Free Family History
If you are just starting your family history, you might be confused as to where to begin. This article will present free family history tips to get you started. You will need (at a minimum) pencil and paper for keeping notes and copying extracts, and access to a computer with internet connection. The best way to organize your research is by using a research log. Record what steps you take, when you take them, what you are looking for and whether you find it, and a reference to the copy of the information you find. I find that the more detail I put on the research log, the easier it is to find later and to avoid duplication. Make photocopies or print the information you find, using one side of the paper only. You can record the information you find on free family history software such as Personal Ancestral File (PAF), provided as a download on www.familysearch.org, and from that you can print out pedigree charts and family group sheets as needed. I will refer to PAF for the purposes of this article. Your goal will be to find the names, dates and places of birth (or baptism), marriage, and death (or burial) of your ancestors and their siblings. If you are interested in how your ancestors lived, you can also search records for this information.
Remember that you always work from the known to the unknown, so the best place to start is with yourself! You will, no doubt, know your own name, birth place and date and, if you are married, your marriage date and place and your spouse's name. Enter this information in your PAF. Next add the information you know about your birth parents. Then do the same for your brothers and sisters. If any one of them is legally adopted, include them as you do your blood relatives. The blood line is the one you follow unless you have a deep interest in the adopted line or if your family is LDS and has been sealed together. And don't forget to include those who died in infancy.
You may not know all this information from memory so contact family members to make sure your information is complete and accurate. With today's equipment, it is advisable to video tape or otherwise record oral interviews, and print out emails. As you receive new information, add it to your PAF. If you get conflicting information, rely on the person who was present at the event or the one with the most accurate memory. You will want to make copies of documents your living relatives already have in their possession. Documenting your facts is of the utmost importance!
Next, find out what research has already been done by referring to free family history web sites such as www.familysearch.org. There is no point in spending time and money on work that has previously been done!
Once you have gathered as much free family history as you can from living family and web sites, you will start researching original records. The LDS Church has made available many microfilmed records such as civil, church, cemetery, census, occupation, migration, land and military records as well as probate and other court records. These records come from all corners of the earth depending on how likely they are to be destroyed (they microfilm these records first) and whether they can get permission from the keepers of the records. This microfilm is free to those searching for their family history. You may also have to write to government or church entities to obtain data that has not been microfilmed. In these cases, be prepared to pay for the information you want.
At some point you will come to the end of the records - at least the ones that are currently available. They may have been destroyed over time, or too faded to read, or their keepers are unwilling to share them. If you are diligent in researching your family history, there will be other lines to follow. There never seems to be a shortage of ancestors to learn about!