Genealogy Quick Start Guide for Beginners

Genealogy Quick Start Guide for Beginners

Even the most knowledgeable genealogy experts started as a beginner at some point; there is no shame in being a newbie.  Newcomers to genealogy are easily overwhelmed and confused about where to begin.  I have prepared this simple 8-step quick start guide to help folks get started researching their family history quickly and inexpensively.

Regardless of where you are in your family research journey, you can benefit from following the steps of this quick start guide and pick up a tip or two that you can apply to your research project.  If you don’t find yourself being bitten by the genealogy bug, then you can stop before you have much time, money or emotional energy invested in it. 

Some basic supplies such as paper, pen, 3-ring notebook with sheet protectors or file folders to organize your documents and access to a computer with Internet connectivity are all you need to get started.

Genealogy Quick Start Guide Steps

  1. The first step of this quick start guide is to identify your ancestors.  Take out a piece of paper and write down everything you know about yourself, your parents, your grandparents, and your great-grandparents.  List dates and places of birth, marriage, and death, as well as information about places of residence, church affiliation, military service, and occupation.

  2. Next, check your home for sources of information to document the facts you wrote down in step one.  Seek out family documents such as birth/marriage/death certificates, newspaper clippings, photograph albums, letters, scrapbooks, family bibles or any other sources that would help corroborate your facts.

  3. Get familiar with the basic genealogy charts: Pedigree Chart and Family Group Sheets.  Both charts can be downloaded in PDF format for free at http://www.familytreemagazine.com/freeforms, then fill out the charts electronically or by hand on paper.  Alternatively, you can enter your information into a genealogy software program like Family Tree Maker, Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic or online family tree builder.

  4. Make contact with parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles who are knowledgeable about the family.  Create a list of all the information you are seeking and then call them or send them an email with your request.  Your close relatives are the most likely sources for records, pictures and stories about the family members you are interested in and can provide you with specifics on names, dates and places.

  5. Now is a good time to organize your research.  Find some three ring binders with sheet protectors or file folders to store your paper documents in.  The more family research you do, the more documents you will collect and small piles will quickly become mountains if you don’t get organized.  It is also a good time to create a research plan of what data is missing and how you plan to get the holes filled.  Start a research log to document each action (both successful and not successful) you made to find the answers.

  6. Make sure to carefully cite your sources for each data element.  After you have been doing genealogy for a while, it will become abundantly clear that this step is very important to make sure your research never has to be redone.

  7. Start the process of researching what you don’t know about your family’s history and building your family tree.  Technically, a family history is never really finished as there is always more to discover.  You will spend most of your time seeking records that document your ancestors’ major life events. 

    There are literally thousands of resources to aid your research, some are subscription based like Ancestry.com and some are free.  One of the best places for a beginner to start is the free online website FamilySearch.org.  Just type your family member names into the search menu and see what you can find.

  8. Keep learning and increasing your skills by taking advantage of the many resources available including books, magazines, websites, blogs, classes, podcasts, television programs, etc.  Seek out others who share your interest in family history to bounce ideas off and be on the lookout for mentors that can help you with your research.

This simple quick start guide should give the beginning genealogist enough guidance to get off to a quick start and avoid some of the common pitfalls.  The best advice is just to have fun as you connect with your ancestors in a meaningful way.

 

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