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Tuesday’s Tip: Five Steps to Getting Started with Your Family Research

My return to family research with the launch of this blog in 2011, prompted a few family members and friends to ask questions about my research process. The number one question they all wanted to know was — how did I get started with my family research! Getting started is not as difficult as you think. Thanks to new technology and the digitization of so many records which are now available online, getting started with your family research could not be easier. So regardless of your method (using a computer to manage family research, or maintaining paper files of family data organized and stored in cabinets or binders) the basic steps with getting started are the same. Below are five steps anyone can use to get started with their family research.

STEP 1: START WITH YOURSELF!

Record everything you already know about yourself and your family on a Family Group Sheet and Pedigree Chart.

A Family Group Sheet allows you to list all of your family members and pertinent details about them. I recommend that you complete a Family Group Sheet for “everyone” during your research process. I’ve provided a link to a Family Group Sheet I use below. Download it and make as many copies as you need for your research. [1]

Family Group Sheet (complete online then print or save for your files)

A Pedigree Chart allows you to list information about your “pedigree” — such as your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on. Below is a link to a Pedigree Chart that I use regularly. Download it and make as many copies  of it as you need for your research. [2]

Pedigree Chart (complete online then print or save for your files)

Once you have listed everything you know about your own immediate family, proceed backwards in time, one generation at a time, listing ancestors on your chart and group sheets.

STEP 2: GATHER HOME SOURCES

After filling in your group sheets and charts with as much information as you can, look for “Home Sources” that may provide additional information — such as names, places, and dates — in your research. Useful home sources include birth, marriage, divorce, and death certificates; newspaper obituaries; funeral programs/memorial cards, and much more.  I’ve provided a link to a Genealogical Source Checklist I refer to daily. Download this document and refer to the “Family and Home Records” for source ideas to information about your ancestors. You may want to check with other relatives (if possible) also to see if they have any home sources that may help with your research. [3]

Genealogical Source Checklist

Be sure to reference all of your home sources so you will know exactly where your information came from.

STEP 3: FAMILY INTERVIEWS

Set aside some time to interview relatives such as your parents and other older members in your family. It’s time to go beyond just collecting names and dates; you are actually ready to collect stories that will breathe life into your research. Therefore, it is very important that you ask close-ended and open-ended interview questions that will help you capture the kind of facts and information you need for your research.

Closed-ended questions encourage short, to the point answers.

Open-ended questions encourage a full, meaningful answer. They are questions that do not have a simple yes, or no, or a number for an answer.

I’ve provided a link to 175 close-ended and open-ended genealogy interview questions compiled by Tracey Carrington Converse that I use below. Download these questions and use them to plan and prepare for your family interviews. [4]

Genealogy Interview Questions

Some folks prefer to take detail notes during the interview. Others prefer to use a tape recorder or a video recorder to capture the interview. Regardless of the method/technology, be sure you are comfortable with it prior to the interview. Record everything you’ve learned from your interviews to your group sheets and charts and don’t forget to reference all relatives who give you information.

Step 4: THE ANCESTOR HUNT

By now, you and family members have completed your group sheets and charts with as much information as you can locate and remember. Now it’s time to turn to other sources to locate missing, incorrect, and incomplete information about your ancestors. So, the hunt begins with you selecting an individual, a family, or a surname from your family group sheets and/or pedigree chart to look for information. Refer to the Genealogical Source Checklist I mention above for a full list of sources to research for your ancestors. Consider using this checklist to plan visits to libraries with genealogy collections, historical societies, family history centers, and archives to locate family information. Explore the Internet for information and leads on your ancestors. When you run out of vital records to research, use historical sources by studying the geographical and historical background of the towns, counties, cities, and states where your ancestors lived.

Be sure to make a record (paying close attention to call numbers, volume and pages numbers) of all the sources you read, review, and use in your research. Take pictures. Make photocopies when necessary. I’ve provided a link to Family Tree Magazine’s Note Taking Form that I use below. Download it and make plenty copies for your files! [5]

Note Taking Form

 STEP 5: EVALUATE, ORGANIZE, AND SHARE

As you begin accessing and using a variety of new sources in your research, you are going to locate information that will require you to evaluate it for its accuracy and usefulness. Therefore, each time you locate information about your ancestors, you must ask yourself:

  • Is this the information I’m really looking for?
  • Are there some inconsistencies with this information with regards to what I already know and have found?
  • Did this information offer any clues to more useful information and leads?

In short, the evaluation of all information you find is what helps you to connect the relationship dots in your family tree!

Organize your research! So which organizational method is best – binders, computers, notebooks, or folders? Ask a group of genealogists this question and you will soon learn that ALL of these methods are the best – LOL! I organize my research via binders (which are handy enough for me to take along on trips to libraries and archives) and online via my computer. So I can say with certainty that the best method is always going to be the one that fits your personality and style. Regardless of which method is best, the key here is having a system that will allow you to find family information when you need it!

Last, but certainly not least, as you compile your research in those infamous binders, notebooks, folders, and online, etc. — be sure to share your research! Genealogy is a lifelong activity that will connect you to new relatives and give you a deeper appreciation of your heritage.

Well, that’s it!

When you have gone as far as you can in researching a particular individual, a family, or surname – stop and take a break. Then return to Steps 4 – 5 again with another new individual, family or surname from your family group sheets and/or pedigree charts.

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Source Citations:

1. Misbach Enterprises. (2010). Family Group Record. Misbach Enterprises. Retrieved August 9, 2011, from http://misbach.org/download/FamilyGroupRecord.pdf

2. Misbach Enterprises. (2010). 5 Generation Pedigree Chart. Misbach Enterprises. Retrieved August 9, 2011, from http://misbach.org/download/5GenPedigree.pdf

3. Genealogical Source Checklist. (n.d.). Retrieved August 9, 2011, from http://claimingkin.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Genealogical-Source-Checklist.pdf

4. Converse, T. C. (n.d.). Interview Questions. Genealogy Records Service. Retrieved August 9, 2011, from www.genrecords.com

5. Family Tree Magazine. (2002). Note-Taking Form. Family Tree Magazine. Retrieved August 9, 2011, from http://familytreemagazine.com/upload/images/PDF/note2.pdf

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