Beginning Your Family History Search

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NOTE: THIS POST IS GEARED TOWARD ANALOG GENEALOGY. ONLINE METHODS WILL BE DISCUSSED IN A SEPARATE POST.

So you’ve decided to research your family history. Get ready for the whirlwind of astonishing highs and discouraging lows that are all a part of genealogy. As you work your way backwards through about three generations, you’ll be encouraged by readily available data. The pedigree chart and family group sheet will prove to be your workhorses for the life of your project. So get into the habit of updating them with each piece of documented evidence you find. Neither the pedigree chart nor the family group sheet are static documents. Changes will be required to both throughout your research. Documenting each source of information is key and will help you zero in on the most probable data for each ancestor. It will also come in handy in ruling out erroneous data that is likely to surface when you take your search online.

Start with yourself and work back one generation at a time. The operative word here is “work.” When you’re first starting out, it’s very tempting to try to fill in all the blanks on your pedigree charts. I’ve been there – done that; and in some cases ended up having to revisit “there” and re-do “that.” So, resist the urge and save yourself the extra time and frustration. Instead, work your genealogy by focusing on one generation; and collecting as much data as you can find on the husband and wife. Be sure to complete a family group sheet for each head of household before proceeding to the next generation.

I do believe in making the most of research trips, however. So, I consider it good time management to gather more than one generation of census documents while you’re at the library. Likewise with obtaining copies of court records you know exist and have names and dates for. But I would limit work on earlier generations to just copying the census sheets, and doing a very basic extract of court documents. Then file the documents and extracts until your research brings you to that generation. In addition, you’ll have them handy for reference checks to ensure you stay on track.

Since I began researching my family history in the 1990’s, I can only advise you on how to begin your research offline. As I learn to employ online methods, and confirm their authenticity, I will incorporate them into my posts.

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