Tips for Beginners
 
Genealogy helps me to learn about my family and where I belong in that family.
 
Genealogy is the history I didn't pay any attention to in school.
 
Genealogy is the puzzles that I have always stayed away from.
 
Genealogy is finding new relatives all over the world and learning new, interesting things from them.

 

This page contains some tips gleaned from our experience. They should help a budding genealogist get on the right path to a rewarding pursuit.
 
 
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What family line(s) will you be searching? Even if you decide to research only your father's or only your mother's line -- or only one of your grand parents' lines -- it will be eventually helpful to start with yourself. 
 
Will you be recording all the family members of your ancestors or only your direct ancestors? Recording all family members, for example, your father's brothers and sisters and his uncles and aunts, often helps you to differentiate which person with the same name in the same place is your family member and who is not. However, if you decide to trace only your direct ancestors, you will reduce the amount of work you need to do in both research and recording. Hint: Most genealogists will tell you to record all the family members.
[Located in Category: 1. Where do I start?]

There are two basic forms used in genealogy:
  • Family Group Sheet -- this form shows the father and mother of a family and their children. For each of these people, the vital information is recorded -- that is, the birth, marriage and death dates and places. Lots of other information can also be recorded but usually not on the family Group Sheet -- information such a military service, occupation, residence.
  • Pedigree Chart -- this chart shows the person's direct ancestral line, that is, only the father and mother of each person. By tradition it is horizontal rather than vertical (like a company's organization chart). But the vertical chart looks more like a tree than the other does!
 
You can download and print both of these forms from the National Genealogical Society. Several other sites have the forms also.
[Located in Category: 1. Where do I start?]

At the top of a Family Group Sheet enter your own vital information: birth date and place, and marriage date and place (if applicable).
 
Enter spouse's vital information (even if currently divorced). If not married, still enter the partner's information.
 
Enter the children born of marriage (union)
 
Gather the certificates and documents that show all this information. These certificates and documents are called sources (see Tip 2a on this page).
 
Then on another Family Group Sheet, do the same with your father and mother at the top pf the page. You and your brothers and sisters (if any) will be the children at the bottom of this Family Group Sheet. Continue on with two more pages with each set of grandparents at the top of the page, and so.
[Located in Category: 1. Where do I start?]

It is important to cite the source for each fact you enter into your family tree. The best practice is to cite the source at the time you enter the fact -- doing it later can become a monumental, even an impossible, task.
 
At a minimum, you want to enter the 
  • Author
  • Title
  • Publisher or Repository 
  • Date
  • Page
 
Obviously not all your souces have these specific details. You can find a good summary with examples of the more common types of sources on the FamilySearch site. What you are trying to do with the citations is to be able to easily find the source again and to enable someone else to find it also.
 
The most commonly referenced book that details how to write source citations on almost all types of records is Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Genealogical Publishing Company). Hint: Trying to read this book when you are just starting out may cause you to stop your search immediately!
 
What you want to do is be able to find that source if you need to look at it again. Also, you want to enable other researchers to find the source of that fact.
[Located in Category: 2. Recording sources]

Best practice is to look at the original certificate or document and make your own decision about the facts listed there. It is also good practice to search for other sources to corroborate the details of the fact -- for example, looking at both the birth certificate and the baptism certificate to find the birth date and place.
[Located in Category: 2. Recording sources]

Did you family come over on the Mayflower? Do you have American Indian ancestry? Are you descended from European royalty? These and many other family stories need to be researched and proven before you accept them as true.
 
Rather than ignoring them completely, keep the stories in mind as you search. There may be some truth to them. Maybe it wasn't the Mayflower, but some other early ship to the colonies. Maybe your great-grandfather didn't marry an American Indian, but his brother did. Maybe an ancestor was a court official rather than a royal family member.
[Located in Category: 3. Learning from family]

When you attend family gatherings, seek out the senior members and ask about their upbringing, their memories of other family members, what schools they went to, etc. A whole list of other questions is available on the Ancestry site.
 
You may want to record the discussion by video or just sound -- with permission of the other, of course -- and assuming it doesn't interfer with the interchange.
 
Of course, you may be the senior member at the family gathering! In that case use the occasion to tell your stories so they are not lost to your decendants.
[Located in Category: 3. Learning from family]

Ask other family members if they have any certificates or documents of their own lives or of their ancestors. Often these items were considered so special they were framed or kept in special boxes -- these were often passed down from one generation to another.
 
Ask, too, if they have any family histories (books or manuscripts), family bibles, and especially photographs. Use family gatherings to help identify everyone in the old pictures. Make photocopies or photos of the items as you are able.
[Located in Category: 3. Learning from family]

It is generally accepted at this time that there are four major websites for genealogy research. Although there is overlap of their holdings, they each have their own strengths. Individual researchers need to determine for themselves which meet their needs. 
 
Ancestry (ancestry.com) has many databases that are free to search, and many more which require a subscription. There are three levels of annual subscription: one for US records only, one for the US and 80+ other countries, and one for all those plus other sites owned by Ancestry (namely, Fold3 and Newspapers.com). In addition to the record datbases, this site has a lot of instructional resources also.
 
FamilySearch (familysearch.org) is provided to everyone free of charge by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A good introduction to the site for beginners is available here. Like Ancestry, this site has a lot of instructional resources too.
 
FindMyPast (findmypast.com) focuses on but is not limited to the United Kingdom. It has recently expanded its holdings on Australia and new Zealand. Some databases are available for free, others require a subscription to access.
 
MyHeritage (myheritage.com) offers a free trial period for you to decide whether its holdings have promise for your research or not.
 
There are other sites that are adding to their databases so they soon may also be considered among these.
[Located in Category: 4. The Internet]

There are hundreds of sites on the Internet created specifically for genealogists. Many, many other sites have the records we seek (such as state and county vital records offices and libraries).
 
Two lists of these sites to get you started are the Useful Research Links on our society's website and the wonderful website Cyndi's List.
 
[Located in Category: 4. The Internet]

Embrace the Internet, but don't believe everything you find.
 
Some people are more like "ancestor collectors" who add people to their family tree just because the person they found has the same name as someone in their family tree. They often lack good research and decision-makiing skills and make connections that are erroneous. Use another person's research with caution unless well-documened; and even then review the original source.
[Located in Category: 4. The Internet]

There are estimates that only 10 percent of records useful to genealogists are on the Internet. The others are in the archives, libraries, churches, cities, counties, states and other offices that first collected the data. 
 
This means you must contact those organizations or visit them to review their records -- assuming they permit public access, of course. Plan your next vacation accordingly! You may also need to hire a researcher to explore those records.
[Located in Category: 4. The Internet]

Use Google search for your surname. There may be information on a family history book, or helpful background on the meaning of the name, or some other helpful information. You never know what you may find.
 
Enter an ancestor's home or business address in Google Maps. The building may still be standing, even if the neighborhood may have changed over the years.
 
Use Google Books to find a needed book that may be out of print.
[Located in Category: 4. The Internet]

There is a well entrenched but very wrong myth that some of our ancestors names were changed by the government officials when our people arrived in this country. Usually the story goes that the official couldn't understand or pronouce the name.
     Fact 1: The passenger list was created at the place of departure where they certainly were familiar with the name.
     Fact 2: The immigration officials spoke several languages and so could handle the passengers' names.
 
What is true is that immigants sometimes changed their names themselves later for various reasons. Sometimes in a legal process, sometimes informally. The reasons are varied:
  • the name was difficult for others to pronouce
  • they wanted the name to look more "American"
  • they didn't want to be identified with a particular country (this was especially true, for example, during World War II when some Germans in the US anglicized their name)
  • and others
[Located in Category: 5. Names]

The person creating a record would sometimes use their own language to record an individual's name rather than what the individual actually used. For example, New Orleans was under the auspices of Spanish-, French- and English-speaking government and church leaders at different periods in the 1800s. So when Pietro arrived there from Italy, he could be recorded as Pedro one time, Pierre the next time, and Peter the next -- same person, different names.
 
Moreover, it was not until roughly the beginning of the 20th century that the spelling of last names became more regular and standardized. Before that, you might see a last name written as Gandolfi, Gondolfi, Gandolphi, Gondolphi, Gandolf, Gandolfo, and so forth -- often in the same record, but identifying the same person or family. 
 
Be cautious about family lore such as the Gandolfi family was a different line than the Gandolfo family. Sometime that might be true, sometimes it might not. Likewise, the prefix to the surname sometimes can change Indiscriminately, such as Mac- Mc- O- van- von- del- de-, with a space or without a space, or omitted completely.
[Located in Category: 5. Names]

When you come across a variation of your family name, keep it on a list. Searching on the variations may help you find an elusive ancestor in a census or other database.
 
This holds true for first names also, especially if the person went by a "non-standard" nickname. For example, you may not want to track a Robert who usually went by Bob, but if he went by Junior or Shorty, be sure and note it.
 
If you come across a name that could possibly be the person you are looking for, sound out the name. This is good practice, especially when researching the census. The census taker often wrote down what they heard.
[Located in Category: 5. Names]

There are societies across the nation and the world formed of people with interest in a specific location , a specific topic, a specific family, a specific event, etc. These groups help you connect to family members and to learn more about thefamily, area, or event. They usually have meetings with speakers, periodic seminars or conventions, etc. Take advantage of others who share your interests.
 
Click here to join the Root Cellar - Sacramento Genealogical Society.
 
Search for these organizations on the Internet -- see Tip 4b above.
 
 
[Located in Category: 6. Develop a personal network]

There are Family History Centers (also known as FamilySearch Libraries) located throughout the nation and world. These Centers usually have libraries, research facilities, and knowledgable staff. They often offer classes on a wide variety of topics. Get to know your local Center -- click here to find your nearest one.
 
The Sacramento California FamilySearch Library is located at 
2745 Eastern AvenueSacramento, California 95821-6638
Telephone: +1 916-487-2090
 
Check their website for classes and events 
 
NOTE: This center and most other centers may be closed at this time due to the pandemic restrictions. Always check in advance.
[Located in Category: 6. Develop a personal network]

After only a few generations the number of people and their events and information and dates and places can become overwhelming if you try to track it without a computer. People were quite successful in doing so in the past, but in the last twenty-some years, many computer-based programs have been developed to ease the load considerably.
 
Today the major software programs are:
Root Cellar conducts monthly workshops for users of both the Family Tree Maker and the Legacy programs. Check the Meetings page for more information on these Special Interest Groups (SIG).
 
There are many other genealogy software programs, and the price among all the programs varies widely. You are encouraged to explore all the options.
 
These software programs allow you to create your family tree and then upload it to genealogy sites on the Internet so you can share and learn from others. Most of these Internet sites also allow you to enter your data directly without first using a program on your computer.
 
The Internet sites most often used are:
Of course, there are several others also, which you can explore.
 
 
[Located in Category: 7. Keeping your family tree]

Back up your tree.
 
Back up your tree.
 
Back up your tree.
 
This cannot be emphasized enough. Gathering information and photos of your ancestors and their families generates a lot of information which, if kept on your computer (see Tip 7a), can all be lost in a split second with a hard disc crash.
 
Best practice is to always have three different backup copies. Update those copies as often as you want to repeat your data entries. At a minimum, keep a copy on your computer, another on an external hard drive or flash drive, another on the Internet -- either on a site for family trees (such as Ancestry or FamilySearch) or on a file server (such as Google Drive). Some genealogists save a copy to a DVD disc and give it to a relative or friend to safeguard.
 
Ask yourself if you want to redo all the work you have done on your family tree!
[Located in Category: 7. Keeping your family tree]

Best practice is to write out state and country names rather than using the common two-letter abbreviation. Conversely, be careful interpreting abbreviations. For example, in the 1850 and 1860 censuses, Ia usually meant Indiana rather than Iowa; and Ontario, CA can mean the city in California or the province in Canada.
[Located in Category: 7. Keeping your family tree]

When you find word-filled documents such as wills and land transactions, it helps to transcribe them, most especially if they are in a foreign language or if the script is difficult to understand. Copying the document (by handwriting or typing) will greatly help the next time you need to refer to it. It also helps to focus on details that may be overlooked when first reading it.
[Located in Category: 7. Keeping your family tree]

Persevere.
 
Persevere.
 
Persevere.
 
One can never be finished with their family tree. It may be tempting at times to think you have found everything there is to find, but records are constantly being added to the digital databases online. Records are constantly being indexed in archives and depositories all over the world. Records are constantly being opened up for research. For example, the United States census, taken every ten years, is released to the public only after 72 years have passed.
 
Genealogists around the country are waiting expectantly for the 1950 US Census to be released on April 1, 2022. A whole new glimpse into our family will then be available.
 
Persevere.
[Located in Category: 8. Persevere]