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Genealogy. Step 1: Getting Started.

Updated on October 31, 2012

Seaman's Certificate of Identification

Some documents, like the Seaman's Certificate of Identification pictured above, may even have a picture of your ancestor.
Some documents, like the Seaman's Certificate of Identification pictured above, may even have a picture of your ancestor. | Source

What I wish I had known when I started.

With shows like "Who do you think you are?" and the hundreds of commercials on each day for you may have considered researching your family tree but opted not to because of the enormity of taking on such a project. You may be unsure where to start digging for your family history so you don't start at all. Well I am here to make the task of researching your Ancestors a little easier and less overwhelming.

During my genealogy research I thought "Wow, I wish I had known THAT earlier!" too many times to count. So while all of these "Wish I had known’s" are fresh in my memory I decided to put them in writing to help the next genealogy newbie get off to a solid start. Best of all, all of these suggestions are FREE!

  1. Yourself: Your own memory will be your first step. Sit down with a pencil (not a pen, trust me) and paper or laptop and excel and quickly note the names of your living and/or deceased siblings, parents and grandparents and great grand parents. If known, note the names of your parents siblings (your aunts & uncles) and their children (your cousins). If known, note the names of your grandparents siblings and their children. Go back over the list and jot down the dates and places of births, marriages and deaths that you know.
  2. Living Relatives: Talk to living relatives to fill in anything you didn't know when you made your list of family members from Step 1. Find out birth, marriage and death dates and places.
  3. Family Photo Albums: Look over family photo albums for dates and forgotten family members, be sure to flip over pictures and note any inscription. If you are feeling really ambitious put aside your favorite pictures of each individual or family or better yet, scan them into your computer for future use.
  4. Family Bible & Keepsakes: Many families had family bibles passed down from generation to generation noting new births, marriages and deaths as the events occurred.
  5. Old Papers: School records, military records, land deeds, mortgage papers, naturalization papers, correspondence, newspaper clippings especially obituaries.
  6. Cemeteries: Most people have visited a grand parent’s grave with their parents at some point. If you know where relatives are buried you may be able to find key information like date of death, date of birth, place of birth and maiden names. Hint: You should always call ahead to the cemetery to inquire as to their hours and genealogy procedures. One local cemetery allowed me to fax over a list of ancestors and called me when all the records were pulled. Another only accepted a hand delivered list.

Don't worry if you don't have a lot of documents or old papers to go on. I didn't have any either. I started with my memory, then went to older family members to fill in any missing details they could. That led to a death certificate here a marriage license there. Remember, you are gathering pieces of a puzzle for your family tree to put together later. The more thorough job you do collecting your genealogy puzzle pieces the more leads you generate.

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