"Thanks so very much for all the work you do in your e-mail monthly newsletter. I've been doing family history research for several years, but have learned more in the last year from you than in the last 10 years on my own. I've got a notebook where I keep all my 'helps'. The info from you is right up front. Keep up the good work." (Gayle Navarre) more  
Helpful & Free Since 1995 more

5 Steps to getting started on your family history

Here are the 5 steps:

Step 1. Identify what you know about your family: Write what you already know about your ancestors on a "Pedigree Chart."

Write the "surname" in all caps: This lets the eye scan genealogical records easier. (RAGAN, Jonathan Daniel)

list the dates in this fashion: (03 Mar 1895) Instead of 3/22/1866. This keeps the numbers from getting jumbled.

Write the "places" in this order: City/Township, County, State, Country. (Jacksonville, St. Johns, Florida, USA)

Also, fill out "Family Groups Records" for at least yourself and your parents.

Note: If you are a parent, you will put yourself on a Family Group Record twice. Once as a child, along with your parents, brothers and sisters. And, once as a parent with your spouse and children. If there is more than one marriage (yes, fill out another sheet).

These are the MAIN tools used in genealogy research. Filling in the blanks on these two "charts" are your main objective in researching your genealogy.

Step 2. Decide what you want to learn: Pedigree charts ask these questions about each ancestor:

  • Born: ???
  • Place: ???
  • Married: ???
  • Place: ???
  • Died: ???
  • Place: ???

Pick one of your ancestors from the pedigree chart and identify which questions you want to answers to about that person, such as, "when and where was he born?"

Step 3. Select records to search: There are two main types of genealogical records:

  1. Compiled Records: These are records that have already been researched by others, such as biographies, family histories, or genealogies that may be on microfilm, microfiche, in books or on the FamilySearch Web site.
  2. Original Records: Are records that were created at or near the time of an event, such as birth, marriage, death, or census records.

Look for compiled records first, THEN search for original records. This could save you lots of time and effort. Finding compiled records doesn't mean that there won't be mistakes or wrong information. But, you might be surprised at what research may already be done on your family lines.

Step 4. Obtain and search the record: Many local libraries have very good genealogical materials. Especially for the surrounding areas of that library's location. Again, Family History Centers are an excellent place to obtain records.

What ever the source, search the records. Look at broad time periods, check for spelling variations, and write down your results even if you come up empty-handed.

Step 5. Use the information: Evaluate what you've found. Did you find the information that you were looking for? Is that information complete? Does it conflict with other information?

  • Copy the information to pedigree charts and family group sheets. These two forms are the staples of family history.
  • Organize the information. Use a filing system that works for you.
  • Share the information with interested family members.

What Next? Select a new objective and start the process over again based on what you now know about your family. Before you know it, you're family history will unfold and you will be encouraged and excited.

Copyright 1995-2007 by Robert Ragan - All Rights Reserved.