Your journey to discover your family history begins with you. Start by collecting records, documents, letters, photographs and other memorabilia about you and your immediate family. Look at the information they provide – names, dates and places – and begin organizing that data. Your analysis of that information will generate questions like what happened to Uncle Harry or is “Aunt” Sarah really our aunt. Use these questions to develop your own research goals. First you decide what you want to learn more about, then you develop a plan to discover that information. Your plan might include a list of people to talk to along with the questions you want to ask them. You may need to visit a local courthouse and look at property or probate records. And, as you collect information, it could answer your questions as well as generate new ones.
Prove that you exist (Birth Certificate, Bible record, Census record, etc.). In doing your genealogy research try to find family Bibles, old photographs, letters, yearbooks, etc. If possible, talk to your closest older relatives. Don’t forget your distant cousins. Ask questions that will jog others’ memories. Utilize old photographs and family heirlooms. Ask older relatives what they remember about their parents and grandparents. Write letters to others who share your surname if it’s uncommon.
Genealogy research is a fascinating pastime. It can also be a very distracting one. Often your research will stumble on interesting tidbits unrelated to the topic you are currently searching and distract you from your original task. Setting goals helps you stay focused. If that distraction could be useful to your research, bookmark it so you can find it again later.
Set up a system that you can use and that others can understand such as a good computer program. Record what you know. Develop your note-taking skills to include documenting the source of every information item you collect. This is necessary to insure you can find the original later and to help you evaluate its value to your research.
Work with others. Join a genealogical society. Network with other researchers online, by telephone or by mail. Visit cemeteries, libraries and archives. Have fun!
A computer isn’t necessary for genealogy research, but it certainly helps. Today, many people are finding portable devices such as the iPad or Kindle Fire are affordable research tools. Your local public library offers computers with access to the Internet for their patrons. Even if you do have a computer, your library is one of your best sources for information. Stop by to see what reference material is available. Even a library that claims not to have a genealogy section will have many reference works such as city directories, local regional history books, biographies, etc. that will help you in your research. There are a number of digital archives offering both free and subscription access. Often your local library has access to those archives at no cost.
Genealogy 101 serves as a clearinghouse for resources that can help you in your research efforts. There’s an amazing amount of articles, lessons, online presentations and other material available online that can help improve you research skills. The goal here is to collect and organize that material so you can easily find it.
A good place to get a quick overview of the basic research principles is the FamilySearch 5 Minute Genealogy
lessons.There are a number of video lessons, each lasting only 5 minutes, covering the basics of genealogy research. Each lesson includes the video, a downloadable handout and a challenge. This series is focused on using the FamilySearch platform and online family tree – all of them free to use.
The FamilySearch platform is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) and is available for all to use. It offers a number of useful services and programs to support your research efforts including a growing database of digitized historical records and catalog of available records that have not yet been digitized. Their new online Family Tree allows users to add individuals and connect with ancestors that have been added by others.
Another collaborative effort is the Research Wiki – a fabulous research reference for all areas of genealogy research written and updated by FamilySearch users. These services are free to all. You will need to create an account to use any of the services.
This is a directory of everything genealogy that can be found online. For almost 20 years, Cyndi has built and maintained this amazing list by herself with a small crew of volunteers. It should be your first stop to discover what’s available on a particular subject.
These online platforms offer access to huge collections of historical genealogy records – at a price. Many also offer additional services like learning centers and collaboration tools. These sites include Ancestry which contains online historical records and user entered family trees, Fold3 for military records from the US Revolutionary War to recent wars and International records, and American Ancestors from the New England History Genealogical Society which provides access to New England historical records, published genealogies, and periodicals.
People tend to dismiss the Library of Congress when doing research. Did you know that it has a collection of published genealogies, and books on genealogy; many of can be downloaded to your computer, mobile phone and other devices?