As I said, I am going slow here. When it comes to genealogy that isn’t always a bad thing. Actually it can save you from making rookie mistakes (like I did when I was first researching). Family history is like mining for gold in a way. Dig here, dig there, hope to make a strike. If you hit a vein you get this itch to keep going and going – dig dig dig! Before you know it you are adding your sister-in-law’s father-in-law’s uncle’s stepdaughter’s 3rd cousin once removed to your tree. If you want to get that far out there, OK, but I think for starters you need to set some priorities. After recording what you know in your tree make sure you document your finds. Confirm your sources are reliable – don’t just swipe something off another person’s tree or add someone on surname alone. You might find your sister-in-law’s father-in-law’s uncle’s stepdaughter’s 3rd cousin once removed trail you followed was totally bogus and you wasted all that time you could have been following your true family lines.
Here is what I suggest. Talk to your family. Ask the elders questions like:
- Where and when were you born?
- Who are your parents and grandparents? When and where were they born? Who were their parents and grandparents? etc…
- Who are your siblings?
- When did you get married?/How did you meet?
- What were/are your professions?
- What do you know about our family history?
These are just some suggestions. Ask as many questions as you can think of, really. When my grandparents were alive my dad got this idea to have me interview them in a video. I am so glad we did. SO SO glad we did. Not only glad to watch that memory on video, but to have these family history stories being told from their own mouths. It has most definitely helped me with my research. You might want to give your elders some blank pedigree charts to fill out. You can find free ones by Googling.
Decide how you want to record and store the information you find. You will want to keep your documents somewhere safe. This is your proof to back up your research. I keep mine in binders and have scanned copies on my computer. I have a tree on Ancestry (with documents attached) because it makes me feel better to know that there is one out there in the clouds that is safe if something happens to my computer or home (fire, flood, etc). Glean whatever useful information you can from them and record it in a family tree. Then store your records in an archival folder or binder of some sort. You can, of course, hand write your tree, but there is plenty of software and apps to be found. Many of them are free. So do a Google search and find the one that feels right for you.
What kind of records and documents? Birth, marriage, and death certificates of your ancestors if possible. Also census records, social security applications, military enlistment, wills & probate, immigration, adoption, etc etc. Anything that is official proof that said person existed, and preferably who their families were and where. Records that can distinguish your John Smith, son of Joseph Smith and Roberta Jones from John Smith, son of Josiah Smith and Dolly McSomone.
How do you find these records? Well, now, that is thing. In the old days, before the internet, you’d have to go or write to county recorders, churches, courthouses, cemeteries, historic societies, etc and hope to find something. Today, you still might have to do that, but the internet has made it so much easier (that is not to say it is easy – only easier and more convenient). I am so glad that I have had the internet to rely on for the majority of my research. You can find records on sites like Ancestry.com (for a subscription fee – making a tree is free I believe) or FamilySearch.org (for free). Some US states and counties have their own sites to help with research – for example Missouri Digital Heritage which can help you find birth or death certificates for your ancestors.
As I said before I am not a professional genealogist. Not at all. I’m merely a hobbyist putting this out here to help newbies. I’m not really the type who answers a lot of “how to ___” questions. Maybe there is better advice out there. I wanted to write this post up for people like myself who might jump in willy nilly, full of good intentions only to realize that they got all the way to the 1700s researching someone else’s John Smith. If only they had double checked their documents from 1880 in the first place.
My next post isn’t going to be a “how to.” I am going to be talking about my personal journey researching and doing DNA testing. Probably. Maybe.