Genealogy Starter Kit

I believe these to be my great-great-grandparents Giovanni Ramazzotti and Charlotta Perazzo.

I believe these to be my great-great-grandparents
Giovanni Ramazzotti and Charlotta Perazzo.

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!

The U.S. National Archives (NARA)

California Genealogical Society

New England Genealogical Society

Italian General Archives

National Archives of the Philippines

Oficinas del Registro Civil en Mexico


About Daniel Roddick

Daniel has a B.A. in American History with minors in both Ethnic Studies and Sociology. He also has an M.Ed. in College Administration and Counseling. Daniel has worked in the financial aid industry for over a decade. He has presented all over the country on financial aid issues related to equity, inclusion, and access to education. He is also a writer of poetry, fiction, and this blog, all of which touch on identity.
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10 Responses to Genealogy Starter Kit

  1. mike rielly says:

    Good stuff. I started researching the R-I-E-L-L-Ys before the internet. Not easy. The County Cork Geneology agreed to research 5 questions for me, for 50 pounds. Best answer was to question 5 about the spelling of Rielly: “We have determined, with some certainty, that your ancestors were semi-literate.” Seriously. Maybe it’s time to follow your instructions and figure it out.

    • Thanks for sharing. That’s hilarious. It can be pricey to employ an archivist or pay for research but distance can make it worthwhile sometimes. I got a ‘tips and tricks’ post on the way.

  2. Marc says:

    We know who came to America starting in the 1880’s, who stayed in Europe (and perished) and who went to (then Palestine) – The same photo’s my grandmother had of her grandparents where in my great Auntie’s house in Tel Aviv…. Amazing

    • Thanks for sharing. I had a similar experience with my father’s second cousins in Denmark. We have a picture of my great-great-grandfather Nils and his 10 children. He was the first to take the name Røddik. All relatives on that side come from those 10. When I brought the picture to show them in Denmark, the cousins pulled out the same one. It’s a very fulfilling experience.

      • David B Roddick says:

        I had a chance meeting of an attorney in San Francisco a few years ago named Robert Thomas Roddick. Noticing we had the same surname I asked him about his ancestors. He laughed and said we couldn’t be related because his father, Harold “Harry” Andersen Roddick , had changed his surname from “Røddik” to Roddick. Harry was born in Aarhus, Denmark. He also said the surname had been awarded to his ancestors. His Danish parents were Daniel Andersen Røddik and Karoline Overgaard.

        Are you connected to this family? Do you know anything about how the family got its surname? My family has been traced back hundreds of years to Dumfriesshire, Scotland with traces of the family in norther England before they spread out over the globe. Thank you for your input.

      • Hi David, Robert is my dad. That’s correct; when my grandfather became a citizen the judge changed his name to one more familiar to the American ear and easier to pronounce. So we’re not related to anyone with the surname Roddick who gets it from their Scottish side.

      • David Roddick says:

        Do you know any more about the origin of the surname becsuse some Roddick descendants say we have Viking origins. I just completed the dna study awaiting the results.


      • It’s a little confusing on our end because my Danish grandfather with the Americanized name Roddick married a woman from Scotland. So we are Scottish, but through her. For us, the name Røddik originated in the 1700’s and it’s unique in Denmark. Most surnames are Larsen, Pedersen, …-sen or …datter. Some surnames refer to geography or occupation. The understanding from cousins is that ours reflects the geography of the farm where they lived. I think despite the similarity to the name Roddick, it is just that. I know it’s not super helpful but hopefully interesting. I would suspect many Celts (and Anglos) have a little Scandinavian in their ancestry due to the history.

  3. Carlo says:

    All the way from Berlin. Roddick so great. ; )

  4. Pingback: Art Show and Identity | Daniel Roddick

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