If you want to investigate your roots, you’ll need to go one step at a time…
1. Start With Yourself
Begin with your full name, birthdate (year, month, day), birthplace (city, province/state, country), the names of your mother and father. Add more information to your database if you have it; for example the hospital you were born in, doctor’s name, address of your first home. If relevant, add your spouse’s name and their birth information and parents’ names. Add your wedding date and place. Add your children’s names and birthdates. You’ve begun!
2. Now Your Parents
Add your parent’s full name(s) and information just as you did yours. This is good! Keep going … siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles …. There’s no stopping you now; you’re well on the way to making a valuable contribution to your family’s history for your children and their children and ….
3. Decide What You Want To Do
Now is a good time to ask yourself, “What am I going to do with this information? Am I looking for just facts (names, dates, places) or am I wanting to record our family history?” ‘Just the facts’ is a clean non-emotional route of information. A family history is a collection of facts, remembrances, photos and relative support documentation. It is a journey of discovery, intrigue, and surprises. IT’s FUN!
4. Seek Out Family Archives
Family records (bibles, wedding invitations, birth announcements, calendars, land records, wills) plus newspaper clippings, photographs, diaries and letters, family stories are great sources of information and prompts to encourage more questions.
5. Talk To Family Members
Families stretch far beyond siblings and parents. Use these conversations as remembrances, not necessarily facts. We all remember events from our own point of view; a view which may be influenced by age (both at time of event and age of recalling). Record these stories and their teller’s name to hand down to future generations. From within those stories glean data for further confirmation of facts and/or clues to more family discoveries.
6. Organize Your Information
As your genealogy research blossoms and information continues to pile up digitally, on table tops and in boxes, it might seem overwhelming. Take heart, it’s never too late to get organized; but how? There are as many ways to organize as there are genealogists; you need to find a method which works for you. Keep it simple. Perhaps begin with a family tree chart; first you, your siblings and then your parents. It doesn’t have to be pretty (you can do that later), just practical. You might want to start a file for each person and file by last name and then given names (women by maiden names). Having individual files allows you to quickly drop scraps of information into an appropriate file until you have time for more in-depth research and recording. Being organized will also help prevent researching the same information twice.
7. Acknowledge Your Sources
Where did you get the information? If you wish your facts to be factual you will want to know their source, just as your descendants will want to know where you got your information. A recollection fifty years after the event is not as reliable as taking the information from a diary written at the time. Government and church records of birth, deaths and marriages are reliable, some information on census records is factual but ages and name spellings may be accurate or simply useful ‘close-to’ references. Citing these sources allows you to return to them quickly and avoid repeating efforts.
8. Make Use of Online Tools
Genealogy information on the internet grows daily. More and more reliable government data is being digitalized and released through government and other genealogy websites. Just because it wasn’t available last year doesn’t mean it isn’t online now (records of census, births, marriages, deaths, immigrations). Websites such as FamilySearch (free membership) and Ancestry (paid membership) offer some of these records plus information placed by well-meaning people (perhaps a distant relative) wanting to share information they have found (often without citing sources). Use this latter data as clues until you are able to confirm facts. Note your sources.
9. Share With Family
Even family members who feign they are not the least bit interested, will perk up when information is shared. Others may like to do what you’re doing but for any number of reasons can’t/don’t. Making them a part of your project will encourage them to pass on information which might be useful in your research. There is no completion date to genealogy so share information as you go along or present as gifts on family occasions – it makes for interesting conversations!
10. Don’t Forget About Yourself
Genealogy research is much like a game; one which can continue through generations. In working on your family’s history you are trying to compose a picture of family members; what kind of person they were and how they lived their lives. What are you leaving about yourself for your great-great-grandchildren? Are you going to have them put in hours of trying to figure out who you were, what you did and what you were like? Make it easy on them, write it down now! Need a little help? To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come by Bob Greene, D. G. Fulford (1993) Hardcover (unpaid recommendation) has 200+ pages of just questions (about 15 to 20 on each page). Simple questions like under ‘High School’: “How did you get to school?” “Did you have a part time job? Did you babysit?” It’s astounding the memories our brains retain and when they flood back it’s almost like watching a movie. Writing memories is simply the writing down of movies playing back in your head. Don’t be shy. Remember, you are part of your family’s history too.