GENEALOGY AND FAMILY HISTORY RESEARCH
Computers and the Internet has Changed the Way We Do Genealogy Research
How Do I Begin?
Whether you do genealogy with the Internet or the old fashioned way, the beginning steps are the same. Start with yourself. Write down what you know about yourself. This would be your full name, your birth date and place of birth, when and where you were married, if this applies, who you married, and your parents' names. Once you have noted this information for yourself, you can do the same for both your parents. Do you know their full names, including your mother's maiden name? Do you know where they were born and when? If you don't, and they are still living, you can ask them. While you're at it, write down your brothers and sisters, too. Keep working back to get this information for grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, using what you know as well as what your parents or other relatives might know. When you have as much of this information as you can get, you are ready to begin more formal research.
We've only got room to give you a few online resources for genealogy and family history research. Use these as a starting point for your own research.
- Ancestry.com is the largest family history site online with over 4 billion names in worldwide historical records, family tree services and genealogy learning materials. It's a pay site, but is available for free from LDS Family History Centers and many public libraries. There are many free areas you can look at. Offers a 14-day free trial.
- The USGenWeb Project is the first major free genealogy online site, founded in 1996. A web site for every county in the United States, there are places to leave queries, and many web sites have free data which has been transcribed and placed online by volunteers.
- CyndisList.com is a web site of links, compiled over the past 10 years by Cyndi Howells. At last check, there were more than 261,550 genealogy links on her site, in over 180 categories. This is a free web site. How-to's, genealogy forms and other information is available here.
- Rootsweb.com is home to the USGenWeb Project, and houses more Message Boards, Mailing Lists and Query sources than anyone. You'll find plenty of resources for beginners here, and should you decide you'd like to make web pages for your family, you can even get free web space here.
Now, we don't want you to write this information down on any old scrap of paper. There are basic forms used in genealogy, that have been used for many years, to record this information. These forms include family group charts and pedigree charts. The family group chart records families--parents, children, and all applicable data you'll need to make note of. Pedigree charts will show your lineage only--starting with yourself and working back through parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so forth. You can download these online from Rootsweb.com. Look for "Getting Started," and follow the links to find these charts. If you are really serious about this new hobby, there are many genealogy software programs you can download to keep records of your research. CyndisList should point you to them.
Search for the Records
What records will you need to find? Preferably vital records, which include birth, death or marriage records, if they are available. In the United States, state governments did not begin keeping birth and death records until the early 1900's, although most counties began earlier. Churches often kept these records in conjunction with baptisms, marriages and deaths of their members. You'll need to know which church your family belonged to in order to locate these records. Other records you can use in place of these include cemetery records, bible records, census records, wills and probate, and histories. Many state governments are digitizing their records and putting indexes for them online. Through the indexes, you can also order a copy of the actual records (for a cost) from the applicable state. Through the USGenWeb Project, volunteers are transcribing many records for other researchers, free of charge.
Queries and Message Boards
Another source to find information on your family is through Queries and Message Boards. These allow you to post questions on specific ancestors or families in hopes that others researching the same families will see your query and reply. You may be starting out, but there may be others researching your family who have been doing this for years. Making contact with them can save you countless hours of research. You'll find places to leave queries, and access to Message Boards through the USGenWeb Project, Rootsweb,Ancestry.com, and more.
As one final word, we can't emphasize enough the necessity of documenting where you find your information. When you gain information from others, be sure to ask the same question. If they can't tell you where it came from, your "source" will be "from an email from so-and-so." Without documentation, your research is no better than mythology. There's more to genealogy and family history research than we can present here. If you want to embark on this hobby, there are plenty of places to go for more information. See the sites we listed above--Rootsweb, Ancestry and Cyndislist all have free links for beginning researchers. Good Luck!