Are you inspired to research your ancestry? If so you maybe wondering just how do I start my family history? With a mass of family heirlooms, stories, documents and all sorts of records that is available to you you may not know where to begin. Well read on and I will help you start your journey.
I touched upon this topic in my previous post explaining what is genealogy. I do though want to expand on this further so that you have more of an idea of where to begin and what is involved.
Well, the journey of finding out your family history begins with ten steps which I will explain here. There are also links provided for further posts covering the steps in more detail. So whatever step you are currently at please check out these further links for more information and help.
1. Start With Yourself
Do you have anything in your possession relating to your family history? This could be certificates, letters, documents, photographs and any family heirlooms. You may have them in a cupboard, in the attic, or even at the back of a drawer.
You probably have them though all this stuff all around your home.
Collect them all and put them in a place or room in the house where you will be doing your family history research. Having a central place where you can do your research will make it easier for you.
Once you have done this you can then ask if whether your relatives have anything to help you. Be prepared to make copies as they may want to keep their originals.
2. Ask Your Relatives
Your next step in exploring your family history is to interview your relatives about your ancestors. You will need to prepare a questionnaire for this step of your genealogy research.
Not only can you ask them about names, dates and places, but also information such as occupations, significant events, memories and stories that have been passed on through generations. Try to ask open-ended questions so that they can give you more details.
Don’t be afraid to visit your relatives again for more answers!
Later when new information arises during your research you may have to re-visit your relatives and ask them new questions. They may have forgotten something and so you can re-jog their memories with what you have found out.
You will though need to verify all of this data as memories can be faded, or misinformation could have been passed on through the generations. It is your job to check all that you have collected so far.
3. Write What You Have So Far
By this stage you have amassed quite an assortment of material that will be used for your family history research. To make sense of all of the names, dates and stories you can draw up family charts. You will then know who is who and what relation they are to you.
With a mass of information it can be quite overwhelming where to begin. Having a chart in front of you will help you make sense of it all. You will be able to see names and their connections to you.
From this step you will know what blanks you have. You may also decide which direction you will want to take next.
4. Concentrate On An Individual
You now have your family chart and want to further your fact finding, but what’s next? At this step you will want to focus your research on a particular ancestor. You may have blanks concerning your relation or a story that you are fascinated with and want to check out. Newspaper archives and records can help provide the answers to your questions.
It is important to focus your attention first on a particular ancestor before moving onto the next. Why? Well, if you do this then you may not return to your ancestor and so there will be holes in your research and it will not be complete.
You can come back to your tricky ancestor later with a new fresh pair of eyes.
You may though hit a brick wall with one ancestor. This is quite normal during genealogy research. Take note of this ancestor and research another. I probably sound like I am contradicting myself here, but you do not want to become frustrated and give up your research.
5. Search Online
You have made quite a lot of progress by this stage of your family history research. You have all sorts of documents and materials, charts, memories and stories. Searching online can throw up some quite unexpected leads.
It is quite possible that even plugging your ancestor’s name into Google may bring you some results. These can be from forums or online trees that people have put up about their ancestry.
They will probably though only touch upon your chosen ancestor, but they can help you immensely going further with your family history.
Try checking out genealogy search websites!
Other online sources can include FamilySearch which is a free website that includes births, deaths, marriages, and censuses, etc. You may also want to subscribe to the Ancestry site where you can find the same information, but also wills, probates, and even other member’s family trees.
6. Research Where Your Ancestors Lived
You can find a lot more information if you explore the time period and the location that your ancestor lived in. Google is always a good starting point. You can enter location and dates and see what comes up.
There may have been an important event in history that may have affected your ancestors lives.
Conducting this research may throw up new light on their lives and help you write their story in more detail. Newspapers from yesteryear are also being put online all the time, so it is also worth checking these out as well.
7. Visit Archives and Family History Society
From here you will be able to obtain certificates concerning your ancestors, such as birth, death and marriage. Electoral registers, business and residence addresses, passenger lists and even more records are also available.
The archives may also offer some help with researching your family history. This is usually done by appointment so you may want to call before you make your visit. You will need to plan your visit to the archives to get the most out of it.
Finding a local family history society may prove invaluable to as they may have details on the area where your ancestor lived.
8. Enter Your Collected Information
By now you will have gathered even more information on your ancestor than you did from the third step. You will want to enter what you have so far to make sense of it all. For this you can use a genealogy software program.
Genealogy Software Issues will need to be considered when chosing a computer program to enter your information. My Genealogy Software Overview post will also explain what you will need to consider before purchasing a software program to conduct your family history research.
Chronologically ordering events in your ancestors lives is the usual approach. This will help build up a story their lives from birth to death. Once you have done this you will then be able to plan your next step.
9. Visit Your Ancestors Area
More information can be learned by actually stepping outside and travelling to where your ancestors lived. You may want to visit where they lived address and also where they worked. In essence you can put yourself in their shoes and see the sights, and maybe sounds, that they experienced.
By doing so you can get a feel of the area and what it was like for them living in the time that they did. However, be prepared that these sites may now longer be standing. You can then add to their story with descriptions of these places.
This will make your story come alive with these descriptions. People reading your family story will start to visualizing what your writing and enjoy it more.
10. Repeat The Steps
By now you have probably learned all that you can from a particular ancestor of yours. You may though start to feel a little burnt out with all this research and want to take a break. That is quite understandable. Genealogy is supposed to be a fun activity that you and your family can do together.
If you do feel tired researching your family and it is giving you a headache then by all means stop researching. Come back to it when you have a clear head. By doing so you will be refocused and make good progress researching your family. I know because this is what I have done from time to time.
You don’t want to be burnt out and give up on all that hard work that you have done. The research that you have compiled can be passed down through the generations and preserved forever. You just need to pace yourself.
When you are feeling more relaxed then revisit step 4 and chose another relation to research. Practice what you have learned along the way, and use all of the strategies and techniques that you have honed since the first time around.
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