Back to Basics: Start with You

During a recent genealogy course it became apparent how online databases have changed the way beginners enter the hobby of genealogy. Microfilm readers are losing their status as record viewers as many researchers opt to use online digitized records. And who can blame them? Searching from home in your jammies makes genealogy very appealing. But then again, it also skips over much of the research process beginners would benefit.

So in an effort to help some recent newbies to this process, I’ll be posting tips of genealogy basics that will correspond to references you may consider having on your bookshelf. I hope you follow along and join in these discussions.


Begin with what you know.


Start with YOU!

Ready to delve into your family tree? It’s easy, just begin with what you already know. Using a notebook or blank family group sheets, write down the vital statistics of yourself then each family member. Vital statistics are the birth, marriage, divorce, and death information making us each unique. If it makes it easier to record, begin your page with your parents’ information then for siblings and yourself.

There are a few standards that help us complete a full collection of these family details:

Write each family member’s name in full by using their GIVEN (first name), Middle, and Surname (last name). ex. John Robert Smith

Write each female’s name in full according to their maiden name.

ex. Amanda Eliza Cummings. Do notNot her married name of Smith.

Place nicknames in quotations to make it clear they were not their birth names.

ex. John Robert “Filbie” Smith

When noting dates, follow in the format of DAY MONTH YEAR.

ex. 5 December 1896 or 5 Dec. 1896

This format alleviates misinterpretation when dates occur in numerals or in other countries with differing format preferences.

If you know where each of their vital information took place, note those details as well by their city, county, and state.

ex. Jersey City, Philip County, Maryland

When you have tapped your brain beyond return (smile), look around your house for items that can help fill in your missing information.

Do you have a newspaper obituary from Grandma Phila’s funeral?

Just where has your dad’s high school yearbook been hiding?

Take a look around and gather documents and references your family has tucked away for safe keeping. They will be very helpful on your next step in this family tree mystery.

Do not be discouraged if you find many unknown vitals regarding family members in your recollection. This is where contacting family members for family documents and oral histories will begin to help to fill the blanks and prepare you for researching the unknown.

Leaf’n thru the steps,

Today’s References:

See Tony Burrough’s reference Black Roots: A Beginner’s Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree, p. 133-145.

Blank family group sheets can be found in numerous styles and free online. Here’s a great starting point to choose forms for your particular needs. Cyndi’s List (forms).

Up next post: Conducting Family Interviews.

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