I get a lot of questions about how a person would go about starting his or her own genealogy research. I will expand this section in the coming months, but for now I’ll list the basics. Follow these five steps to get yourself started on this very rewarding endeavor.
* START A TREE – Jot down in a tree format all you know about your family. Start with yourself and work up adding your parents, your grandparents, your great grandparents, etc… Add dates/place of birth, dates of immigration and country of origin, and dates/places of death. Also write down any siblings next to the names of your direct ancestors. Keep a binder with your information and eventually split it into the four main surnames of your family (adoption or step-families might compliment this a bit). Click here to see a sample tree.
* MAKE THE CALLS – Call a knowledgeable person or two in your family (woman seem to know more – call your mom or an aunt!) and ask them to help add information to your basic tree. Also ask for mailing addresses of other family members.
* CHECK THE CENSUS RECORDS – This is a valuable and necessary tool and you will want to get an Ancestry.com account to perform this. If you are serious about your effort you need an account, which is available on a month to month basis. Start looking for your family members in the 1930 Census and work backwards in 1920, 1910, etc… Finding the years of immigration, addresses, other family/household members, and occupations is extremely valuable.
* REACH OUT FOR INFORMATION – Start sending letters to more distant family members soliciting information and especially family photos. Always ask for photos! I drafted a standard questionnaire and sent it out to hundreds of people over the years. Don’t be bothered when most fail to write back – what’s important is finding that “gem” that is full of information and knows a lot about a particular side of the family. Always send a nice letter explaining your effort, include a SASE, maybe send a nice photo of you and your family, solicit copies of paper records like obituaries and funeral cards, and ask for more mailing addresses to help further along your effort. Establish and maintain their confidence so you can easily reach out to these people again someday. Click here to see my questionnaire.
* GET VITAL RECORDS – Spend a few dollars to acquire some state-held vital records such as birth certificates and particularly death certificates. Death certificates can be valuable when they list the parents of the deceased when you need those names. Search the internet to find the forms (for example in google search for “pennsylvania vital records”). To might save some money by doing a walk-in at the state vital records office. You do not need everybody’s birth or death certificate, but a few can help fill in some holes in your research.