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Genealogy Research Tips

Updated on December 4, 2012

5 Easy Family History Tips for Beginners

Many people are interested in finding out about their family history, but do not have the time or know how to go about it. They are busy and it seems way too complicated to pick up genealogy research to add to their schedules.

It really isn't as difficult as you may think, and there are some very easy ways you can start now on your trek to finding out about your ancestors and other family members.

An easy way to record your family history is to take a group photograph at each family gathering.
An easy way to record your family history is to take a group photograph at each family gathering. | Source

Genealogy Tip #1 - Start Now

Genealogy is a never ending quest to find out information about your family. Even if you spend a lifetime, you will never know everything there is to know about your ancestors and relatives. My most important tip is to start now. Just call yourself a genealogist and be one.

I know some of you may be thinking you don't have time. You have children to raise and career ladders to climb. You want to wait until you have lots of free time to research, like after retirement. I can understand that, but the simple fact is that the things that are the hardest to gather when you are retired are the very things that come very easily to you today. Being a genealogist doesn't have to take a lot of time. You don't have to do any research; the paper records will wait for you or someone else. You simply have to be open to the facts and stories that come your way.

By simply having the genealogy mindset, you will be open to information about your family history. When you get together for a family reunion, you will take a photograph of everyone that is gathered there and some photographs of your children with their cousins. When your grandmother starts talking about the past, you will press the record button on your video camera, tape recorder, or iphone. If you don't have any of these devices, you can write a sentence or two about the main things she told you. When someone finds a box of photographs or newspaper clippings in the attic, you will find a place to store them in your house. These things don't take up much time, but the information you gather is likely something you will never be able to get in that way again.

If you feel that you have to earn the genealogist title, you can interview your grandparent or other family member and learn a bit more about her and her life history.

Family history research should be fun and exciting.
Family history research should be fun and exciting. | Source

Genealogy Tip #2 - Do Genealogy Your Way

It is the story of your family, and you get to tell it your way. Ask the questions about things that interest you, not what you think will interest others. When you find out what you want to know about your family history, you will keep the quest for family information much more fun and easy for you.

You will come across grumpy people who think that their way is the only right way to research your family history. They may argue with you that your facts or conclusions are incorrect. Or they may tell you that there is only one way to cite your sources, and your work isn't professional enough.

My personal opinion is that this is supposed to be fun, and the important thing is that you are learning about your family, and not trying to satisfy some grumpy genealogist. Of course you are going to do your best to make sure that you have your facts right, but as long as you include the source information, to me it doesn't matter if you put it in a format that you can put in a scholarly journal.


Genealogy Tip #3 - Cite Your Genealogy Sources

When you find out a fact, say your grandmother's birth date, you should write down how you found it and when. Was it Grandma or Aunt Ethel who told you the date? When did she tell you? This will be very important when someone else tells you a different date. You may be able to tell from the source and the date which one to believe. Your cousin is more likely to believe your date if you tell them that Grandma told you while you were at her birthday celebration, and that there was a birthday candle on her cake that said 90.

If you start getting into the habit of writing down the source, you will save yourself a lot of aggravation. There are several reasons you must always write down where you got the information.

  1. You will undoubtedly need to go back to that record for something. Sometimes you may have missed a clue and need to examine the document again. Other times, you may find new relatives and you want to see if they are listed in the same source.
  2. You will be asked to prove something by a fellow researcher.
  3. You may receive conflicting information, and you will want to figure out which one you trust more. Knowing where you received the information can help you make that kind of determination.
  4. Your genealogy looks more professional, you look like someone who takes the time to get the information right, and you will be considered more trustworthy.

While there is a standard on how to properly write citations, it is much more important that you get the information down. If you don't remember how to do proper citations, don't let it keep you from recording the fact or considering yourself a true genealogist. Just get the information about when and where you found the fact, and you can put it in the proper format later.

Genealogy Tip #4 - Learn History

Your family is an integral part of history, and if you learn about history, it will be easier to place your family in the historical structure. If all you know about your grandfather was that he was alive in 1920, you will know a lot about the way he lived simply by knowing how other people lived at that time.

Learning history doesn't have to take a lot of your time. Simply help your children with their history homework, or take them to a historical landmark. Maybe watch a documentary about a time in history, or talk to people who have lived it. Talking to your relatives about history is a great way to pick up some family history information, and some context of the history of the locality or the country at the time.

Bonus Genealogy Tips

Once you start really delving into your genealogy, you will pick up a million or more tips, of course. Here are a few more:

  • Keep copies of the records you find. Scan them to save space and paper.
  • File your paperwork regularly to keep it from getting overwhelming.
  • Stay organized by using genealogy software.
  • Remember that names of people and places do change over time.
  • Just because something is in print doesn't mean it is accurate.
  • Researchers make mistakes. Be sure you check the facts before adding them to your tree.
  • When you cite the source (i.e. a book), be sure to also cite where you found the source. Some old books can be hard to find, and knowing which library had the book will be helpful.

Genealogy Tip #5 - Network with Other Family History Researchers

If you work on your genealogy with your cousin or other relative, you can share your research tasks so no one person has to do all of the work, or pay for all of the records.

You can learn a lot from genealogists, and by networking with them, you will learn about sources that are available for your subject, or faster or cheaper methods of finding particular bits of information. You may even meet a distant cousin and be able to share your research with him. Through a network, you may be able to get a photograph of a burial market in another part of the country, or help preserve a historical landmark.

How to network with genealogists

There are several ways you can meet other genealogists. You could join historical societies and other genealogy groups. You can certainly join these groups that are in locations that you are researching, but join the local groups as well, even if you don't have roots locally.

Attend genealogy fairs and conventions to meet people and learn about resources.

The internet is a treasure trove of information, and there are many blogs that provide news and information about family history every day. You can not only research your own family online, of course, but by networking, you can find out which genealogy database is free for the holiday, or which state has decided to close up their archives.

Family Tree Research Tips

These five easy tips are the main ways to get started and stay motivated on your genealogy journey.

  1. Start now
  2. Study your family your way
  3. Cite your genealogy sources
  4. Learn the historical context
  5. Network with other researchers

These tips will get you started on a solid basis for your family history. Once you start, you may be motivated to find the time in your busy schedule to learn some more about your family history before you retire. Even if you wait until you retire, you will have collected a great deal of information to get you started with some solid information about your family.


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