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A Beginner's Guide to Genealogy

Updated on October 7, 2015

Getting Started

Welcome to the world of genealogy!

Ancestral research is a fascinating, frustrating, highly addictive, and incredibly informative field of study. If you are new to the world of genealogy, there are a few things you should know. This Hub aims to arm you with all the necessary information for making your genealogical journey a success.

Choosing a Site

There are countless ways to create a family tree, from the good ol' fashioned paper and pen to highly advanced software. I strongly recommend finding a website that offers free family tree building and is simple to use. I personally use TribalPages, but there are several similar sites out there. When choosing a site, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. As stated above, free and simple are best, at least to begin with. Many sites out there are difficult to navigate, and take a lot of time and effort to create a tree. Most also charge a nominal fee to use their cooler features, which I assure you, you'll want!
  2. You'll want to easily add and access pictures and documents to each person, so find a site that allows you to attach files to names.
  3. Choose a site that gives you the option of creating a gedcom file. I had to pay for this feature, but the fee was minimal and it was well worth it! A gedcom file is basically a back-up file of your family tree, which comes in handy if you ever accidentally delete something or want to upload your tree to a different site.

My 3xgreat grandparents and their children.
My 3xgreat grandparents and their children.

Adding Names & Pictures

This is, of course, the most obvious step in creating a family tree, but there a few things you'll want to consider before you start adding names.

First, how do you want to add them? Not everyone goes by their birth name (my father, for example goes by his middle name and his step-father's last name), and women usually take their husband's surname when they get married. So, do you want to add their given name or they name they use?

Next, you'll want to add all of the names you know for sure, starting with yourself. This will be the basis for everything you do from this point on, so make sure you confirm all of this information right away.

Lastly, add pictures as you go. It's far less time consuming that way, and it makes your tree much more interesting to look at! Pictures also make it easier to remember people; once you get to the great-great-grandparent stage, it will be harder to keep everyone straight. Having a face to associate them with helps immensely.

Collecting gravestones may be morbid, but it's also very useful.
Collecting gravestones may be morbid, but it's also very useful.

Dig a Little Deeper

Once you've found a good site and added all of the names you know, you may ask yourself: now what? Now, the real fun begins!

If you want to really delve into the world of genealogy, you're going to need some help. There are literally millions of genealogical sources out there, but here are a few you should hit up right away:

Family Search is probably the best beginner site out there. It's the LDS genealogy site, and it is absolutely brimming with information. There are historical records (census records, baptism records, birth and death certificates...), family trees (these have been added by other members though, so double check for accuracy) and countless ways to search for ancestors. And fear not, it's not just for Mormons. I've found numerous ancestors on Family Search that were never Mormon. I can honestly say that my tree probably would have gone nowhere if not for this site.

GenForum is exactly what it sounds like -- a huge genealogy forum. You can post according to surname or location, and respond to others. I have been contacted by several long lost relatives through these forums, and the information we've provided one another is invaluable!

Find A Grave may sound a little morbid, but gravestones are often the last remaining source of birth and death dates, as well as spouses and children. This site collects pictures of gravestones and includes basic information about each person. Occasionally you'll get lucky and find a picture of the person as well!

Your local archives are also a rich source of information. If you happen to live in the same town your ancestors did, you may be able to find anything from death certificates to pictures of their houses.

And, when all else fails, Google is your friend. Numerous times I have Googled a name on a whim and found a website or forum that told me what I needed to know.

My 3xgreat grandfather, the man of many wives.
My 3xgreat grandfather, the man of many wives.

Enjoy Your Journey

When I began researching my genealogy, I didn't expect to find much of interest. There were no known celebrities or presidents in my history, no astronauts or Indian chiefs or Prime Ministers. As I gathered more information, however, it got more and more interesting. Mormon converts who had traveled from England to Utah -- and made a lot of the journey on foot! Polygamous men with 42 kids. Illegitimate children, victims of the Titanic, Freemasons, a sea captain who vanished into thin air and 12 year old brides. I found out that one great grandfather was adopted, and another had a previous family we didn't know about.

Some of my ancestors did things I'm not proud of, some lived noble and righteous lives. What struck me most, though, was the thought that every single action of every one of these people led directly to my own existence. Had any of them done even one thing differently, I may not be here, learning their stories now. When you look at it that way, there's no such thing as a boring history.

Good luck, and happy searching!


Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    Duchess OBlunt 6 years ago

    At one point, I can say the addictive nature of genealogy did grab ahold. I got to the point where I had to let go, but now I have someone else to look for. I'll be getting back at it as soon as a few other projects are completed. Because I just know, this will eat up lots of my time once I get started.

    Enjoyed your hub. Rated up and very interesting

  • RedElf profile image

    RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

    Interesting and comprehensive guide - welcome to HubPages!

  • Robikan profile image

    Robyn J Williams 6 years ago from Canada

    Haha, indeed! I've been working on my tree for 6 years, and have just now started making sense of that particular family!

  • Judi Bee profile image

    Judith Hancock 6 years ago from UK

    As you say Robikan, it's addictive! And who cares whether you have celebrity ancestors - certainly not when you have such an interesting group of forebearers. Men with 42 kids - good luck with tracking those cousins!

  • Robikan profile image

    Robyn J Williams 6 years ago from Canada

    Thanks, both of you! Genealogy hooked me in six years ago, and it has only become more interesting over the years. I hope this advice helps!

  • Just Ask Susan profile image

    Susan Zutautas 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Great information. I have always meant to join a site to research my family history but never seem to have the time to do so. After reading your hub though I am now motivated to do so. Thanks so much for writing this and Welcome to HubPages!

  • brianlokker profile image

    Brian Lokker 6 years ago from Bethesda, Maryland

    This is a great introduction for beginning family historians, and the sources you suggest are very good. Another excellent free resource is Cyndi's List, which includes hundreds if not thousands of links to worldwide genealogy sites. Genealogy does become addictive, as you say, and once someone gets into it more, I'd recommend Although it is a paid site, it has excellent tools and a huge collection of searchable records.