Genealogy is a popular hobby. Who doesn’t want to know a little bit about their family’s past? It’s also a hobby that can be intimidating for newcomers, who might hear about census records, research logs, and microfiche and want to run for cover. While some of the more advanced genealogy techniques might scare off the newcomer, beginning the genealogy journey is pretty easy, and begins at home.
Start With Yourself
You already know some genealogical information. If you’re like most people, you probably know when and where you were born. You probably know the names of your parents. If you are married or have children, you know the names and dates of birth of your spouse and children.
Your first step is to fill out a family group sheet. This is a basic tool that you will probably use a lot in your genealogical journey. You can download the family group sheet from an online genealogical site like ancestry.com or familysearch.org. The family group sheet is where you record basic info about one particular nuclear family. You can either put your name and information in the husband or wife block, or you can put your parents in the husband and wife blocks, and put yourself and your brothers and sisters in the children blanks.
One big mistake that beginning genealogists make is that they fail to cite their sources. It might seem a little silly to write down the information that you already know, and write down your source of that information, but if you ever need to share your records with another genealogist at some point in the future, they will want to know your source, even if your source is ‘s personal knowledge. Citing your source is a good habit to get into, that may save you a lot of time and headache in the future.
Ask Your Family
After you have written down all you know about yourself, talk to your family. You may be surprised at all the information that your family knows. Start with your closest relatives and work your way out. If you have a tape recorder, ask if you can record your conversation. The most obvious things to ask for are the names of parents, brothers, sisters, and spouses, but the more information you can get, the better. If you can get locations and dates of marriages, births, deaths, or other important events, it will help you later on. After all, there may be a few Agnes Smiths around, but if you know that Agnes Smith lived in Boise, Idaho in 1931 and was born in 1917, it will be easier to verify that you have the right person as you search for her parents later on.
Your family might have documents that can be of use to you as well. If they have birth, marriage, death, school, or hospital records, see if you can make a copy. These records could have valuable clues that may help you later on.
Search The Internet… And Beyond
Hopefully your family was able to help you find the names of your grandparents and even great-grandparents. Your next step can be to search the internet. Familysearch.org is a free site that you might find useful. Other popular sites include ancestry.com, rootsweb.com (which is owned by ancestry.com, but is primarily free), and genealogy.com. As your ancestry information increases, you will discover many other sites, but these are a good place to start.
As you start to find out more about your family tree, you will probably want to find some good genealogy software. You’ll want to find a program that is simple for a beginner to use. A lot of people like the free Personal Ancestry File (PAF) program that is available for free on familysearch.org, but I have no personal experience using it. I currently use The Master Genealogist myself, but I would not recommend it for a beginner as it is a fairly complicated program. Gensoftreviews.com has an extensive list of genealogy software reviews, it might be worth a look.
As you climb your family tree, you will want to learn new techniques. There is a wealth of information contained in articles that people have written for the internet that can be found at some of the web sites that I have mentioned earlier. You might want to check out Family Tree Magazine as well. You probably have a nearby Family History Center (managed by the Church of Latter Day Saints) that you also might want to visit.
Genealogy is a hobby that might seem difficult at first, but it is easy to get started. You’ll soon be hooked.