Need a New Year’s resolution? Why not research your family tree? Here’s your genealogy starter kit. You may find there were questions you didn’t even know you had. It can explain why you grew up where you did or why you never met one side of the family. In my two decades of genealogical research, one of the best experiences is enabling friends to do research on their own. In fact, that’s how you begin the process.
The first thing to do is create a “Family Group Worksheet” which will guide you in gathering the key facts needed to grow your tree. This structure allows you to expand your discovery later. You can print templates, enter one online on Ancestry for example, or simply make your own for now.
Step 1: Talk to your family. Ask your parents, grandparents if you’re fortunate to still have them, aunts, uncles, any family member that may know milestone information about your ancestors. Be sure you’re getting accurate if not first-hand information. Write what they tell you and add a question mark if it’s unclear. You need the following bits of information going back as far as you can.
- Full name of your parents, your grandparents, etc. Include middle initials, maiden names for married women, and siblings.
- Birth/Baptism dates and places. Include church as applicable, city, province, etc.
- Marriage dates and places. Ibid.
- Death/Burial dates and places. Ibid.
Step 2: Enter any other information that might be useful. This is often the flesh that goes on the bones of your tree. This is the kind of stuff that makes a family tree so rewarding. Again talk to your family. Listen to the stories they tell. You may see it in a new light. Plus it displays grace to show your elders that they continue to have value. Here are some questions to guide you:
- When did your ancestors come to America?
- What were their occupations?
- When did they migrate to the current city?
- Did they serve in the military?
- Were they ever imprisoned or enslaved?
Step 3: Document the information you’ve gathered. If the foundation is wrong, you will spend all your time researching someone else’s family. You can make requests for birth and death certificates from your state capital. Click here to search for the Vital Records Offices in the US. There is usually a small fee.
Step 4: Extend your research. This is the more daunting part, but there are numerous sources available. More and more can be done online. You may consider purchasing family tree software at this point to store your ever-growing database. This helps in planning family reunions. Customized family trees make great gifts.
Ancestry has census records online for the US and at least some for Mexico, Canada, and the UK. Many records may be locked for those without membership. Consider this an investment. Or you can visit local genealogical libraries and look up census records for free. It is much more cumbersome going through microfilm, but also fun, like a scavenger hunt. And check out the following as applicable. Good luck and Happy New Year!