Tips 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 beginner.

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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 available at 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.
  4. Document 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.
  5. 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 family. Rootsweb 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.
  6. 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. 
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 (http://www.legacyfamilytree.com ). 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 (http://www.leisterpro.com ). 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.

Good Luck!

Here are some link to good starting places for free research: