How to Begin Your Research
written and submitted by Laverne Tornow
Researching your family history can be a fun and enjoyable experience. It can and often does become an all consuming passion for those afflicted with this contagious condition..... You will find it difficult to pass a cemetery without saying to yourself; I wonder if any of my ancestors are there? or I wonder if anyone has documented this cemetery and its inhabitants? You will speak of your long dead ancestors as if you know them personally; you may be overcome by the need to make frequent visits to various records repositories to not only locate information about your ancestors, but to copy documents that later you will transcribe and submit to various online genealogy websites just on the off chance it just might help someone else!
While it may seem like a daunting task, beginning your own family tree research is quite simple really. First you choose a method of keeping track of all the information and documents you will acquire. You can do it all by pen and paper, but a good genealogy program makes life much simpler. There are several good programs available, both free and to purchase. Family Treemaker from The Generations Network, (Ancestry.com, Genealogy.com and Rootsweb.com) the cost of the program depends on the accessories that come with it. Another good program is PAF; (Personal Ancestral File) available from www.familysearch.org (Church of the Latter Day Saints Family History website) for $8.25 and Legacy Family Tree available for download at www.legacyfamilytree.com. There are 2 versions of Legacy, the STANDARD Version which is FREE and the Deluxe Version which costs $29.95. The standard version is a full featured and fully functional program, The deluxe version offers a few more tools including the ability to compare two separate family files in a split screen view, person by person, or open 2 copies of the same file to search for and compare duplicate entries for merging, and it also allows for more detailed customization of the various genealogy reports and charts that it generates. Any of the three are quite adequate and will give you the ability to create and print your own family history books, charts and trees as well as web-pages.
You will also need some place to stash all the documents and photos you will acquire. I recommend one or more (one for each family line) 3" 3 ring binders filled with clear plastic sleeves that you can just slip the items into without having to disturb them by punching holes. You will also need to arm yourself with pencils, pens, notebooks and index cards. A digital camera and voice recorder while not necessary are very helpful. Personally I find portable plastic file boxes that are available at office supply stores or other super-stores (WalMart, KMart etc.) great for keeping everything you will need for your many trips to Libraries and records repositories all together.
Ok, you have all your supplies ready and now you are ready to start. The easiest way is to begin with yourself. Enter all the information asked for in the data entry window of your genealogy program or on a family group sheet. You should also make copies of your birth certificates, marriage certificates, and other documents used as sources/documentation. It is very important that you document your sources as you go. Don't count on coming back to it later or it can become a burdensome and almost impossible task to complete. Start off with good habits of documenting your sources from day one and you will never have to search for your sources and documents later. If using a computer, scan your documents and photos and attach them to their owners and remember to backup your electronic files often on CDs, DVDs, tape, or other online computer backup services.
When you have entered all the information about yourself, your spouse, children, and grandchildren, move on to your parents and your siblings and their offspring. Before you know it you have documented 2 to 3 generations of your family. Next step is your grandparents and your parents siblings and off spring. One of the most important things you must do (and I really can not express just how important that this is), INTERVIEW by phone or in person EACH AND EVERY family member you can and TAKE NOTES, ESPECIALLY YOUR OLDER RELATIVES. This is something that needs to be done NOW. Once they are gone from this earth, you have lost the opportunity to DOCUMENT their personal knowledge of the family and its HISTORY. Never forget that GENEALOGY is not only the documentation of a family's origins it is also the documentation of OUR COUNTRY's HISTORY!
GENEALOGY IS HISTORY, get your kids and grandkids involved, make it a family project! Have your grandchildren "interview" you and help them fill out their own 4 generation genealogy chart. Organize a family reunion, send everyone a family group sheet with their invitation and ask them to fill it out and make a copy to bring with them to the reunion to turn in. If you are a crafty person, have plenty of 12" inch squares of fabric and ask each parent to write their name, spouse and children's names and birth dates as well as their parents names, embroider them or use fabric paints to create a family tree quilt or wall hanging! Ask everyone to write a paragraph or two about their earliest or fondest memory of a grandparent, aunt or uncle or family event. Ask people to bring copies of photographs or family documents with them.
Write letters and e-mail those you can't visit or call. Visit genealogy sites and message boards to find others who are researching the same family and most of all have loads of fun on your journey to discovery! You will find links to many helpful websites and resources on our RESOURCES pages