So You Want to Grow a Family Tree… Beginning genealogical research and starting a family history
To do a personal genealogy or family history involves many steps and a great deal of time. It is important to work systematically and remember certain guidelines.
A. Be careful.
v Document everything, even failures.
B. Be aware.
v Information, even from usually reliable resources, may not be accurate or complete.
C. Be specific.
v Know what you want and have a reasonable idea where the information is located.
v Follow specific clues; don’t look for everything at once.
D. Be polite.
v Know and follow the rules and policies of the libraries and archives you visit.
v Don’t write in, on, or deface the materials you use. Don’t tear or cut pages.
v Don’t copy other people’s work without appropriate permission and acknowledgement.
v When requesting information by mail from a library, archive, or other genealogist, provide a self-stamped, self-addressed envelope.
v When requesting information by facsimile or e-mail make sure the answer you request is brief and does not require extensive research or response.
v Provide reimbursement for copy services; prepay if requesting by mail.
v When using a library or archive outside of your area, consider giving a cash donation. Operating and maintaining a research library is extremely expensive and tax dollars for libraries must be used for many different resources. It is important that nonresidents who use the high-maintenance collections assist in the funding in order to ensure their continued availability.
STEPS -- for your work…
STEP 1: Collect and record what you already know.
Ø Start with yourself and create an ancestor or pedigree chart with all the information you know.
Ø For each person, add date born & place; date married & place; date died & place. If you do not know exact dates & places, guess.
Ø Extend the chart as far back as you can, to great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents if possible.
Ø Set up a worksheet and file for each family group (parents & children).
ÞSample pedigree charts and family group worksheets may be purchased at stationery or office supply stores, or downloaded for free from many different websites. An excellent resource for these charts, as well as other information, is www.ancestry.com/.
STEP 2: Decide what missing information you need or want to know.
Ø Identify and mark the missing or incomplete information on your chart.
Ø Decide what information you need or want to find first.
Ø Start with your parents or grandparents and work your way back.
STEP 3: Find out what other family members know or have researched.
Ø Talk to relatives and family friends. Keep a record of useful information and family stories and who told them to you.
Ø Search family records. Make copies of everything you find – birth, marriage and death certificates, journals, diaries, letters, charts, photos, registers, military papers, and pedigrees in family Bibles.
STEP 4: Search other sources.
Ø Go to public, university, and state libraries and archives and use published family histories, biographies, place histories and compiled genealogies.
§ Start broad -- search first for your ancestor’s last name in the indexes, then look for specific individuals.
§ Remember the further back you go the more likely the spellings will be phonetic or the names will have changed to be shorter or more easily spelled or pronounced.
Ø Go to your local Family History Center of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and use their resources. These libraries are open to both members and the general public. You may borrow (usually for a small fee) microfilm from the main Family History Center in Salt Lake City, which has the world's largest collection of microfilmed state and county records. To find the closest Family History Center look on their website www.familysearch.org.
Ø Use the Internet. Go to reliable and recommended sources before “web surfing.” Always double check any information you find on the Internet. Use subscription sites such as AncestryPlus (available in Georgia public libraries on GALILEO) or the free version Ancestry.com, and its subsidiary, www.rootsweb.com. Other recommended sources are Family Search from the LDS (Mormon) Church (www.familysearch.org), the U.S. National Archives (www.archives.gov), the US GenWeb Project (www.usgenweb.org/), the American Local History Network, (www.alhn.org), the American History and Genealogy Project (www.ahgp.org), and selected private sites with a reputation for accuracy, such as Helm’s Genealogy Toolbox (www.genealogytoolbox.com/) or Cyndi’s List (www.cyndislist.com).
Þ Always Remember:
Ø Update your information in your records and ancestor chart as soon as you find new facts. Make sure you keep track of specific information. Write down what you find and where you find it.
Ø Make sure you keep each record:
§ Name of the family member/ancestor.
§ Date of the search.
§ Results of the search.
§ Name and location of the source (can be a person, library, archive, etc.).
Ø If you use material resources, record the call number, title, author, page number, film number, file name and location.
Ø Taking care helps avoid searching for the same information twice and will be useful as you share your information with other family members.
Ø Negative information is still information. Write down the resources you used that did not have what you were looking for. You won’t look there again, and you may go back later for something else if you know what material is covered.
Ø Question accuracy of records. People guess at facts; newspaper reporters exaggerate; census takers misunderstand or misspell words. Check and double check.
Ø Research is hands on and often slow and tedious. Don’t become disheartened by dead ends. It is called research because you Search and then RE-search.
STEP 5: Hire a professional.
Ø Librarians and archivists can assist you in using the resources of their facilities but cannot do your research for you. If you decide you cannot continue or you need more assistance, consider hiring a professional genealogist. Use members from the Association of Professional Genealogists or lists from other resources. Make sure the person you hire has the appropriate credentials and experience.
Portions of this outline were adapted from “How Do I Start My Family History?” by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.