Start Your Family History Journey

Researching your family history can have some very exciting moments.  Find your first census record and feel the thrill of seeing a snapshot of your family.  I became addicted to genealogy research after finding my grandfather’s passenger manifest and had difficulty waiting to find my next piece of my family’s history. Start your search, and you can also feel this thrill once you find that first document. Filling in more generations of your family tree and finding more family facts will start to haunt your waking thoughts. Get started and be prepared to make researching your family history a lifelong journey. Just like a great novel, it will be hard to put down.

Try to have a goal in your research. I intended to learn more about my family’s heritage and to preserve what I find for my children and grandchildren. Your goals can be similar to mine or yours can be as simple as doing an in-depth study of one of your famous ancestors. Start your journey at home. Collect documents, pictures, and letters that you and your immediate family have stored away in old shoe boxes in the closet or stuffed in desk drawers. Remember also that it is critical to interview your older relatives to save their memories and oral history.

Be organized in your research because this will save you time but will also point the way for more research. I use summaries to organize my facts and as a reference tool while doing my research. My summaries can make my research more efficient and helps me find more documents and facts. The summaries also help me focus my search efforts. Summaries are also a great way to share what I find with my family. Sharing gives me more opportunities for other family members to contribute more oral history, pictures, and old papers. Be prepared to uncover more areas to research after sharing your work. Remember to identify and label the family pictures. Asking relatives to determine who is in the pictures will help extend your family tree and also turn on the memories of the relatives who are trying to help.

Records you find may be confusing, misleading and wrong.  You will need to continually analyze and interpret your information and note where you got your information. As a beginner to genealogy, start now to note where you get every piece of information. Record your information as you find your facts. You may hear arguments that keeping up with sources are time-consuming and too much trouble. It isn’t fun, but without your source information, you can’t evaluate, analyze, and draw conclusions. And you can’t pass along your information because at least one family member will ask, “But how do you know?”

Companies and organizations are listing more and more genealogy records in online databases, and these are great sources to begin your research. However, there are many more genealogy records stored in libraries and historical archives that also may include your ancestors. Be sure to use all the sources in your research, both online and in person. You will be rewarded for your efforts.

Use books, genealogy programs, genealogy conferences, genealogy societies, online educational offerings, and social media to sharpen your genealogy skills. Again, once you start your journey, it will probably be a lifelong passion.

My last thought that may help you develop the same passion for genealogy as I have is

“Remember to have fun.”

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