by Sheila Somerlock Ruth
So you've decided to research your family history but don't know where to start? Don't be intimidated by all the options available. It's easier to get started than you think.
Step 1: Start with what you know
The first place to start in working on your family history is with yourself! You'd be surprised at just how far you can get just with what you know and have easy access to. Record everything you know about yourself, your children, your parents, and any other family members that you have good information on. Birth dates, marriage dates, death dates (if applicable), and names are all important genealogical facts to keep track of. You may have copies of vital records in your house, such as your birth certificate, baptism records, or marriage certificate. If so, check these important records and be sure that you have accurately recorded ALL information from these. When entering names, keep in mind that women are generally recorded using their maiden name.
It's easy to start your family tree online. You don't need any special software and you can start right away!
Don't enter family legends, speculation, or rumors into your genealogy database. You'll be surprised at how quickly these can become "facts" when they are printed out of a computer database. Make a note in a notebook or on the computer to remind yourself to look for evidence on the truth of these family rumors.
Step 2: Interview living relatives
Once you have recorded all the geneology information you know or can obtain from your personal records, you can do the same thing with other living family members. Ask parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or anyone who might have family information if they would be willing to be interviewed. Plan ahead of time what questions you want to ask, but be prepared to record any information that they provide. Provided your subjects are willing to be recorded, and not unduly self-concious, tape recording or video recording is a good way to capture information, and provides a window on their personality as well. You can also ask if they have any personal vital records or journals that they are willing to share. Be considerate and sympathetic; in our enthusiasm it's often easy to overlook someone's reluctance to talk about certain things.
Step 3: Research
Now that you've recorded everything that you know or can easily obtain, you may be amazed at how far you've gone towards building your family tree. You may be satisfied with what you have, but chances are that by this point you'll have caught the genealogy bug and want to find out more!
Genealogy is like detective work. You follow the clues you have and use those to track down information. Each bit of information yields more clues that you can use to track down more information. Each document, such as a birth certificate, marriage certificate, death record, or census record, may give you names or dates that you can then use to track down more documents.
This is an exciting time to get started in genealogy! There is so much genealogy information online that researching is easier than ever. There are many sites where you can find genealogy information, from small personal sites to large sites with millions or billions of records. Some of these are free and others charge a fee to access records. Although there is some overlap between the different sites, each site has its own unique collection of records, so you'll probably find that you need to access more than one site to do your research. One easy way to cut through the confusion and get started is to use the MyCinnamonToast surname explorer to find sites related to your surname:
Search for your surname:
Step 4: Keep good records
I can't emphasize enough the importance of keeping good records when working on your family history. You should record not only evey genealogical fact that you find, but the source for that fact as well. You should also record what sources you have checked for a given piece of information, even if you didn't find anything in that source. It's important to record unproductive searches so that months or years later you don't duplicate the effort by searching the same source again.
Set up a filing system where you can keep and easily find copies and printouts of orriginal records that you've found. Spending a little time up front can save you time later. As you research your genealogy, you will accumulate lots of paper records and notes, and somewhere along the line, you may need to be able to find something again!
Step 5: Get good genealogy software
At some point you may find that keeping your family tree online doesn't meet your needs anymore. Modern genealogy software provides powerful tools for managing your research, keeping track of records, charting your family tree and printing it out in beautiful formats.
One popular genealogy program that's been around a long time is Family Tree Maker:
Have fun, but be careful: genealogy can be addictive!