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How To Start Your Genealogy Research

What is Genealogy
Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines Genealogy from the Greek word Genea, meaning family.  The description being, "an account of the descent of a person, family, or group from an ancestor or from older forms."   In simple words, Genealogy is the study of the origins and descents of families.

I look at Genealogy as a historical study of a family (family being a group of persons of common ancestry, or descendants of a particular individual. Our ancestors!).   Genealogy by itself is just the charting of ones lineage, but a family's history is much more.  It's a family's history that adds the details.  It makes them who they are!   It's one thing to know that Grandma was born in Ukraine, but to understand her means knowing something about the historical details that made her Ukrainian.

Most of us at sometime begin to wonder where we came from and what influenced the way we are today.  We have a need to know about our heritage; our family origin.  Those of us who go on to pursue this need and begin the study of their heritage are called Genealogists.

The study of Genealogy is not new, although in recent years, it has become the fastest growing hobby amongst Americans.  In 1997, Newsweek reported that 42 million Americans stated that they had begun to trace their heritage.  By 1998 it was 72 million Americans. The rapid growth of the personal computer was the biggest reason for this growth.  New technology provided people with better and easier ways to do their research, and it was fun!

So now you've decided you want to join in the hobby of Genealogy, but where do you begin?
The answer is with YOURSELF !  You work from what you know to what you don't know.

1) You should always start your Genealogical Researching with Yourself gathering all your Vital Records (birth, marriage, civil and church records).  Most of us have documents for ourselves.  By reviewing our own documents, we begin to develop the skill of finding genealogical information.  We discover what is asked for on a certain record, and what to begin to look for.  For example, a birth certificate gives us parent's names, especially our mother's maiden name, place of birth (state and city), and a date.  A church record will add information such as Godparents, and the name of the church used by the family.  These are all clues and resources to help us with further research.

2) The next step to your genealogical research is to write down everything you know about your family, and then put it on Pedigree and Family Group charts. You can find these from your local Genealogical Society, Latter-day Saints Family History Center, and local libraries.  The Latter-Day Saints have a web site with Basic Information on Beginning a Family History Search.  You can find it at:

       FHC = Family History Center, is a branch of the Latter-day Saints (LDS) Church in Salt Lake City Utah. There are over 2,000 local branches in about 50 countries around the world with libraries containing filmed records.. The FHC is open free to the public. You do not have to be a member of the church to use the library. No one will try to convert you or preach to you. To locate a FHC near you, check your phone book yellow pages under "Churches, Latter-day Saints" for a listing, or call 800-346-6044, or find them on the web at

3) Next you will want to do family interviews to gather all the information you can.    Be interested in their stories and ask questions.  Use a tape recorder, or video camera, and take notes.  Remember though that your family stories are not always fact.  You must find the proof to document the story.  Facts in a story will change from constant telling and interpretation.  Selective facts with be added or omitted.  It is up to you to find the truth in the story through the documents you find.  Prepare your questions ahead of time, write them down and refer to them during your interview.  You don't want to interrupt the flow of what your relative is remembering, so ask any clarifying questions or missed questions at the end.

4) Be sure to search the attic for home sources!  Every family has cherished keepsakes of past generations.  Look for bibles, journals, letters, pictures, school records, newspaper clippings, certificates, military items, and anything else related to the family.  Each piece can give you valuable information about your ancestors.

5) Check and see if there has been a family history already done for your family name.   You just might find that Uncle Henry already published a book about his ancestors. Check the Library of Congress and your local library.

6) Excellent record keeping is essential to doing genealogy.  Get Organized!

       Obtain the materials you'll need to keep your records and notes, such as notebooks, family group and lineage charts, research checklists, and correspondence logs.  There are forms available from the LDS or from your local Genealogical Society.
       Document your work!  Cite your sources!  
Write down the data, and where you found it.  There is nothing more frustrating than to have a note with information on Grandma, and not to remember where you got that information! Gather your information and record it.  It is important to remember that every statement of information you collect must have proof.   Evidence is essential to Genealogy!  Again, the LDS and your local genealogical society have forms available to help you.

After you have collected all vital records for yourself, you can begin to collect the vital records for your Parents (again civil and church records). Your Parents may have died or no longer have these records, this will mean writing letters to State's Health Departments, State Archives, or County Clerk's Offices in the county where the events occurred. (Most Records are NOT on-line) These records will give you information on your parents and take you back a generation to your Grandparents.  Remember to keep a record of the letters you write.  Do not skip a generation and be sure to obtain records to confirm your data. The key Genealogy is to keep working BACKWARDS from what you know to what you do not.

These steps will help you begin to discover your family history.  So now begin your search and enter the exciting and fun world of Genealogy!

*This information researched and written by Susanne M. Saether
Email: Susanne


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2001-2002 UGS, Lighthouse Genealogy Service with Iwaniw & Associates B.E.
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Last updated: July 27, 2002.

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