More Tips For Starting Your Family
Beginning Your Family History Research
– Kip Sperry
The first place to begin your family history research is with
personal knowledge about your family. Start with yourself
and work backwards. Next, contact family members and ask them
about family information. If older family members are still
alive, such as your grandparents, be sure to use a tape recorder
or video camera to record information about their life. Ask
specific questions, such as birth, marriage, and death dates
and places, etc. Also ask open-ended questions, such as “Tell
me about your experiences living during the Great Depression.”
See my oral history column, Tips for Oral History Interviewing
It is helpful to record your family information
on pedigree charts and family group records. Free genealogy
charts and forms may be printed from the Ancestry.com Web
site. A pedigree (ancestor) chart is available at: www.ancestry.com/save/charts/ancchart.htm
and a family group record is available at:
Be sure to record full names of relatives,
including maiden surname where possible. Also record dates
and places of birth, marriage, and death. Keep track of places
where your ancestors lived since many records are arranged
by locality in library catalogs.
You will then want to continue your research
by using name indexes and compiled sources—records of
previous research by others. It is usually helpful to first
check compiled sources before beginning research in original
records. It will be useful to see what has already been done
by other researchers. A few sample compiled Web sites include
International Genealogical Index
Index to Pedigree Resource File
Note: While the Index to Pedigree Resource
File is available at FamilySearch Internet http://www.familysearch.org,
users must use the compact discs available in Family History
Centers (which may be purchased as a set) in order to see
the genealogical data.
Ancestry World Tree
There are other compiled genealogy Internet
sites and genealogies on compact discs available from other
organizations. Additional compiled sources include family
histories and genealogies, pedigree charts, and biographies.
Information found in compiled sources, such as undocumented
genealogies on the Internet, need to be used cautiously. Be
sure to verify the information in original sources.
Original records include birth, marriage,
and death records, church records, census schedules, probate
records, court records, and so forth. Your goal should always
be to search original records whenever possible.
It will be helpful to keep track of your
family data by using a genealogy software program, such as
Personal Ancestral File (PAF) 5.1, which is available for
a free download from the Internet. See my article, Understanding
Personal Ancestral File and FamilySearch.
A five-step research process has been developed
that may help you understand how to do family history research:
1. Identify what you
know about your family
2. Decide what you want to learn about
3. Select records to search
4. Obtain and search the records
5. Use the information
This process is explained further at FamilySearch Internet
www.familysearch.org. Be sure to use the new Research Guidance
portion of this Web site.
Tips for Beginning Family History
- Work from known information to the unknown
- Get organized! Record your data on pedigree
charts and family group records. It may be helpful to keep
your genealogy research in a three-ring binder. Consider
using a genealogy software program, such as PAF.
- Search family and home sources, such
as family Bibles, certificates, photographs, diaries and
journals, genealogies, letters, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings,
military records, legal papers, baby books, etc. Ask relatives
to help you identify family photographs.
- Interview older family members. Tape
record and then transcribe your interview, or videotape
the person. Share the interview with other family members.
- Use family traditions cautiously (but
realize that they may provide important clues for family
- Search compiled sources, such as genealogies
and indexes, before beginning research in original records.
- Be aware of spelling variations, especially
variations of surnames.
- Cite your sources accurately and completely—keep
track of the records searched and provide the complete citation,
such as title of the record, microfilm number, volume number,
and page number.
- Study the historical background and
migration patterns of the places where your ancestors lived
by using local histories, maps, and gazetteers (geographical
- It will be helpful for you to associate
with other genealogists through your local library, genealogical
society or club, church group, etc.
- Attendance at genealogy workshops and
seminars will provide additional help and provide contacts
with other genealogists.
- Beginning genealogy lessons are available
on the Internet, such as RootsWeb’s Guide to Tracing
- Read basic genealogy
guidebooks, such as Ancestry’s Red Book
- Share your compiled genealogy
with other family members. If you publish your genealogy,
donate a copy to your local library and be sure to send
one to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. You
may wish to create a home page on the Internet. If so, be
sure to cite your sources and do not list names of living
individuals without their permission.