Whether you want to learn more about your immediate family or trace your ancestral lineage to learn more about your heritage, a genealogy search can be a worthwhile endeavor — as long as you approach it effectively. If you’re a beginner to investigating your family history, here are some tips from genealogy experts.
Set specific goals
Tracing your ancestry is much like following the shape of a tree: What begins as a single trunk can diverge into hundreds of branches that extend in all different directions. It’s easy to get lost among the multitude of digressions if you don’t know where you’re headed.
Genealogy expert Diana Elder recommends beginning by making a list of things you’d like to learn about your family. “Look through your list of questions,” she states in an article for Treasure Chest of Memories. “Choose one to start your journey of discovery, preferably a generation or two back where records will be available.”
Setting clear, achievable goals for your genealogy hunt can help you stay on track and headed toward the information that’s most valuable to you.
Have an organized system
The amount of information you can gather on your family’s history can be overwhelming — especially if you haven’t established a clear, consistent organizational system for the data you gather, as well as the physical and digital materials you acquire.
“Your genealogy research will likely include both online and offline materials, so keeping all your data and research organized will help you both in your present and future research,” states the team at Find My Past.
Choose a system that works best for you, such as using a consistent file-naming scheme and logging your findings in a digital spreadsheet. Doing so will help guide your initial search as well as make it easier to revisit and confirm the accuracy of information later on.
Start with the resources you already have
Instead of jumping into the deep end of the pool and immersing yourself in the deluge of online libraries, start your journey by consulting direct resources in your vicinity. These could be family records you or your relatives possess as well as the personal testimonies of immediate family members.
“Record your immediate family tree,” recommends Heritage Consulting. “This will give you a starting point, as well as provide accurate information for your descendants. Ask your living relatives for as much information as possible, including everything from parents’ names, birth and death dates, stories from their lives, and more.”
This preliminary investigation will likely result in an incomplete genealogy framework riddled with missing pieces and question marks, but you can use it as a guide to begin your search as you work from what you know to find what you don’t know.
Only trust credible sources
Although gleaning information from existing online family trees and recollections by family members may be helpful, that doesn’t mean you should trust every piece of information you encounter as factually accurate. When confirming information to add to your genealogy records, only trust credible sources.
What qualifies as a credible source? The Family History Fanatics blog uses this determiner: “Genealogists strive to find an original document created close to the time of an event by someone who witnessed the event.” That means birth records, death records, marriage certificates, passenger lists, and census records are typically the most credible sources and least likely to be falsified — although they still may contain errors, like inconsistent surname spellings.
Starting from a point of familiarity and progressing toward a clear goal by following credible resources can give you the best chance of finding worthwhile information on your hunt. Make sure you share your findings with your family.