Suggestions for Beginning Genealogists

Genealogy is one of the fastest growing pastimes in the United States today.  It preserves family ties as well as provides a legacy for future generations.  The following suggestions will aid you in tracing your lineage and provide some guidelines for compiling your family tree information.  Good luck in your search!


  1. Always begin with yourself and work back in time.  Never try to trace your line from a known person down to yourself.
  2. Get a family tree chart and list all the information you have, being sure to concentrate on dates and places of births, marriages, and deaths.
  3. Begin your search at home by consulting family Bibles, letters, diaries, baby books, photographs and documents.
  4. Contact older members of your family and discover what knowledge they have of your ancestors.  The facts and traditions they have to share will enrich your quest.
  5. Search the census records on microfilm and on internet databases, available in many college and public libraries.  These are primary records and are available from 1790-1940.  From 1850 on, the census gives the name and age of every family member in a household.
  6. Use libraries for written and published materials:
    a.  family histories                    e. military and pension records
    b.  marriage records                  f.  local histories
    c.  obituary records                   g.  probate records
    d.  cemetery records                  h.  genealogy periodicals and books
  7. Visit or write courthouses to search their records and obtain information:
    a.  marriages                             c.  conveyance and land records
    b.  wills and successions                       d.  tax lists
  8. Consult state bureaus of vital records for birth and death certificates.
  9. Submit queries to genealogical publications and Internet message boards.
  10. Carefully record every source you consult.  For books, record author, title, page and date.  It is also a good idea to record the library or place you found the book.  For people interviewed, name, address and date.  For cemeteries, inscription, cemetery name and address.  For courthouses and churches, name, address and type of record consulted.
  11. When asking a librarian or other person for help, it is a good idea to show them a chart.  It can be seen plainly then where the gaps in your information are, the area of the country you are concerned with and the time period involved.
  12. Use common sense.  A man born in 1850 cannot be the father of a man born in 1861.  Make sure that dates correlate and carefully assess all your information.
  13. Become familiar with the major genealogy sites on the Internet.  Use what you find on the Internet as a hint, and not as a major source.  There is a lot of inaccurate information online.
  14. Consult some family histories and general genealogy books to get an idea of how family tree information is organized.  If you write up your genealogy, deposit a copy with your local library so that others may benefit from your work and share theirs with you.
  15. There are about four generations in a century and with every generation, the number of your ancestors doubles.  With luck, perseverance and imagination, it will not be long before your family history lists a good many ancestors.

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