on how to get started
Occasionally someone who knows I'm into the genealogy
stuff asks me how they can get started. Here 's my list of ideas for the
- This is probably
the first and MOST IMPORTANT thing to do - Talk
to anyone and everyone in your family - the older the better!
Pick their brains for any knowledge they have of your relatives and
ancestors. Write down or record everything they say. Someday you 'll
be glad you did this. I can 't tell you how many times I've wished I
could talk to one of my grandparents now that I know that they knew
things I've been digging for.
- For every
individual, learn as much as you can. The essential
data is full name (be alert for nicknames and people who go by
their middle name), birth
date, birth place, marriage date, marriage name, spouse, death date,
death place, and burial place. These are the most useful pieces
of information. But don 't stop there. You're really working on a
story – the story of your family. Every bit on information helps tell
that story. Learn (and record) everything you can.
- Get organized.
From the very beginning
establish some good record-keeping habits. There are many very
helpful forms you can download and print. One nice collection is
http://www.familytreemagazine.com/freeforms Two I would really
urge you to use: a family
group sheet, and an ancestor or pedigree chart. Use family group
sheets to keep track of the members of a family (parents and
children). Use the pedigree chart to build your family tree. There are
many other useful form, but it 's easy to get buried in paper.
your sources. This is important. Note your source for every bit
of information you find. There 's lots of data out there that isn't
document and is based on assumptions, often faulty. When you look at
data, look for the sources to decide if it 's really a certainty, or
if it might be questionable.
- After you've done
your initial interviews and gotten some good data, look
to the web. A great starting point is the free WorldConnect
database at Rootsweb.com (http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/)
The database has over 1/2 billion user-contributed names.
Start by searching for the oldest ancestors you've found. Keep in mind
that it 's bad form to post data about living people on the web. You
will find some information, but for the most part, what you find on
the web will begin with people several generations back in your
also has many other tools and databases. Ancestry.com
is another powerful resources with innumerable pieces of information.
Some of the content is free but you have to pay a subscription fee for
full access. FamilySearch.org
is another free database. This one is operated by the Morman church.
- Don't get to hung
up on the spelling of names. Especially when dealing with old hand-written
records, you'll frequently find variations in a name. Add to
that the facts that clerks often wrote a name that someone gave them
spelling it as they thought it sound, that not everyone in the past
could read and write, and you start having issues. For example,
me Deemer ancestors have appeared as Diemer, Deamer, Deener, Demar,
and many others.
- Be skeptical of
family trees that you find on these and other sites. They are
contributed by anyone who has a computer and often contain
undocumented and incorrect data. People find someone with the same
name as their great-great-whatever and decide it's their ancestor
without looking for confirmation. I've seen many cases of trees
that list children born after their parents, and numerous other flaws
that are obvious to anyone who is thinking. Look at the sources
cited. If their are none use the information cautiously.
- Another way to
search the web is using your favorite
search engine (I prefer Google). Use your family
name and "genealogy" as
search terms. You might get really lucky this way. Beware about
one thing. You will get a lot of hits that lead you to data that costs
money, mostly from Ancestry.com. This isn't bad, but dig deeper. I
have rarely had to pay for anything I've found. There 's almost always
a better way.
- By now you've
probably gotten yourself buried in forms and are starting to get a bit
confused about how everyone 's related. It 's time to spend some money
on computer software. If
you are Windows user I'd suggest Legacy
). It's as good (if not better) than most other
software and it 's cheap!
The starting version is a free
download. The full-function version gives you some more advanced reports
and tools and is only $29.95. There are also Legacy version available
for iPhone/iPad, Android, and Windows Phone devices. If you are a Mac
user, look at Reunion
). It's a bit pricey ($99.00) but well worth it. Reunion
also has versions for the iPad and iPhone. These portable apps sync
with your computer or work as stand-alones making them very useful
when you are out in libraries or cemeteries. There's also a good, free
program called Gramps (https://gramps-project.org/)
that's available for the Mac. Several sites like Ancestry and
FamilySearch have online family tree programs. If you use these
be careful about privacy issues. And remember they are only as
good as the speed of your internet connection. Unless you make
the tree private, it's out there for anyone to appropriate and
corrupt. That's why, if you dig, you'll find trees that show my
sister, born 2 years before my father! (I'm an only child!!)
If you 're like the rest of us, you 're probably now obsessed! It 's time
to start learning how to dig into census records, church records, vital
statistics, and other sources. You will want to visit county historical
societies, courthouses, and genealogical archives. That 's another set of
instructions! And frankly, thanks to the internet, just about everything
is no online.
Here are some link to good starting places for free research:
- Ancestry.com - a vast collection,
mostly searchable for free. For full results a subscription fee
is required, but there's a free trial period. The site is loaded
with primary data including complete census records, church records,
military records, books and many others. It's also loaded with
user-provide trees (BEWARE) that can provide clues to lead you to
further data, but should not be accepted as totally reliable.
- Rootsweb -
user-submitted trees with over 700 million names. Like the trees
in Ancestry, beware. Many of the contributors also include their
sources so the data tends to be more reliable. The site is
- Familysearch - another huge
database similar to Ancestry.com. Mostly free, the site is
operated the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon),
well know for their passion for genealogy. Some search results
lead to sources that require money.
- Find-a-Grave - a free
database of cemetery records from all over the world. Records
include what appears on the gravestones and, in many cases, photos and
additional information such as family members and obituaries.
It's searchable by name and location. It's often useful to use
the location search, then browse the names of burials. If you go
to a cemetery to gather data this site relies on user contributions of
data. So share!
- Google - never underestimates
it's power! Enter search terms such as a person's name,
genealogy, location, church name, just about anything you seek.
Remember - more search terms produce fewer results. Keep this in
mind when your great-grandfather's name produces 3 million results!
- The USGenWebProject - Organized
by state and county the site is a rich source of church records,
historical documents, biographies, graveyard records, family
documents, and much more. It's free.
- Discussion forums - There are numerous discussion boards where you
can post questions and get answers from others researching the same
family. Many are located on the sites I've listed above.
Or use Google and enter forum, genealogy and a surname.
- Census records are freely available at many sites including Ancestry.com
The U.S. census is taken every decade. From 1790-1840 the
records only include names of heads-of-households, and a head count of
household residents by age bracket. These records are of limited
use. However, beginning in 1850, the name, gender and age of
every person was recorded. In later records there's much more
data including occupations, street addresses, birthplaces, and
more. The most recent census made public is 1940. Federal
law requires that census records are kept private for 72 years, so the
1950 census will not be publicly available until 2022.