Finding Your Family – Getting Started in Genealogy Part I


Since genealogy is my hobby, my profession, and my passion, many people ask me how to get started. What are the essentials to doing a family search? Here are some tips that should help you discover your family under the best possible conditions. Get organized: I started working on my family tree almost 30 years ago by writing down names on a brown paper bag. Now there are 20,000 people in my tree – about 3,000 proven to my satisfaction. Your tree may not grow that large, but organizing is important regardless.

Papers: I suggest that you get a 3-ring binder with tabbed dividers to hold documents that you find. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you can add binders when one is no longer adequate. If you are like me, you may have to graduate to file cabinets later.

Software: You really must have some sort of electronic filing system as well. There are a number of good software packages out there at very competitive prices and some for free. There are good choices for both Macintosh and PC type computers. Just be sure that the software you pick includes these features . . .

Ability to import gedcom files. Gedcom is a standard format used by all genealogy programs and you can tell one of these files by the .ged extension associated with the file. If you get lucky and find a relative who has already done the work, you will want to import their data into your computer. For that reason, your software must be able to handle it.

Footnoting: Even if you are only moderately successful, there will be a few hundred people in your family. Each of them will have multiple events that happened during their lifetime – birth, marriage, graduation, death, burial, etc. As a result, you will gather thousands of bits of information and it is impossible to remember where you got the information without the ability to add footnotes. These will tell you where you got the information, when you got it, and how reliable it is.

Media features: While names, dates and places can be plenty satisfying, there is nothing like a photograph, recording, or movie to make your relatives come alive. Your software should allow you to save that type of information right along with the other information. This seems like an optional feature, but you will be glad that you have it later.

Internet Publishing: Not everyone wants to put their information on the Internet, but this is a really good way to share your family with the world and find relatives that you never would have found otherwise. Nearly all software programs include the ability to filter out living people so that you can publish with no worries of identity theft or other security issues.

Write down everything you know about your family or enter that information into your new software. Start with yourself; then your parents, siblings, spouse, and children. Initially, you want to record names, places, and dates of births, marriages, deaths and other events that you know about each person.

Talk to your family members to confirm and correct your information. Find out if they have documentation of the events that you have recorded like birth certificates, marriage licenses, church records, photographs or an old family Bible. Ask if they know someone in your family who keeps the historical documents or who has done a family history. Find out the basic information about their family – names, dates, and locations of events. If there are photos without names, dates and locations written on them – take some time to do this now. Buy an acid-free pen from just about any local store for this task. This is also a great time to record interesting stories about your family – either with a tape recorder or movie recorder. Notes are fine too if that is all you have available. Update the information in your software and footnote everything you enter – even if the source is ‘Interview with aunt Agnes Boudreau 25 Aug 2005’ – you must know later who told you that so that you can evaluate the value of the information you have.

Search the Internet: Initially you will want to try to find someone who has already done the work. One of the best places to get started is a site owned by the Mormon Church. Don’t be put off if you are not a member of that church. Family history is an important part of their belief system and the data that they collect is available to anyone. Point your browser to http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Search/frameset_search.asp and enter the information that you know about your family; click search to see if they have any information about your family. Some of this information is public record information which is usually true and some of it is provided by members of the church which may or may not be true. Use this information as a guide so that you will know the names, places, and dates to do more research… Continue reading

About the author: By Gene Hall