Since there are a few new followers to the blog, I thought it would be the perfect time for us to get back to the basics. Not just the nuts and bolts of genealogy, but how in the heck to get started. Most of the questions I receive are not about specific research issues, but how in the world to take the first step. So here it is…a refresher for all of us!
The thought of jumping into your family history can be a bit intimidating. With so many people and so much information to find, how in the world do you even get started?! Well, let me help you out a bit.
1. Start with what you know
You may only know your grandparents’ names, or you may be lucky enough to go all the way back to your 2x Great Grandparents. Either way, you are at a great jumping off point. If you only know your parents information, that’s okay too! The best way to get your feet wet in genealogy is to start with what you know. My suggestion is to start by filling out an ancestral chart. This sheet will help you to see the information you already have, and will help direct you in the direction of where to take your research.
I suggest starting with either your maternal or paternal side. I find that usually a person knows more about one side than the other. Do not ask me why this is the case! Haha! Do not try to do both at the same time. You will get confused on who goes with who and who was where. (That sentence alone sounds confusing!) This isn’t just something for beginners to remember, but a good reminder for those of us who have been doing it for years!
2. Keep it simple
Okay, this kind of goes with what I said under number one, but let me go into a little more detail. When I say simple what I mean is do not go in looking for every story about your ancestor. Those will come with time. To start, look for the basic vital records (birth, marriage, and death) and use these basics to grow your tree. Birth certificates will usually tell you both parents’ names. Marriage certificates will sometimes tell you who the couple’s parents are, and death certificates may tell you the spouse’s name as well as the parents’ names.
There is a lot more information you can gain from vital records, but I’ll go into more specifics in a later post. Right now, you just want to get used to looking at the records. One thing I failed to mention above is to pay attention to where these events occurred. Be aware that of how people moved during the time you are researching. If you’re in the early 1800s and a couple was married on the east coast and had a child nine months later on the west coast, you may need to do a little more digging. That’s not to say that the scenario is impossible, but travel back then, especially across the country, was treacherous. Could a couple, with a pregnant woman, really have made it across the county in that amount of time?
3. Don’t be afraid to ask the dumb questions
I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as a dumb question, especially in genealogy. While research may be done as a solo project, most genealogy is a collaborative effort. That means, that someone out there may have the information that you need and vice versa. If you are on Ancestry, and have completed the DNA testing, do not be afraid of reaching out to a new “cousin” that is researching the same family members that you are. Ask them what information they have. It’s always a smart idea to compare notes. Sometimes you’ll hit a gold mine of information while other times you’ll come up with nothing. You never know until you ask!
4. Manage your expectations
I would love nothing more than to tell you that you will find what you’re looking for in exactly one week, but genealogy doesn’t work that way. The best way to avoid getting frustrated is just to take it a bit at a time. Celebrate when you find a new ancestor. When you hit a brick wall, take a break. It’s okay to step away for a moment. Got get some wine…or a cupcake…believe me, I do it!
When doing genealogy, always remember the saying that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Genealogy is addicting, frustrating, but most importantly fun!
If you have any specific questions, feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep an eye out for my next Genealogy 101 post talking more specifically about vital records!