If you are just getting started on family history research, this page will give you a few ideas about where to begin. This can be an exciting adventure and the beginning of a rewarding lifetime hobby or profession. Those of us who have been involved in genealogy research for years welcome you to our community.
Before You Begin
This page has a few things to keep in mind before you get started. A little care in the beginning will pay big dividents later on.
You may want to watch the tutorial, "Ancestors Season 1: Getting Started" at FamilySearch Learning Center.
Don't Get Overwhelmed
Our first advice to you is to avoid getting discouraged as you first get started. Some beginners get overwhelmed by the large body of knowledge experience researchers seem to have and wonder if they can make any significant contributions. Others get intimidated by having a lot of information they have gathered from others which they don't know how to organize or process. Some are challenged by what they see as a vast amount of available information, but one which is difficult to filter in order to find what they are looking for. Some avoid getting started because they are concerned that records in their case will be impossible to find.
These pages (and indeed this entire wiki) has some advice on how you can get started and overcome these perceived obstacles. Each of us that are experienced researchers started out in the same position you are starting now. Using the techniques outlined here, you can make a good start on your family history with the background you have right now.
Ask for Help
There is an active community of people all over the world with a passion for family history. You'll find us affiliated with libraries, historical societies, user's groups, or part of discussion groups and forums on the internet. Many of us are anxious to help others get started an join us in our passion. You become our collaborators in unlocking, organizing, and connecting information about families. We like to help you do your work efficiently and accurately so that the records you share will not spread errors that we then need to correct.
Don't hestitate to ask us for help as you're getting started. Some good places to ask are online discussion boards and forums, classes at your local libaries, historical societies, community centers, or colleges. There is usually a local history center near you with volunteers available you help you get started. You can located these at www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHC/frameset_fhc.asp.
Set Specific Goals
It will help you focus on your family history if you set some specific goals about what you are trying to accomplish. It could be a mixture of several things. Writing these down fill give you a perspective and give you guidance on where to concentrate. Here are some things you might want to consider:
- If you're LDS, finding information to complete temple work for your ancestors
- learning more about your heritage
- discovering family traditions
- memorializing contributions made by those who went before you
- finding out what connections you have to various historical events
- documenting your family's contributions
- preserving your family's history for future generations
Start with What You Know
To begin your family history, its best to start with what you know and work backwards from there.
Begin with your immediate family. What information can you find about significant events in your family and your parents family:
- significant life events
- military service
- where people have lived
- professional accomplishments
- newspaper articles
- marriage announcements
- important accomplishments
- personal letters of historical significance
- immigration records
- family bibles
Contact living relatives asking them for information they are willing to share. Even though people's memories may be unreliable, these stories give clues about where to start looking. Family traditions may be the needle in the haystack which helps you locate records you may otherwise be unable to find. Be sure to ask them about specifics including places and dates where things occured.
It is particularly valuable to contact living relatives as soon as you can. If you put it off, memories may fade, photographs may disappear, or people may pass on without giving you a chance to learn their story. There are some good tips at Creating Oral Histories and Oral Personal History with ideas about how to effectively interview and record other people's stories.
Ask about names of people in your family. Was someone named after a particular relative? Why? Are certain names traditional in your family? (If so, they can give you clues to which names to look for later.) Is there a tradition about how people are named in your family (naming a child after a parent or grandparent, for instance).