Getting Started in Genealogy

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.

Start With Yourself
Prove that you exist (Birth Certificate, Bible record, Census record, etc.).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.
Set Goals
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.
You Are Not Alone
Work with others. Join a genealogical society. Network with other researchers online, by telephone or by mail. Visit cemeteries, libraries and archives. Have fun!
Utilize Available Resources
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.