My interest in genealogy was born thirty years ago during fun-loving family gossip fests around a kitchen farm table. When I began, I had my parents' and my grandparents' names and their location in a rural farm community. Over the following three decades, my pursuit of our family stories and facts has blossomed into a wonderfully rich and full family tree of over 5,000 individuals. Here are seven tips to help you do the same:
1. Adopt a system. Record your information onto Pedigree Charts and Family Group Sheets. Pedigree charts look like trees, graphs and lined branching charts. Family Group Sheets detail a certain couple and their immediate children. Write the information in pencil at first or make use of a genealogy computer software program to keep track of the details you find.
2. Begin with yourself. You know about your own life. Start with those facts and write them down. Find your birth certificate to verify your details. Search for and add information about your own siblings as well.. Include full names as well as dates and locations of important events such as birth, marriage and death. You can also include occupation, spouse, children, and so forth.
3. Work back in time from yourself toward the unknown generations. After you finish with your own information, fill in as much as you can about your parents and grandparents. Make every effort to obtain documentation for each fact you record to confirm its accuracy. Once you have their charts filled in, move on to their parents. Write or call your parents, siblings, grandparents, and first cousins to gather information. Look back at old holiday and Christmas letters for clues on cousin names, places, and recent births or deaths.
Expand the circle and ask older, more distant relatives for names, events, dates, places, occupations, church affiliation, ports of immigration entry, clubs and hobbies. Many times, a fourth or fifth cousin will have photos of great grandparents when your own parents and grandparents do not. When writing to relatives, always include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) as it encourages faster responses. Send a thank you for any information and offer to share your findings. Cite your source names on anything you receive in reply.
4. Let logic lead you. Hard and fast facts and documents will give you clues as to where to search for documents from the past. Once you pinpoint your ancestor in a particular time and location, start your research with classic searches like federal US Census Records. While a census cannot be viewed by the public until 72 years after they were taken, all censuses before and including 1930 are available to the public. If your mother was born in Cincinnati in 1930, chances are good that her parents lived there in that year and can be found in the census.
Vital records on deceased persons are also available to the public if you are a family member and willing to state that you want the information for family history research. Look for vital records in the state where the event occurred. For example, if your grandparents were married in Cleveland, check with the state of Ohio to obtain a copy of the marriage certificate.
5. Let others help you. Online or offline, genealogists are some of the most generous people around. Ask for help on the free message forums like AOL genealogy chats, USGenweb, or Ancestry.com boards for your surname or location area. Check in person at your Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) family history center for helpful advice. Your county or community may have a historical society with staff that can help get you started in the right direction. Something as simple as the local library has many resources that will help you. Even veteran researchers can learn a tip or two from the excellent books available.
6. Keep a contact log and source list of the documents you have searched for and to whom you have written. A good list of contacts, names, addresses and emails for each branch of your family tree research will help those who follow up your research in the future. Genealogy is often cyclical. You will need to follow up for information and ask for more specifics based on new revelations. Having an accurate address book and source list for this family tree work will save you time later on.
7. Stay with it! What is totally un-indexed and unavailable now may be free online in a month, a year, or even three to five years! Leave your family search information at various genealogy websites and maintain yearly your set of reliable ongoing email contact addresses. Don't give up! This is your family you are searching for. What is more precious than that?