How to Start

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[this article series is by Carson Turner and specifically copywritten]

Getting started in genealogy is easy - the first person in your research is you and you can already answer many questions that go on a family group sheet about "you".

Start by deciding on one of the many software tools available.  If you don't already have a genealogy program installed on your computer then you can purchase one at your favorite local software selling store (Family Tree Maker for example) or you can download one of the free programs (Personal Ancestral File), (Ancestry Family Tree) or (Legacy Family Tree) or you can decide not to computerize at all and use family group sheets, lineage charts, and research record forms.  Some blank forms can be found easily online for free.

Whichever you select, start with yourself and enter as much information as you know about yourself.  Be sure to record sources and to collect source documents.  While I'm sure you know when you were born and where -- it's a good idea to begin your research right and have a copy of your own birth certificate in your files.  Later, good sourcing habits will pay you back many fold by making your research easier.

Next start filling in the information about the rest of your family.  Your spouse, children, parents, aunts, uncles, etc...  Talk to family members about your family history.  Find out who is who and where they are/were.  Most important, keep good notes and source every piece of information you find!  

Now, some folks work in a single lineage line to the exclusion of all others.  Some work all of their lines backward but never work those lines forward again.  By excluding any connection in your research you are excluding potential opportunities to meet and work with others sharing your interests.  And that 3rd cousin 4 times removed (see our "what is a cousin page) may just have the answers you are looking for -- she might just have great-great-grandmothers bible...

So, once you have all the information you can gather by word of mouth on your family start looking at source documents.  Find Bibles, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, obituaries, newspaper notices -- whatever you can find about each of these near relatives.  You'll repeat this process with each generation as you go backward in time but these generations (and the generations immediately surrounding you) are the most important -- they are the foundation upon which all of your future work is based.  Base that work on a solid foundation and you have a solid genealogy.  Base that work on a sloppy foundation and you will soon come to not enjoy the hobby.

Once you have the foundation well constructed, sourced, and complete;  It's time to start moving further back into the past.  Most hobby genealogists are able to produce a solid four-generation family history without having to learn too much about the finer techniques of genealogy.  Getting more than that is going to require that you learn about sources and record types and many of the finer aspects of the hobby.  Things which really don't belong in this article -- once you're beyond the basics consider a genealogy course such as those offered by BYU...

Introduction to Family History (free)

Finding you Ancestors (free)

and a number of specialized genealogy programs...





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last edited on Tuesday, August 13, 2002
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