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Genealogy Resources: Getting Started

A guide to help you begin researching your family's history

Getting Started

Rule #1 of genealogy is to work from the known to the unknown. You will quickly find out that your “unique" last name is not so unique after all. Many people share the same or similar name and live in the same geographic area at the same time. To avoid accidentally attaching the wrong person to your family tree, you need to start with everything that you already know.

Rule #2 Write everything down

Top 10 Genealogy Mistakes to Avoid

The Davenport Family

Charles Davenport with wife Gertrude, daughters Millia and Jane, and son Charles Benedict, Jr., circa 1914

Steps to Researching Your Genealogy

  1. Identify what you know. Start by writing down what you already know. Capture key pieces of genealogical information: names, relationships, dates and places of birth, marriage, and death. Interview yourself. Talk to relatives: what do they know? What family stories were they told?
  2. Decide what you want to learn. Review what you have compiled and determine what information is missing. What individuals or families intrigue you the most? Make a list of the missing pieces and choose a few goals or questions to research. Focus on one genealogical question at a time – multi-tasking while doing genealogy leads to confusion (and potentially errors).
  3. Identify and locate your sources. Options for finding genealogical information exist on the web, in libraries, archives, town/county/state records, churches, and your own home. Start with your house and your family.
  4. Research. Systematically go through your list of research questions, finding and recording your information. Be sure to write down where you found the information. A date or name without a source is merely hearsay rather than information. Consult multiple sources while collecting as many records about a family or individual as you can.
  5. Analyze. Don’t just read, evaluate. Who provided the information for the record? Was the informant a participant in the event (e.g. bride and groom for a marriage record) or someone else (e.g. daughter or undertaker for a death record)? How long after the event was the information provided (e.g. the birth date on a death record)? What new questions occur?

 Credit: By Ann Lawthers Genealogist: https://www.americanancestors.org/education/learning-resources/read/getting-started

Tools

You can start your research in a notebook, binder, Word doc, genealogical software and/or family tree charts:

Multi-Generational Chart

The backbone of genealogical recording is the multi-generational chart. This chart provides a road map of your ancestors and includes basic information about each person such as full name, date and place of birth, death, and marriage. Each person on the chart receives a number. The subject of the chart is number 1; the subject’s father is 2, the mother is 3; the father’s father is 4, the father’s mother is 5; etc. Men always receive even numbers; women, odd numbers. Each chart is assigned a number and cross-referenced to connect charts and generations. Thus, every ancestor receives a unique number that can be used as shorthand or for filing. For example, 3:6 refers to chart number 3, person number 6. Download a five-generation chart

Family Group Sheet
The family group sheet provides a snapshot of each nuclear family and records pertinent information about each family member. The basic information for a couple includes, given and surname(s); birth, death, and marriage date and place; parents’ names; other marriages. For children: sex, given and surname(s); birth, death, and marriage date and place; spouse’s name. The family group sheet also includes space for your source references—that is, where you found the information. Download a family group sheet

Research Log
Research logs are an excellent way to keep track of the research you have already completed. They contain a list of every source you consulted—and whether your search was successful or not. Handwritten or typed, these logs help prevent duplicate searches and look-ups. Download a research log

Credit: By Ann Lawthers Genealogist: https://www.americanancestors.org/education/learning-resources/read/getting-started