Starting your family's Genealogy: Where to start and how to do it
Whether you are a serious Genealogist or just want to document your family history for your children, there are several methods to go about this sometimes daunting process. The best place to start is by either typing up a summary of all you know as fact about your family in a word document or writing it down in a notebook. I prefer using my computer because I can edit the file multiple times and not get a cramp from writing. There are many software programs available as well and some can be downloaded free. The best free software I have found is Legacy or Simple Family Tree. Legacy has a bit more functions and allows you to add the sources and naratives right into the software.
The first thing you should write down is the first person you want to start with. This can go either way such as starting with yourself or with an ancestor. I prefer to start with the youngest person possible like my youngest child and start moving back both laterally (siblings) as well as documenting parents. I also try to include naratives of events that I want to include as a history. Important events such as the birth of a child, wedding day, and unusual stories/events experienced by our family. My favorite one that I found about my husband's family is that his great grandfather owned a Circus in the 1930s and his great grandmother was part Native American and she could bead a cerimonial headdress.
A good format is to combind the narative with a chart at the same time. I use the format by keeping families with the immediate family. I number them in an overall chart so I can refer back easily to the specific slide number. I use a combination of Microsoft Word and Microsoft Power Point. (See Picture)
Research can be done many places but the biggest thing to remember is to document everything. You need to have a source of some sort to back up any date or assumed fact. Birth Certificates, Death Certificates, and Marriage Licenses can be obtained either from the county or state where the event occurred. I use the notes section of Power Point to list my sources and place a number next to the person that corresponds with the sources. I scan any hard copies I have and keep them electronically in a specified folder. Cemetery records also contain vital information. I have found some cemeteries that list cause of death, marriage date, spouses, plot owners, etc which can aid with filling in the blanks. At a minium you should strive to find dates of birth and death, maiden names, and children/spouses names. Online sources include Ancestry.com, Rootsweb.com, and even FindAGrave.com. Most require some sort of subscription but Ancestry.com has free trials so you can sign up for these but remember to cancel the subscription before it charges you. It appears you can do this multiple times but it is unclear if there is any reset period. If a relative served in the military, you can request those records by going to: http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/standard-form-180.html. This link gives information for next of kin as well as the general public's methods to obtain the records. There is some limitation since some of the files were destroyed or damaged in a fire at the Archives in the 1970s.
The more you research your family's past, the more insight you gain into their everyday lives. This is also a great gift to leave for your children and grandchildren so they know their ancestry.