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Genealogy 101

The following guidelines are designed for individuals that are just beginning their family history research — what we call Genealogy 101. If you have been collecting letters, newsclippings, and photographs for years and have always wanted to begin building a family tree, then you may find these notes helpful as well. Regardless of where you are in the process, keep in mind that your pursuit is a lifelong journey and not something you should reasonably expect to finish in a few weeks or months. Most of all, enjoy where the journey takes you!

Genealogy 101

What do you need to get started?
Genealogy 101 requires a few basic items you should have available as you begin your project. A few sheets of paper or a notebook, a few empty folders, and a pen or pencil. As your research continues, you may also find a tape recorder, camera, and computer to be useful tools, but they certainly are not requirements to get started. Better to get started and add those tools later.

STEP 1 - Start with Yourself
If you haven't already done so, you should download the free Pedigree Chart to make your note taking more organized. Start with yourself by recording your full name (including maiden name if a married female), as well as your date and place of birth. If married, record your date and place of marriage and the name of your spouse. Continue by stepping back one generation and list the same information for your father (called your paternal line) and mother (maternal line). It's also helpful to make a note of your parents siblings (your aunts and uncles).

STEP 2 - Hunt for Clues
You'll quickly learn that this step is never-ending, but can be one of the most interesting components of your research. Over time, you'll recognize that clues are all around you, but you just need to learn to recognize them. An old letter may have a date and names, but the envelope (if it is still with the letter) may also carry a postmark, as well as a destination and return address which can be used to fix two people at specific places for a particular time period. Newspaper clippings, postcards, family bibles, school yearbooks, and old photographs are just some of the sources that may already be in your possession.

STEP 3 - Interview Relatives
This is no time to be shy - seek out the senior members of your various family lines and initiate a dialog about your family history. Whether it's a phone call, a visit, a letter or email - try to establish a connection which can fill in gaps in your pedigree chart or verify some of what you already have found. Sharing certain items from your treasure hunt (step 2, above) can be a great way to get a discussion going. Studying an old photograph and asking who, when, where, and why can help yield valuable clues. Who is pictured in the photo, when and where was it taken, and what was the occasion for the photo.

STEP 4 - Verify Your Findings
Through the first few steps described above, you will have collected information from a variety of sources. Individual memories, government documents, personal notes, and many other sources will provide a collection of names, dates, and places. Some of these sources will point in the same direction, but others will conflict with one another. In this stage of your research, you will set about to verify the accuracy of what you have found to this point.

STEP 5 - Share Your Findings
Depending upon your goals, you may wish to publish your work for the benefit of distant cousins or simply to organize your findings for your immediate family. There are different points of view and no single correct course of action, but you will generally find that sharing at least some of your work will help connect you with someone sharing at least one line of your family. You can choose to share your research on a case-by-case basis, post files on the Internet, or publish a book or manuscript - the decision is entirely up to you.

This Genealogy 101 is a series of suggestions based on nearly three decades of experience. If you have a special tip or trick that you think others can benefit from hearing, please contact us at your convenience.

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