Thursday, August 27, 2015
You are not alone if an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? or Genealogy Roadshow got you thinking about your own family history. How can you get started on your search?
1. Gather information at home. The sources you have at home, or at the homes of your family members, may include family photographs, scrapbooks, letters, diaries, Bibles, obituaries, funeral cards, or birth, marriage, and death certificates. All of these are pieces of the puzzle of your family history. If you come up empty handed, reach out to relatives.
2. Talk to your family members. Ask your parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles about their childhoods, what they remember about their own parents and grandparents, and what family stories they may have been told. Some family stories are passed down for generations! Be sure to record your interview – many phones can do this – or take notes.
3. Record your information. Start with yourself and work back in time to fill in a family tree or pedigree chart with the names and dates that you already know. If you prefer not to work with paper and pencil, there are several computer software programs available.
4. Focus your research. Review your information and note where there might be gaps that need to be filled. What questions do you want to answer about your ancestors’ lives? In order to stay on track, focus on one individual, family, or surname at a time.
5. Search online. There are countless websites and databases that can help you find your ancestors, and while many are free, some require subscriptions. A world of information is at your fingertips, including ship passenger lists, census records, city directories, military records, historic newspapers, gravestones, photographs, and vital records.
6. Search offline. While more information is online every day, you may find that you need to turn to libraries, archives, courthouses, and historical societies as well. You may also choose to view records on microfilm at your local Family History Center. Eventually, you might decide to travel to see the places where your ancestors lived for yourself.
7. Organize your research. Whether you use paper files, computer software, or both, organize the information that you find and be sure to cite each source as precisely as possible. You will also want to keep a record of which sources you have searched.
8. Share! Don’t keep your hard work to yourself. Consider creating an online family tree, website, blog, or even a book or scrapbook to share with your family members in order to document the fascinating stories you have found. The next generation will thank you!
The Monrovia Public Library has a number of resources to assist you in your research. Check out some of our new titles on genealogy, including The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy, Advanced Genealogy Research Techniques, The Family Photo Detective, and How to Archive Family Keepsakes. For those with roots in Monrovia, ask at the Adult Services desk about viewing our city directories and historic newspapers. And of course, library card holders are welcome to use our computers to access FamilySearch.org and other free genealogy databases.