With hundreds of genealogy charts, websites, computer programs, databases and subscription services, it can be intimidating to know where and how to begin a genealogy search. There are sites online that provide birth, marriage and death records and you can fill in the gaps with census records, military records, county records and cemeteries. But where does one begin?
Follow these tips to get a head start on your family's history search.
1. Collect what you have
Before you leap into the mass of information available, collect and organize the information you have. This includes birth and marriage certificates, wills, maiden names, burial records and baptismal certificates.
2. Contact your current relatives
Once you have some information, contact your relatives and ask for any documents or helpful information that they may be able to provide. Do they have copies of birth certificates? Do they have contact information or knowledge of any family legends?
To obtain birth certificates, marriage records and death certificates, you need to know the mother's Maiden name and the county in which the event took place. If you do not have this information, ask your relatives. Below are some documents that may be useful to your research:
Documents that your relatives may have:
- Birth, death or marriage records
- Journals or diaries
- Family photo albums or bibles
Remember to contact both your close relatives as well as your distant relatives. Another relative may have already started a genealogy search and then given up--you might find a relative who is eager to help you with your family history search.
3. Begin the search!
You can find information online through a variety of websites. There are family history websites and genealogical websites dedicated to family history, many of which are subscription-based services. Expect to spend thirty or forty dollars on these services. You may also want to look at websites that offer public record information online for a nominal fee.
Records that may be available online:
- Census records
- Military records
- Hospital records
- Wills and deeds
- Emigration and immigration records
- Tip: Many databases online require a payment for their services. Before you pay to use any service, do a quick online research to make sure the company is reputable and safe.
University and state libraries are also great resources, as are family history libraries. You may be able to find relevant newspaper articles, history books that trace migrations, microfilms or records at these locations.
When conducting a family history search online or in the library, it is useful to know the full name of any deceased relatives, as well as the county and state where they are buried. Of course, this information may not be available at your fingertips. Remember, don't get discouraged! Conducting a family history search can be time-consuming, but overall it can be a very valuable and rewarding experience. Don't be afraid to ask for help from your local librarian or your relatives. They will likely be more than willing and happy to help. If you stumble on an aspect of your search, you can also turn to the internet--there are many discussion groups online that focus on genealogy.