Genealogy - Getting Started

The first step to genealogical research is to decide what you want to find out. You'll have the most success if you choose the branch of the family you already know best. Often it is easier to research a male line of descent, but this depends on which branch you're most interested in.

It is best to start what you know, and then begin investigating the unknown. You can recreate your family's history by researching some common records. Your birth certificate will give you more information about your parents, and their marriage records will supply details about your grandparents. Even though this may feel repetitive, it will teach you the basics of genealogical research.

Make sure you keep good records of your investigation: along the way you will find information about branches of the family you are not currently researching, but might return to later.

The next step is to find out more about what you don't know. Establish what you want to know, who you want to know about, and come up with a research plan. Work back as far as you can go and prepare a separate sheet or card for each family member, listing, vital details such as birth date and place, parents' names, spouse's name(s), marriage date and place, and dates and places of death and burial. Using this information, sketch a rough family tree. Place yourself and your siblings on one line, place your parents on the line below yourself, your grandparents on the line below that, and so on.

Next, make a list of things you want to know. Starting with your family, make copies of records that are available in order to verify information. To find more records, you can contact a number of sources such as local, regional or national records offices. There are some good places to start if you are searching for the following;

- Birth date: If the individual is deceased, try sourcing a death certificate. If you think he was born before 1920, then census records may help.
- Marriage date: Estimate the year of marriage based on the birth of the first child or the parents' birthdates.
- Death date: Contact local papers and search obituaries. You can also search indexes of probate records that may show a will or the probating of an estate.

Before you decide to visit local archive offices, do as much research as possible. List the records you think, the office may have, and try to confirm in advance. Check if any of their records are online or available on CD-ROM.

Try to use primary sources (information derived from the source) as much as possible and make sure you verify everything. When using secondary evidence (sources created at a later date), assess each document on its own merits and be skeptical. Consider where the document comes from and what the motives of the author might be.

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