Genealogy: Getting Started

Introduction to Genealogy
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Local History

Davie, FL School

Courtesy of the State Library of Florida

Getting Started Doing Genealogy Research

Start at Home
The best place to "start" genealogy research is right at home with YOU! Each individual and family of individuals have a unique life history to tell. As a budding family historian, your first task is to gather as much information about your immediate family as possible.

Gather primary family documents such as birth, marriage or death certificates, baptismal or other religious rite records, cemetery deeds, property records, and immigration or naturalization documents.

Gather ancillary family documents such as family bibles, personal journals, school records; membership affiliations with collegiate, community, club, ethnic, religious, and fraternal or maternal organizations and societies; membership affiliations with hobby or special interest groups.

Try to determine if other members of your family are currently researching the family history, have done so in their past, or did so before their death. Oftentimes family research gets "orphaned" in its own family. Older family members are frequently happy to "pass down" their existing research documentation to another generation.

Talk to your people! One of the greatest resources at your disposal is the "living memory" of your family's history. Conduct interviews either in person or over the phone with those members of your immediate and even far distant family that are willing to participate.

Using the documentation you have gathered, outline a basic family tree. It is best to use some type of standard format such as Family Group Sheets, which are available for free via the Internet. Quickly, you should be able to identify "bare branches" in your tree.


 Develop a Research Organization Plan
Now that you have gathered all the family information easily accessible by you, it is time to address those "bare branches" by reaching out to more distant sources. However, before you can efficiently conduct research at this "next" level, it really is best to develop a more formal research organization plan. All those papers will pile-up quickly!

If you use a computer, you should investigate the various free and for-purchase software packages available to you. A good place to compare products based on your needs is via Cyndi's List.
 

If you choose a pen-and-paper system, that's perfectly acceptable. However, you should look into a good book on the subject first such as Managing a Genealogical Project  by William Dollarhide to help guide you.

Regardless if you use a computer or pen-and-paper system, neither will "do" the organization for you. All family historians should be aware of basic research principles and organizational practices as they build their family archive. The definitive source on the subject is the Board of Certified Genealogist's Genealogical Standards Manual
 

Explore your Local Community
It is always good practice to begin your broader search within the local community. A variety of source gateways can be found within relative proximity of your house that can further your family research.

Check to see if your area contains any genealogy or historical societies. Both types of societies will be of great use in expanding your research scope. They will likely have already identified the vast majority of local sources relevant to genealogical research and can often provide guidance with your particular research questions. Then can also provide extremely useful tools such as cemetery maps, obituary indexes, and surname registries.
Identify libraries, archives, and even corporate, organizational, and private holdings that house genealogical and related materials. Explore each repository's online or paper catalog to see what unique items belong to its collection. Each repository will have its own set of rules regarding access and use of their materials. It is always advisable to call ahead and verify these policies before arriving in person.

Visit the local courthouse. The local courthouse and other municipal repositories contain a wealth of information that can be invaluable to family historians. Vital, property, and case records normally reside within the domain of the local government and are, generally, open to the public.  

Head to the Library
Once you have established the source boundaries of your local community, use the library to move further out. While the library itself will usually contain a good deal of local source materials as well, it will also likely have genealogical and related materials for the region, state, and nation. In addition, most reference librarians are happy to provide research guidance.

Check your local library's catalog for non-local sources. Nearly all genealogists will have an interest in state and federal census records, obituaries from out-of-state newspapers, or even transcribed cemetery markers from another country. See if your library provides access to these types of records either through the Internet or on microfilm.

Investigate the availability of genealogy-related electronic resources. Numerous, expansive, fee-based databases now exist that cater specifically to family historians such as Ancestry.com or Heritage Quest. While individual subscriptions are readily available, they can be cost prohibitive. Frequently, your library can provide free access to these and other databases.

Browse your library's book stacks for print resources that will help supplement your research and improve your knowledge base. If you are related to a famous person, a biography or existing published pedigree of that person might be available to you. If your ancestor fought in a famous battle, a history of that campaign might offer you a deeper understanding of that experience.

Explore any programming opportunities your local library may be offering in the future. Due to the increased popularity of genealogy within the local community, libraries frequently provide seminars and workshops with the family historian in mind. 
 

Go Global
The broader genealogical community has long been a well-established global network. With the emergence of the Internet, that network has been both reinforced and greatly expanded. Nearly all genealogists enthusiastically enjoy tracking down their distant cousins and "lost branches." Generally, they are also more than happy to share the fruits of their labor, exchange a research favor, or suggest a more effective research methodology for "newbies" as well as experts. Networking within the global genealogy community is a fun and productive way to broaden the scope of your research.

Surf the Web! Stemming from a long tradition of "swapping" information, genealogists have been a driving force behind the success and adaptability of the World Wide Web. Therefore, genealogy projects large and small can be found on the Internet. To review and post messages on a traditional bulletin board or to examine posted pedigrees, try Rootsweb. For transcriptions of a wide variety of genealogy records, look into the U.S. Gen Web Project.

Join a genealogy society or group! Multitudes of regional, national, international, ethnic, religious, military, migratory, event and surname groups and genealogical societies exist for the sole purpose of bringing together researchers with similar interests. The main points of contact for such groups are frequently websites, like the National Genealogy Society. Membership usually entitles you to discounts to specialized research materials, access to member-contributed genealogy data, and special rates for state, regional, and national conferences.

Share your story! After some consideration, it might make good sense to share your family's story with the genealogy community. Why keep all that hard work to yourself if you have something important to share? Consider writing an article for a genealogy journal to contribute your findings. Alternately, you might want to write-up your research for a private family newsletter or even as a holiday gift to "nurture" your extended branches!