Welcome Newcomers: to the Marvelous World of Genealogy

The place were every answer raises two more questions.

I'm just getting started What next? I'm stuck!


The first step is ALWAYS to start with yourself, your family and your living relatives. If you start anywhere else, you will get confused and lost very quickly.

Step 1: Get about 100 copies of family group sheets. (Yes, anachronistic paper.) There are several methods:
Create your own: for each person (father, mother, kids), list full name, birth date and place (city, county, state), baptismal date and place, marriage date and place, death date and place, burial date and place. Include marriage date and place and the spouse of children. If you have a computer genealogy program, print out a blank sheet and make lots of copies. Find some free online, pick some up through the L.D.S. libraries or ask a fellow genealogist for their preferred form.

Step 2: Now, start asking questions of EVERY living relative! Confirming the data is "what's next". Start today - your living relatives will be your best resource. Make a note of who gave you the information or where it came from. Take down notes on stories. If there are birthday lists, copy them into the charts (and get a copy of the original if possible). Jot down everything: immigration, occupation, travels, addresses (take along a tape recorder if you wish). You'd be surprised what marvelous information the reminiscing of your great aunts will turn up!

Have fun! Ask questions. Take your notebook of data with you when you travel...especially to family gatherings and holidays.

Family Group Sheets:

Now you see why I suggested you start with 100 pages--you'll use them up quickly. By the way, if you're dropping the information directly from conversations to a database (new technologies may make this possible), I still recommend paper copies as a secure backup.

If you're not depending on a genealogy program, you may want to consider a numbering system as your charts grow. I've developed one that means every individual has a single number (see codes ). But use whatever works for you.

Technically, you should always note unconfirmed data - like using pencil on your family group sheets. Personally, I hate pencil...but that does mean I have to white out or recopy an entire family chart when I get in correct information!

Ancestor Charts:

Again, make yourself (or your child) the first name on your ancestor chart. Most charts are numbered, use that system until you have a better one.

Step 3: The genealogy program. Again, there are lots out there and they update and disappear regularly. Two recommendations: Keep a paper back up and make regular and complete (including living relatives) gedcoms. I speak from experience. I had a great program - but, when my system crashed, the backed up information never loaded properly on the updated genealogy program.


Now it's time to start confirming your collected data.

You will need to create a storage system for your paper records. Some keep records by last name, others by families. Often it depends on what the records are. You may have family charts, proven records and photos, correspondence from relatives and researchers, and current research including uncertain connections. Don't be surprised if you wind up changing the system as you go. I know I did!

First: Again, start with what you can get your hands on get birth and death records, locate and label photos, visit cemeteries (which can be a lot of fun, believe it or not), get copies of Bible records, visit libraries for newspaper clippings, anything anyone has is valuable. Make copies of what you can't keep. These can also be stored in three ring binders and make a great way of showing off your family.

Census Records. One of your most valuable resources will be the census records. They are available in major libraries, at main L.D.S. Family centers, and from the Federal Archives. If you have people who lived about 1900, look for immigration, birth month and year, and parents' birthplace information from the that census.

Write for vital records including birth and death records, military records and land deeds. The very helpful CDC (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has put "Where to Write for Vital Records" online.

Second: Travel. Visit county court houses, cemeteries and distant relatives (that's a LOT of fun). Ask questions. Keep accurate records and note your sources. Please also make copies of source and source information. It'll help the one that inherits your data!

Third: Online searching (notice this is number three and not number one?!). More and more records are being posted online, which is a good thing. However, be very careful of personally added information (see the note below under I'm Stuck). Recommended research sites that don't require a subscription include:


Here's where the online research can be of incredible assistance. There is an immense amount of information on the Internet including chat rooms, email lists, resource pages, online family trees, portal sites, and much, much more. Remember, some of it is very accurate and some of it...not so much. For example, researchers have added their family trees online - sometimes to a free site, sometimes to one that wants to make money and may use that data irresponsibly. However, do not accept information without confirming it or at least identifying the sources. After all, the information has been submitted by people like ourselves...and some are better researchers than others!

Also, when searching the SSDI and census records online, be sure to try alternate spellings. The one who gave the information, who took down it down and/or the one who transcribed it, may have spelled it differently than you expect. Of course, your relatives could also have chosen not to share or have been moving when the census takers came. (See: Genealogy Reflections.)

Recommend starting places include:

For immigration records, in addition to federal sites, try:

Well known subscription sites are often available through public libraries and include:

Travel becomes critical here. There are just some things you have to do in person (or find someone to do it for you). Visiting court houses and stopping at county historical societies to looking at the available wills, deeds, even jail records may be a necessity. Look for the "other names" that will give you a lead on those invisible family members.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask. If I don't have an answer, I may be able to point you in the right direction. Also visit:

Good luck and Happy Hunting!

Holly, your fellow genealogist.


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