Getting Started with your Genealogy
So you want to get into your family history, right? But between the internet has so much information that you’re not sure where to begin. Here, I’ll walk you through the absolute basics for those who have an interest in their genealogy but have a difficult time finding their bearings.
Today’s blog post is structured for those who may be new to genealogy, but those of you with more experience can look forward to articles from us on more particular research subjects, including how to navigate online cemetery databases, how to parse through the endless family trees and public census records listed online, how to search for overseas ancestry, and how your ethnicity impacts your genealogy search.
As mentioned in a previous blog post, looking into your family history and doing genealogy research is an excellent way to get in touch with your ancestors and familiarize yourself with what kind of life they led. Being well-grounded in your roots has other benefits, too, including fortifying you against symptoms of depression in times of stress.
STEP ONE: What do you know off the top of your head?
Open a word document or grab a notebook and jot down what you know off the top of your head, and make a list of what you don’t know to ask for later. Who are your parents? List your father and mother, as well as their birth and (if applicable) death dates and locations. Who are their parents, your grandparents? Who are your aunts and uncles? What about their birth and death information? Most of you won’t have all that information on hand, but you’ll probably remember something – like if everyone called your grammy “Mae” and you used to visit her farm in Colorado when you were a kid. That’s not specific, but it will help narrow your search later.
By now you should have started to identify the things you’re not sure of. The most important information for genealogy will be those birth and death dates and locations, although the more detail you have on their lives, the more rewarding your record-making will be. Make a specific list of those questions, and start thinking who in your family might have the answers.
STEP TWO: Where can you learn what you don’t know?
Often the information on your parents’ birth dates is as easy as looking on your mobile calendar for the “Mom’s B-Day” reminder, or just a click away on Facebook or other social media (I’ve scrolled backwards on someone’s wall looking for the endless “Happy birthday!” posts to see exactly when a family member’s birthday is…serious research, here).
A quick text or phone call might be just as easy for hammering out the exact date of birth on parents or grandparents – just make sure you have that list of questions from step one handy. If the family members you’re in regular contact with don’t necessarily have this information on hand, think about others in your extended family. Many of us know there’s that one family member who collects family records, and most of the time these family members are more than happy to share, even if you’ve been out of contact.
Certain factors can make even these basics difficult, however. Sometimes the information is no longer in living memory. Some people no longer have living parents. Some people are estranged from them, or otherwise, have parents who are difficult to contact. Some are in mixed-marriage families. Some people are adopted and not sure whether to pursue family history for their adoptive or biological lineage. Rest assured that additional blog posts will address how to proceed with these special cases.