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How to Get Started in Genealogy

First, I would download some basic genealogy charts off the internet.  Go to www.ancestry.comThere you will find tabs at the top of the page.  Select the one marked “Family Trees”.  At the bottom right on this page is a box that says “Charts & Forms”.  ”.  The basic forms to start with would be: 

“Ancestral Chart” www.ancestry.com/save/charts/ancchart.htm
“Research Calendar” www.ancestry.com/save/charts/researchcal.htm
“Correspondence Record” www.ancestry.com/save/charts/correcord.htm
“Family Group Sheet” www.ancestry.com/save/charts/familysheet.htm
“Source Summary” www.ancestry.com/save/charts/sourcesum.htm

Second, start interviewing your immediate living family to try and fill out some of the blanks on the ancestral chart and family group sheet.  Once you have this basic information, then I would go to the next step.  Organization is essential when you are starting out.   Keep a 3-ring binder with all your charts and research in it, organized by family.  I would have a tab for each of my main ancestors going back.

Third, here are some helpful hints to get you going.

a) Start with your parents.  Your objective is to prove parentage from one generation back up to the preceding generation.  Once you have proved your parents connection to their parents, then you start working on collecting evidence about your grandparents.   Just remember – take it one generation at a time and never assume someone is your ancestor without evidence.

b) You can prove parentage by either primary evidence (birth certificate, will or land transaction that lists children) or secondary evidence (obituary, census record, birth announcement, newspaper articles, death record to prove a birth, etc)

c) To collect this evidence, for each main family going back, I try to get birth, death and marriage records.  (Later on you can get census records, tax records, county history biographies, land and wills, etc)

 Fourth, I would read some online articles about how to get started in genealogy.  Below are some links to good articles:


1) start with a series of articles entitled “Getting Started”.  http://learn.ancestry.com/GetStarted/GetStartedLND.aspx?aid=1

2) Then go on to the learning center.        


US Gen Web

This website is the largest free online genealogy project.  They were one of the original sites to collaborate genealogists on common research.  They have a series of articles about how to get started:


LDS Mormon website

This church has the largest collection of microfilmed records and books and databases in the world.  They also have a guide to getting started:


 There are also a series of books written for beginners that are extremely helpful and informative. I’ve read most of the list below, although this list is by no means a complete list.  There are new books coming out all the time.

Book Author
The Complete Beginners Guide to Genealogy, the Internet and Your Genealogy Computer Program Karen Clifford
The Sleuth Book for Genealogists Emily Ann Croom
Unpuzzling Your Past Emily Ann Croom
First Steps in Genealogy Desmond Allen
The Genealogists Companion & Sourcebook Emily Ann Croom


There are also a couple of genealogical magazines that you can pick up at your local bookstore.

Magazine Website
Digital Genealogist


Published by Liz Kelley Kertsens, former editor of the magazine "Genealogy Computing" as published by Ancestry.com

Family Tree Magazine


Family Chronicle


Internet Genealogy http://www.internet-genealogy.com/
History Magazine


Although not specifically sometimes about genealogy, it is an excellent general history magazine.

Ancestry Magazine Published by Ancestry.com

Fifth, getting really organized

If you have tried many of the above ideas for a few years now, you have probably accumulated quite a bit of material.   After my materials grew out of their original 3 ring binder, I started putting each ancestor into his own 3 ring-binder.  [This is the system that works for me.  I’m not saying that you have to do this - there are many different organizational methods out there, but this one seems to work for me.  It's easy to find a piece of paper when I need it and easy to evaluate evidence this way, too.]

I set up a 1" 3 ring binder for each of the main families going back.  (My Dad's dad side are all dark blue binders, my dad’s mom side are all gray, etc.).   Here's what I put in my binders:

1)  in the very front I put an ancestral chart which shows how this family fits in with the whole family line;

2)  then I have my to do list of what I want to accomplish on this family;

3)  then I put my family group sheet for this family;

4)  Then I have a yellow tabbed divider marked "Timelines".  In this I put a short biography of the family that I've written up with whatever information I have gathered at that point in time.  When you put something like this together in a narrative form, it makes it easier to understand the family.  I also hand write up a timeline for the family.  It is just simply a list of dates of when the major events in that family took place -  marriages, relocations, births, deaths, etc.

5)  Then I have a yellow tabbed divider marked "Correspondence".  I put my correspondence record first and then copies of all my requests for information and any responses I have received back.

6)  Then I have a yellow tabbed divider marked "research".  I put in here other researchers' names & addresses  who are researching the same line I am and any correspondence from them.

7)  Then I have a yellow tabbed divider marked "maps".  I print out a copy of any map I can find on the internet that is for the area(s) that the family may have lived in at the appropriate time period. (one of my favorite maps is http://www.livgenmi.com/1895.  This is the 1895 map for the entire united states - it's very detailed and really good).

8)  Then I have a yellow tabbed divider marked "documentation".  I keep a running list of the sources where I have found info on this family.  Then I put in all my sources.  Each source, like a census record for one year, I put in a plastic sleeve protector with a piece of acid free card stock.  This keeps the page rigid so it's easy to turn and won't get wrinkled.  On each piece of paper, I write where the info came from (a book or website or whatever) and the repository (where it was found - a county courthouse, a library or whatever).  I also keep my pictures for this family in this section.   Again, I mount each picture on a piece of acid free cardstock in a plastic sleeve protector.  My favorite place to get acid free cardstock is: http://www.lightimpressionsdirect.com/servlet/OnlineShopping

9)  Then if you have any unconnected information, I put this in a yellow tab at the very back.  I just call it "unconnected resources". Then someday, as you keep researching, sometimes you find that you're able to use this info.

This may seem like a lot of work.  And I am probably an extreme organizer.  But when I first started no one told me any of this and I wasted so much time.  I didn't document anything, or keep anything organized.  So I never knew if I had looked in a certain book or not or if I had a particular census record or not.  I never knew what my sources were or who or where they came from.

If you follow these guidelines and started reading some of the suggested resources, you’ll be well on your way!


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This web site was last updated on December 30, 2008