Tips and Tricks for building your family tree.

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If you are new to genealogy, you're probably asking yourself, "Where do I start?" These are the bare bones basics of genealogy research which will save you time and help you grow your family tree. The first thing to do is gather items to keep yourself organized. Index cards, a spiral notebook for notes, free forms and charts, pencils, pens, etc. Learn to use the various forms and they will save you time and headaches later.

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Start a family tree, free online, or use a software program such as Family Tree Maker 2010 on your computer. Using a family tree will keep individuals organized and help keep track of the structure of your family history.

Now the fun starts, you're ready to start adding individuals. These are the bare bones basics of genealogy research.

Start with yourself, adding all your important event dates, then add your parents, their parents and so on.

Record events clearly. Use standard abbreviations throughout your records, i.e., b=birth, d.=death, bap.=baptism, ME=Maine, etc. This will make your records easier to read for yourself and someone in the future. Also record dates using the international method, dd/mmm/yyyy (01/Mar/1920). This method is used by most of the genealogy community and avoids uncertainty about record dates. (Genealogy Abbreviations) Free Trial

Always use a family or maiden name when adding females to your tree. This is the name she was born with. If only the married name is known add it in parenthesis so you know to investigate further at a later date.

Information should include full names and titles, spelled exactly. (If you find misspelled names in records add them in parenthesis next to the correct spelling when including the record.)

Add nicknames in quotation marks. Archer "Arch" "Archie" Young is one of my ancestors and all these names show up in various census records.

Gather Information, adding as much detail as possible, especially dates and locations. Location is one of the most important details you can add to a record. This may give you an area where you can find other records.

Some ways to gather information:

  • Old letters, family bibles, photo albums, military memorabilia, school records, etc. These are only a few of the valuable resources you may have around your home.
  • Personal interviews with relatives, can be done in person or through correspondence.
  • Querying bulletin and message boards.
  • Emailing individuals online that have posted information.
  • Use the Surname search to search different databases online from one page.
  • Family History Centers provide access to most of the microfilms and microfiche in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Find a FHC location.
  • Local Genealogy and Historical Societies.
  • Local Libraries usually include a genealogy section for local research and may offer free access online to the large subscription databases.
  • State Archives hold many different kinds of records, often some that cannot be obtained anywhere else.
  • Subscribe to the genealogy databases online for access at home. is the oldest and largest and offers a two week free trial.

Place names can change over time. It is helpful to know some of the history of the area where records may be found. Various records of interest to genealogy research can be found in county courthouses, but many county lines have changed over time. One courthouse may have records up to a certain date and another have records from that date forward. Old maps are useful in determining areas of changing county lines. Important events in life leave a "paper trail" which can usually be found if you know where to look.

Record the source of your information or record. This is extremely important!
Citing your source provides a path for ourselves and others to follow in locating documents and reference materials and is just good procedure. Sooner or later someone is going to ask "Where did you find that?" and it's nice to be able to tell them exactly where the information came from. There are several standards for citing sources, MLA (the most widely used style), APA (primarily used by persons in the medical disciplines), and Turabian (developed by Kate L. Turabian and used for both print and electronic sources). Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian covers print and electronic sources for genealogists.

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