How Do I Begin My Journey Into Genealogy?
As a beginner genealogist, you may be asking yourself just that question. But you may be asking yourself
many other questions too. What cool people will I end up being will I find in my family tree? Kings,
Queens, Saints, Knights? Or perhaps the opposite end of things – bank robbers, or other criminals? Will
the stories that have been handed down from generation to generation end up being true? How far back
in time will I be able to go? Where do I start? How do I manage all the names I’ll find?
Naturally, the first place that any budding genealogist goes is to their family. Older relatives can be a
good place to start, but don’t neglect cousins that may have already done some digging. Look through
attics and old boxes of photos. Often there is information on the back of them. Family bibles are also
great places to find the names of your relatives.
Once you’ve finished talking to all your relatives – where do you go? Don’t worry. These days it is easier
than ever to complete your family tree from the comfort of your home. A quick Google search will net you
34,100,000 results. I know . . . . that’s a lot, but don’t be intimidated. I’m going to tell you the best ones
and save you a lot of time.
The top three sites are: Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com and Rootsweb.com. Each site has its benefits
and drawbacks, but at all sites you can search for birth and death certificates, marriage certificates,
immigration records, census records and more. These are great places to start the online part of your
Don’t forget to just do a Google search of your surname. This will often bring up the website of another
person who shares your ancestry. Many people post their family tree online. If you are lucky enough to
find one of these sites, it can save you a lot of time. Be sure to put quotation marks around any name you
want to search. This will help narrow the results to just ones that have the first and last name together
instead of anyone with that first name and anyone with that last name – not necessarily together. Don’t be
shy about contacting the person who owns the website. You can share information with them and
sometimes help them find a branch of the family they had yet to discover. Be sure to avoid sites that are
clearly “selling” information about your name’s history. They are typically of very low true value because
they are too generic.
Once you really get into it, you’ll need to keep very careful records. Families oftentimes kept using the
same or similar names so things can get very confusing quite quickly if you do not keep the date of
birth/death next to all names that you collect. Be open to alternate spellings as well. I know of one family
that kept spelling their last name differently all within a very short period of time.
Also keep in mind that you’ll be looking at a lot of very old records and you’ll need some patience and a
magnifying glass to figure out what some of these records actually say. I love the magnifying feature that
Ancestry.com offers. This is especially useful when looking at the census records.
Another great site is Cyndi’s list. I’ve watched this list grow extensively over the years with a lot of great
information added regularly. There a lot of specialty sites that she has listed so there’s something for
Eventually, you’ll want to get out into the sunshine and off your computer. When that happens, it’s time to
take a road trip to visit old churches, graveyards, funeral homes and local court houses in the areas that
your family lived. This can be a great way to involve other members of your family – especially younger
All and all, genealogy is a great hobby that can go on for years and years. There are many things to
consider though. Record keeping alone can become a nightmare – getting wildly out of control – if you
are not careful.
I’ve put together a lot more information on my website!
About Kay: Kay has been researching her family tree ever since her niece had a homework assignment
more than a decade ago. She’s traced her family back to the 1600s and enjoyed every minute of it and
believes that you will too. To learn more about genealogy, please visit: Learn More
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