How to Get Started with Genealogy
Are you new to genealogy and not sure what to do? Here are easy steps to guide you down the family history rabbit hole.
Gather What You Have
Go through what you already have. You probably have quite a bit of information at your fingertips and you don't even realize it!
Gather things like photos, family heirlooms, and documents. You can find clues to your family history in many places, some obvious, others unexpected, such as the back of old photos, in a family bible, or in a pile of letters.
Interview Your Relatives
Bug your living family members. They're one of the best resources you have.
Start with your parents or grandparents. Then branch out. Include your cousins, aunts, uncles. You might find one or two who are excited to tell you what they know.
Steer away from yes/no questions. Ask open-ended ones so you can collect not just names and dates but stories as well.
See 50 Questions for Interviewing Living Family Members for more suggestions.
Begin Building Your Family Tree
Record and organize what you find as you go. WikiTree is designed for this. It's easy to use and there are places for everything, including photos, memories from family members, and even descriptions of family heirlooms. Although WikiTree is all about collaboration, there are privacy controls so that you can share modern family history with just your close family members while collaborating with distant cousins and other genealogists on deeper ancestry.
If you're not sure you want to collaborate, there are many other ways to record family history and build a family tree. Some genealogists use desktop family tree software such as RootsMagic or Legacy. Or you can do things the old-fashioned way, with paper family trees.
If you can afford the monthly fee, commercial sites such as Ancestry.com and MyHeritage enable you to record your tree while you're researching. Later, when you've done the basic research and want to make what you've discovered freely available to others you can move your tree to WikiTree.
Select a Research Starting Point
You're enthusiastic and eager to learn everything you can about all your ancestors. We get it! But tackling all your family lines at once can be overwhelming.
We recommend that you pick one starting point — whether it be a single individual, a family, or a surname — and focus your search there. Later you can come back to others.
Begin Your Search
Now that you have a starting point, you can being searching for records and information about the individual/family/surname you picked.
The #1 free resource for online genealogy research is FamilySearch, from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This site isn't just for Mormons. It's a wonderful resource for all genealogists. (We have no affiliation and this recommendation is unsolicited.)
Here are some more links to help you get started researching online:
- Researching: Birth, Marriage and Death Records
- Researching: Census Records
- Researching: Land Records
- Researching: Localities & Ethnic Groups
- Researching: Military Records
- Researching: Ships, Passenger Lists & Immigration
Our WikiTree users are building our own worldwide resource list, concentrating on free sites. Perhaps you know of a resource we are missing from our lists?
Searching Locally and Offline
Here some are links to sites that will help you get started searching locally and offline:
- Genealogy Lending Libraries & Archives
- LDS - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Lookups & Free Searches by Volunteers
- Societies & Groups
- 16 Places For Searching Offline Records in Family History
When you've gone as far as you feel like you can go on the ancestor or surname you have chosen, set that line aside for awhile. Select another starting point and get going on it instead.
Source, Source, Source
Almost all new genealogists make the same mistake and regret it later: They don't record their sources.
It's critically important to record where information comes from.
If your aunt tells you your grandfather's birth date, don't just record the date. Record that your aunt told you the date.
Even better, ask your aunt how she knows his birth date and record her answer. It might sound silly, asking your aunt how she knows her own father's birth date. She may tell you she's always known it. But sometimes the day that's celebrated as a birthday isn't what was recorded on official documents.
The best thing would be to ask your aunt if she has any documents that show your grandfather's birthdate. Ideally, you should make a copy of them. (Making a copy can be as easy as taking a picture with your phone!)
When someone tells you a date, it's considered second-hand or derivative information. That doesn't mean it isn't true. It's just slightly less reliable than primary or original sources.
We know this might sound overly formal. You might just be a casual family historian, not a genealogy scholar. But like we said, most genealogists end up regretting that they didn't record their sources when they were first getting started. If you use WikiTree, it's a requirement that you record your sources.
Ask For Help
We have a wonderful community of members who are very generous in offering their time and skills in aiding other members with their research. If you are looking for guidance, have hit a brick wall or have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask in our G2G (Genealogist-to-Genealogist) Forum!
This page was last modified 09:51, 24 March 2017. This page has been accessed 9,314 times.