Discover your family tree
All you need to get started with genealogy is curiosity and a notebook! We’re lucky to live in a time with so many online resources, how-to videos, and ancestry services, but your search will go much more smoothly if you start off on the right foot!
1. Start simple.
Start simple and start at home! While it’s tempting to go right online to the big services, it’s best to start out by drawing the most accurate picture you can from what you have. Doing this will give you a great foundation for later research.
2. Start close.
Talk to family members. They can share information, stories, photos, and more. This will not only help you fill out your family tree, it may very well be the most rewarding part of the process. Hearing and preserving family stories is a lovely gift for you and the generations who will come after you.
PRO TIP: When researching genealogy and looking at any family artifacts, take note of four pieces of information: people, relationships, locations, and dates.
3. Start with what you have.
Look at family albums, newspaper clippings, diaries, letters, scrapbooks, photographs – and backs of photographs! Ask your relatives if they happen to have anything that they can share. It’s not a bad idea to photograph items so you can create a digital collection.
The Research Process
Once you’re well underway with the first three steps above, it’s time begin your research! Begin with a name and see what you can find. Search state and county records, birth, marriage, and death records. Look for: dates, listed relations, occupations, etc. As you research each person, the picture of your family will begin to fill out – and your list of people to research will grow.
Start organizing the family into a proper tree. Use whatever system you like best: a paper tree, a digital or online template, or genealogy software. They all work! Once you fill in one chunk of information, choose another person and begin again!
We have put together a great list of genealogy resources on our Resource Links page. You will find research guides loaded with helpful resources that you can access right from home. (Or from the library! We have computers you can use!)
Deep Dive: Next Level Ancestry
If you want to take two giant steps back and look at the big picture of our common ancestry as humans, check out this fascinating article from Scientific American, “Humans Are All More Closely Related Than We Commonly Think.” Something fun to think about while you research your closest ancestors!