Begin with yourself. Record the dates and places of your birth and marriage. Do the same for your parents and brothers and sisters, including their death dates and places, if needed. Continue this process for each generation back as far as you can. It is usually helpful to use a pedigree chart format. Make accompanying family group sheets, to record the parents and all their children. Be sure to document each source of information at all times. Wherever you have a blank space is information you need to find out.
Talk to your relatives. It can be helpful to bring along photographs or other documents you have collected to help family members jog their memories. Family history is more than just names and dates. Verify information when possible so as to ensure accuracy.
- Start your search online. By starting your search online, you may save yourself time and money. Recommended sites:
- Go to your local library. At the library you may find a family and local history collection of atlases, cemetery records, census records, directories, family histories, newspapers, obituary files, photographs, published biographies and histories, and other miscellaneous materials. Larger research libraries such as the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana have materials from all over the United States, including military records and passenger lists. The microfilm resources of the Family History Library can be ordered via interlibrary loan (ILL) from a branch Family History Center.
- Visit the county courthouse. Local government records that might be found at the county courthouse include court records, deeds, divorces, estates, guardianships, naturalizations, soldiers' records, tax records, and vital records (birth, marriage, and death). State and local health departments usually have contemporary vital records. Call ahead to determine hours of operation.
- Visit the church your ancestors attended. Records of baptism or confirmation, marriage, and burial may be available. If a church no longer exists or records are not available, get in touch with denominational archives.
- Contact local genealogical and historical societies for assistance. The societies usually maintain collections of family and local history. Many publish indexes and transcripts of records. Featured speakers at their regular meetings provide information on topics of genealogical and historical interest. Membership provides opportunities for meeting fellow researchers and exchanging information.
- Check organizational, social, and business records.
- Organize your information. Whether maintaining information digitally or in paper form, be sure to organize your information. For paper, a three-ring binder is a good place to keep your work. Periodically, review all materials and then make a want list of what you need to extend your family lines. Keep a record of sources checked (a research log) in order to avoid reviewing the same material. Be sure to print and/or backup your work!
- Consider spelling variations. Names are often misspelled and spellings may have changed over time for various reason.
- Information should be confirmed by other sources whenever possible. Consult the records of parents, siblings, and cousins to find additional information which may not be available on your specific ancestor.
- Allow a week following a death for an obituary to appear in a daily newspaper, two to three weeks in a weekly newspaper.
- If possible, establish dates through vital records before searching newspapers.
- Try not to obsess over one record. If you cannot find a record that you are looking for, take a break and search for a different record. In the meantime, it may become available online.
- Be creative! For instance,if your family is not listed in a passenger list, start research people that came on the ship from the same place.
- Expect the unexpected. Try to approach your research with an unbiased eye and be open to finding information that you may not have expected.
- Genealogy can be difficult and it takes time. Be patient.