Tips to help you find your roots
Before beginning your search, it is a good idea to decide what you want to achieve. Are you curious about the origin of your surname (last name), about Aunt Nellie who came over from Ireland, or do you want a complete family tree?
As you gather information, document and organize the data on standard genealogical forms such as the Ancestor, or Generational Chart, and Family Group Sheet provided on the Checklist and Forms page. This link, ShoeStringGenealogy.com, includes more specialized forms that you will find useful as your exploration takes unexpected twists and turns.
Begin with whatever information you already have. Sit down and write it out with as much detail as you remember.
Collect all items of family records and history that you can find: in the attic, basement, and closets. Family bibles, photo albums, letters, and diaries are rich sources as well as newspaper clippings and obituaries. Use our source checklist in your search.
Find time to interview family members, in person, by phone, email, or snail mail. If possible, start with you oldest relative. Often your great-great grandmother or great uncle will know a crucial piece of information that can be found nowhere else. Write down everything of interest or record the interviews. Date and record where and how the interview was conducted.
For each person in your search, identify and record the following items:
- Date and place of birth
- Names of parents
- Date and place of marriage
- Date and place married
- Children’s names and dates of birth
- Date and place of death
After collecting what you know, what you find, and what you discover from relatives, look for original documents such as land, hospital, tax, and school records in places such as courthouses, hospitals, and schools. This can lead to unexpected places such as cemeteries and deserted houses. Again, consult our checklist. There is no telling which document or record will provide that missing information.
The Internet is a crucial tool for genealogical research. An enormous amount of information is available online; yet many beginners in genealogy, myself included, assume that their research can been performed with a mouse and a click. This is not so. The above steps, talking, walking, and combing through records, are essential; but for items such as census information, ship passenger lists, and military records, the internet is indispensable. A good place to start is Heritage Quest which is available on this website. We have also included an Internet Resource List with links to genealogical websites that you will find useful.
The most important thing in tracing your family history is that you have fun and are rewarded with a fuller understanding of who and where you come from.