How to Research Genealogy (Family History)

Four Parts:Talking to existing familyLooking through family owned itemsDoing research beyond family resourcesBuilding a solid family history knowledge base

This article provides some basic steps on how to coordinate initial gathering of family related information and advanced tips on the Internet resources and software available to those wishing to research and document their family history.


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    Keep a journal of all your research. Set aside a book or journal to write down all information you found, its sources and when you obtained it. This will help you keep track of all data so it can be organized better. A journal will help you to ensure that nothing is lost, as you may come across quite a lot of information, ensuring as well that you don't forget anything.
    • Once you have the information neatly sorted in a journal, you will know where to go to get verification.

Part 1
Talking to existing family

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    Interview family members. Talk to as many family members as you can, especially older members of the family, such as grandparents, who would be happy to give you any information or family history that they know of.
    • Consider recording your talks with family members, especially older family members. These oral records can be kept on your computer for ease of reference and verification of exactly what was said.
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    Talk first to your oldest family member, like your great-grandmother. Ask them about their great-grandparents and about what they know and remember of your family's history on that side of the family.
    • Ask about how they got to America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc., if you live in such places. Or, ask them how they got to wherever they are now anyway––all the facts are relevant in piecing together your history.
    • Ask questions about who your ancestors were, what they were like, where they were native to, etc.
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    Ask other family members about your history. Ask for anything your eldest family member didn't know or hasn't made clear. It's also good to ask as many people as possible, to allow you to cross check the information gained.

Part 2
Looking through family owned items

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    Consult a family Bible for births, deaths and baptisms. If your family keeps such a record, it would be useful to construct a family tree from this information. You can also contact family members through these records to get more information.
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    Look through family albums or old family photos. This is very useful if the pictures have descriptions behind it, if not, you would want to find an older family member to go through the pictures with you. If you have constructed a general family tree already, this would be a good way to put a face on those people. Pictures can also be very good clues about the personalities and occupations of your relatives.
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    Find written documentation from relatives. This would include christmas cards, holiday greetings and letters. If you are researching beyond your grandparents, any kept letters from their time should provide a little insight into the generation older than them.

Part 3
Doing research beyond family resources

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    Use e-resources. There are websites online dedicated to tracking down family history and ancestry. These include such sites as Cyndi's List - and LDS -
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    Find newspapers as old as possible to read. Libraries have very many old newspapers and might have diary-like books from a long time ago. Look for stories, awards, work histories, etc., with your ancestors in it.
    • If any of your ancestors were writers, you may be able to find written work of theirs, anything from advertising blurb and stories to letters to the editor and articles.

Part 4
Building a solid family history knowledge base

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    Enter all collected information into a database. Once you have all your data and a good enough collection to finalize it, put it together in a professional data base. Examples of free and commercial databases are: Brother's Keeper (Windows, Free Trial once downloaded), RootsMagic Essentials (Windows, free), Gramps (Linux, Free open source), Family Tree Maker (Windows, fee-based) and MyHeritage Family Tree Builder (Windows, Free).
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    Be proud. You are who you are, no matter what your parents are, your grandparents are, your great-grandparents are, or what your ancestors were.


  • You might not find out pleasant things to hear. It can be hard if you end up finding out something terrible about your ancestors; don't let it get to you-it's never affected you before, it won't now. People do things for reasons unknown and it's a fair warning to not repeat the cycle if they did something heinous.
  • Be aware of the source of the data you may find. Some data may not be entirely correct, either deliberately or accidentally. Someone may lie about his or her birth date to seem younger or to enlist in a war effort, for example.
  • Do not publish information about living persons on the internet. Identity thieves may take advantage of the information.

Article Info

Categories: Genealogy