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I’m interested in Genealogy, how do I get started?

If you or someone you know is beginning their research journey, the following information will help guide you through the basics of the world of genealogical research.


Legacy Tree Genealogists

May 20, 2020

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When you are first starting out, genealogy can be both intriguing and slightly overwhelming, all at the same time. There is so much information out there—so much so that it can be difficult to know where to begin. If you or someone you know is beginning their research journey, the following information will help guide you through the basics of the world of genealogical research.

  1. Start small. People often ask us, “Where do I start? I have so many questions I want answers to.” The answer is start with what you know—you. Record what you already know about yourself and your immediate family—names, dates, places, movement, memories—and build your tree back from there. Many websites (MyHeritage, Find My Past, 23andMe and Ancestry, to name a few) have free features to build a family tree online. This is the safest, most efficient way to save your research and to ensure that it is accessible from anywhere in the world.
  2. Avoid overlooking the objective. As tempting as it can be, try not to skip ahead to generations farther back in time without having a solid foundation built first. The key to sound genealogical research is being able to prove your findings with documentation, not speculation. If your father was born in 1934, but you have seen a family tree which suggests that your grandparents were born in 1925, the research may be questionable and needs to be evaluated for accuracy.
  3. Don’t believe everything you read online (or offline for that matter). Websites like Ancestry provide “shaky leaf” hints that appear when the names and residential information of your ancestors are entered into your family tree. While Ancestry tries to accurately associate these records with the proper individuals, their algorithm is not perfect. Whenever you find a new record you believe is associated with your family member, whether online or passed down from family history, double check the information for consistency and accuracy. Genealogists always try to prove each major life event (births, marriages, death, etc.) with at least two consistent sources to ensure the information contained within it is logical and accurate. If you can’t confirm its accuracy, save the record and try to prove or disprove it using other sources before moving on.
  4. Utilize the resources around you. Most local libraries, universities, and historical societies have genealogical collections pertaining to your county, state, or region. Reach out to these facilities with specific inquiries about your ancestor. They may be a well of information you hadn’t previously considered.
  5. Reach out to your family. While you may not have a lot of information in the beginning, someone in your family may have a family bible, military service documents, or family photos that could help you in your research. They will likely also have personal stories and memories to share. Invite them to collaborate with you—as the saying goes, “Two heads are better than one.”
  6. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Genealogy is exciting, but it is not typically fast-paced. Creating your family tree happens only as quickly as the documentation that supports it can be found and organized. This will largely depend on the time period being researched, the geographic area of research, how far back you are trying to go, and how in-depth you want your information to be. Many records are now available online in one of the various databases such as MyHeritage, Ancestry, or FamilySearch, and more and more records come online each and every day. But many, many more records are still sitting in an archive, library, or church basement still waiting to be found. Thousands of images of documents, church records, or newspaper articles have been digitally saved and can be found on a roll of microfilm or fiche at your local library or at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, but most of these records are not yet indexed and must be looked at one page at a time.
  7. “What if I’m adopted?” If you are adopted, we recommend that you contact the County Clerk or country’s embassy where your adoption took place and inquire about obtaining the non-identifying information contained in your adoption file. Non-identifying information is generally limited to personal information about the adoptee and their birth parents. States and countries have varying degrees of accessibility concerning what can be obtained. You can find additional information about U.S. based adoptions here.
  8. Taking a DNA test can also be a great first step in helping to connect with your biological roots.
  9. Brick walls happen to everyone and that’s OK. Every researcher will hit a brick wall at some point in their journey and that is absolutely OK. For reasons beyond our control— whether it’s a loss of records for a county, language barriers with foreign research, or simply a lack of records for your ancestor—everyone will struggle to extend their family tree at one point or another. The good news is, genealogy “brick walls” can often be overcome by utilizing “outside-the-box” resources or by adding DNA evidence into your research efforts.
  10. Many brick walls require in-depth research in land, tax, and/or probate records, and most of those records are still not available online or in indexed formats. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, houses the largest collection of genealogical records in the world, so a genealogist who has ready access to that facility, in addition to a network of researchers for record access worldwide, will be able to search many additional records you may not have access to.
  11. Search engines are your friend. If you are having difficulty finding information about your ancestor, try using websites like Google to locate information online. Your ancestor may be mentioned in old articles, periodicals, obituaries, or county histories. If your ancestor has a common name, use quotation marks around their name and location to help pare down the search results and further narrow your search field. [e.g. “John Doe, Houston Texas”]. For more Google search tips, check out our article, Google Searching Tips for Genealogists.
  12. Hire a professional. Professional researchers are experts in their field and their knowledge can save you both time and money when it comes to addressing your objective.  When you are choosing a professional to work with, it’s important that you feel confident and comfortable with their knowledge and skills, and make sure they’re the right fit for you. You’ll want to find out things like how long they’ve been in business, what kinds of certifications or accreditations they have, and what kind of reviews they have received from other clients.

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