How do you get started in genealogy? Ask around!
Ask your family about your family. If they are still living, ask your father and mother to tell you about their parents and brothers and sisters. Ask them about their own lives:
- What was it like when they were young?
- When and where were they born?
- Where did they live?
- Where did they go to school?
- How did they meet each other?
Ask them what they remember about their families:
- What were their parents' names?
- When and where were they born?
- What were they like?
- Who were their brothers and sisters?
- Did they get along?
- Are they still living?
If you can't ask your father or mother, ask an aunt or uncle, or your grandparents, or one of your brothers or sisters. Demonstrating your interest will probably bring to life their interest in your family, too.
Getting the names and dates is important, because they help you identify and sort out all of these people. But finding out about the personalities makes the names come alive. You will learn who each person actually was, what he or she had to overcome in his or her lifetime, and how their lives combined to make you what you are.
Write it Down!
Once you have the information, write it down! (Or if possible, record it on audio tape, to preserve the sound itself.)
As you write it, be sure you have the names and dates right. If you have a question, check back with the person who told you about it. If you only have a nickname, find out the full name of the person, and make sure it's spelled right.
Use the same technique for place names. Get the right spelling, and make sure you have the right state (or country)! For example, if a birth or marriage happened in "Marysville", find out which of the dozen or so states that Marysville was in.
And write down the full dates! Don't use the abbreviated "slash" method (like 2/6/45)! Always write the dates in a day-month-year format to avoid any question about their meaning. Write it as 6 February 1945 (or at least 6 Feb 1945). It will save you a great deal of grief later on.
Pictures are important, too. If you have a family gathering, take photographs to remember it by. Then write down the date and place of the photograph, and the names of the people in the picture. When "old" photographs come into your possession, find out as many of these details as possible, and write down them down. Store the details with the photographs so they can be true family heirlooms, rather than just pretty pictures for future generations to wonder at.
Organize Your Notes!
From the beginning, you need to have some organization to your genealogical notes. The stories are great, the pictures are wonderful. But if you don't have some method in storing them, neither you nor anyone else will be able to find what you want to find.
Everyone's style will be a little different, but there are some standard types of forms genealogists use to keep track of the basics of their family histories. Among these are pedigree charts, family group records, and individual data sheets.
Pedigree charts give the broadest outline of a family tree. Generally reading from left to right, these forms show the name of a person (usually beginning with you, then branching to show his or her parents. Each of these lines branches in turn for grandparents, great grandparents, and earlier generations.
Pedigree charts could go on almost forever, so a standard form will usually show only four or five generations of a family line, with references to other pedigree charts that will continue from there.
Family Group Records
By their nature, pedigree charts show only the outlines of a family. Each can only show a single child for each set of parents. But of course, there's usually more to a family than just one child and two parents.
To show a full family structure, use a family group record. This form records the names of the father and mother at the top, and then the names of the children. There should be substantial space on the form for all birth, marriage, and death dates and places, names of spouses of each child, residences, religious affiliation, etc.
You will need a single family group record for every family (father and mother) in your genealogy. If someone married more than once, you will need a separate family record for each marriage.
Don't mix the children of one marriage with the children of another! Make sure each family group record defines a specific family unit.
Individual Data Sheets
Even though a family group record contains more information than a pedigree chart, it still doesn't have enough room to record everything you might know about an ancestor. For this, you will want to use some form of individual data sheet.
This sheet is a summary of the events in the life of an ancestor. Not just the basics of birth, marriage, and death, but any other events you might know about, such as:
- Schools attended
- Military service
- Churches attended
- Appearances in census schedules
- Property transactions
- Society memberships
Each of these events helped shape the life of your ancestor. Record them so they will not be forgotten.