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How to Start Genealogical Research

Okay, you've made the decision...... You definitely want to know a little about your heritage. Now what? Is it time to jump on the Web and start looking for anyone with your last name?

No, it isn't. You have a lot of homework to do before you do that.

First things first:

Genealogy has a Cardinal Rule you should commit to memory right away.

Believe NONE of what you hear, only HALF of what you read.

We'll cover more of the Cardinal Rule as we go along. The important thing for now is that you remember it.

Consider this:

Your life is not a simple compilation of birth, marriage and death dates; nor should your ancestors' lives be. Just like you, they lived, they laughed, they loved and they cried. At this very beginning of your research you should plan that you'll be writing the life stories of every person you can find data on that is in your family tree. This page will help you begin the construction.

The procedures:

1.) Start with yourself. Since you are the one person you know most about, write down your name first and everything you know about yourself, such as date and place of birth.


your birth date
  b. your birthplace [city, county/province, state/country]
  c. were you baptized or christened? when and where?
  d. are/were you married?....your date and place of marriage
  e. are/were you divorced? ....your date and place of divorce
  f. are/were you military? ....your serial number, branch and dates of service, places of entry and separation, MOS, awards and decorations
  g.  your dad's full name
  h. your mom's full name using her maiden name
  i. your spouse's full name [for men: use your wife's maiden name]
  j. do you have children? ....list them, showing the eldest first, birthdates and places of birth included
2.) In the same fashion as you did for yourself, next write down the names of your parents, and everything you know about them, and so forth, through every generation until you are unable to write anything else about your family.
3.) You now have before you at least several sheets of paper showing what you know of you and your family. Now it's time to validate what you've said.

You say you are the child of your mother and father. Prove it with your birth certificate.

You say your parents were married. Prove it with their marriage certificate.

You say you are one of the parents of your children. Prove it with their birth certificates.

It's at this step where you dig out every birth, death, marriage, baptismal or christening certificate you might have in your home to use as evidence toward what you've written on the pages. Also look for Bibles, military records, funeral cards, newspaper clippings, old letters, certificates of any kind, diaries/ journals, scrap books. These same items may also provide clues into past generations.

4.) Take your certificates, cards, clippings, letters, Bibles, etc. to the nearest photocopier and reproduce everything. You do not want to be carrying around your original material; hence, copy it. Once done, consider all your evidence as important as your insurance papers. Store everything safely away from light and humidity.
5.) Your next step is to begin asking questions of your relatives. This is discussed on another page in this section.
6.) Organize, organize, organize! The worst thing you can do to your research is to let it become nothing more than a pile of papers stuck on a shelf. While you're still very small in quantity, plan some organization to it all. This subject is also discussed on another page in this section.
7.) It will be extremely helpful to you and your beginning research if you will consult at least 2-3 books from your public library on how to research family history. This will help familiarize you with the research process, with the basic sources of genealogical information, and with various record- keeping methods. This is an important step in your research and should not be skipped. Below are a few of the many "how to" books which have been published:
    Crandall, Ralph J. Shaking Your Family Tree. Dublin, NH: Yankee Publishing, 1986.

Croom, Emily A. Unpuzzling Your Past: A Basic Guide to Genealogy. Cincinnati, OH: Betterway Books, 1995.

Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1990.

Jacobus, Donald Lines. Genealogy as a Pastime and Profession. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1968. Reprint, 1991.

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997.

Rubincam, Milton. Pitfalls in Genealogical Research. Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, 1987.

Stryker-Rodda, Harriet. How to Climb Your Family Tree. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1977. Reprint, 1993.

Szucs, Loretto D., and Sandra H. Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Revised edition. Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, 1997.


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