities and differences both can help you sort the fact from the fiction as you go along.|
As you speak with your relatives, you will probably find that they are able to tell you when they think something happened, but they may or may not be able to provide any documentaion to prove it. To create a credible family history, you will need to search for additional sources of information. Your family stories are a great starting point in this ongoing research process, as well as being valuable for the insight they give into the personalities and lives of your ancestors.
Step Three: Organize
Now that you have a little bit of information (or a lot, depending on what you learned from your family), it's time to think about organizing it. You should put some thought into how your filing system will be able to grow with your research. Some people use color coded binders for each surname and make sure that their records are each marked in their surname's color. This system works well at first, but as you move back in time it can become cumbersome, and the family that starts out as "Mom's Scovills" quickly comes to include Scovills, Jensens, Burnetts, Guymons, Dunns, and so on. Another system of orginization is to use filing cabinent, and create a folder for each marriage. Unmarried children go in their parent's folders, and each family is assigned an ahnentafel number, or a record number that corresponds with your family history program, such as PAF's Marriage Record Identification Number (MRIN). |
Your local public library may have some books that can give you tips and pointers on how to go about organizing your work. The most important thing is to organize in a way that works for you, so that you can find what you've done in seconds or minutes rather than hours. A good system will help you avoid the frustration of repeating research you've already completed, but can't find.
Step Four: Ongoing Research Process
It is important to stay focused when doing genealogy research. Choose one person, or at most one family unit - parents and children - to focus on. Ask yourself a specific question, such as "When did Amasa Scovill and Dora Marie Jensen get married?" Then search for records that will help you answer the question. In this case, you could look for a marriage liscence or certificate, or search through LDS Church Records. Once you have a record, copy down the infromation and WHERE YOU GOT IT. Keeping good track of where your information came from allows you to easily find the source again if you need to, and it allows you to compare sources to decide what is the most reliable if you find conflicting information. In order to have the most accurate genealogy possible, it's a good idea to verify your infomation from several sources whenever you can.|
Once you have answered your first question, you will proably have new questions, or other "holes" in your forms where your information is incomplete. Simply repeat the process of asking a specific question and then finding records that may have the answer. You may want to use a Research Calendar to help you keep track of when and where you have already searched, and what question you are asking. At your local Family History Center or Genealogical Society you can find volunteers that will help you.
Basic Source Descriptions
Birth Certificates, Marriage Liscences and Marriage Certificates, and Death Certificates are often called Vital Records. These records are official records that were made at the time of the event, and becasue of this they are a wonderful source of genealogical information. In addition to the name of the ancestor, date and place of the event, these records often have other information on them, such as parents' names, and where the person or family lived.|
Census Records are a useful "snapshot" of a family. The United States Constitution requires a federal census every 10 years, the first one being taken in 1790. Each Census is a little bit different, in general the more modern it is the more information it will contain, but older census data can still provide valuable clues about your family. By law, Census data remains confidential for 72 years after it's taken, so the 1930 census is the most recent census that is available for genealogy.|
There are a number of different ways to look at census information. Family History Centers can order census films based on either location or the Soundex code of the Surname you are looking for. Ancestry.com has many of the US Federal Census images available in searchable and sometimes indexed databases. Sometimes your local library will have films of a local portion of the censuses. Once you find it, you will want to print out the census image or copy down the information onto census extraction forms.
Census Bureau Homepage
Social Security Death Index
The Social Security Death Index, which is available HERE on www.familysearch.org, and HERE on rootsweb.com. The SSDI is best for American ancestors who died after about 1960, but can have information on folks as early as the 1930's. A typical SSDI record will include the person's name, birthdate & deathdate, the state that issued the number, and where the final benefit was sent.Once you have the individual's Social Security Number, you can order their Social Security application, which often contains all sorts of additional infomration and clues about their life.|
About.com's SSDI article - a very complete article