Family History 101 – 5 Basics You Need To Master

I want to share with you 5 basics that you need to master in order to get the most out of your genealogy hobby. This family history 101 article will cover these basic tasks that any genealogist should know.

Family History 101

Over time as you continue to trace your family history you will learn to master these tasks.

Please though do not stress about these at the moment. They will soon become second nature to you as your family tree grows.

Get Back to The Basics!

I understand that you may prefer to watch a video instead about what genealogy is all about and what the basics are for this exciting hobby.

That is why I have included this 30 minute video presented by Crista Cowan from Ancestry.

Credit:   Ancestry

In the video Crista talks about working with what you know and stepping back one generation at a time.

She also discusses how to keep track of what you have discovered and also learning as you progress on your family history journey.

Of course I do touch upon some of what Crista says in this guide, as well as other things.

So, once you have read the video then please read on!

Basics covered in this post:

  1. Collect and Preserve Your Family History
  2. Interview Your Relatives
  3. Organize Your Research
  4. Backup Your Research
  5. Cite Your Sources

Express Your Thoughts Below

Express Your Thoughts Below!

I would love to hear from you.

1. Collect and Preserve Your Family History

The first step to genealogy is to collect information that will help you create and build your family tree. You will need to find information about your ancestors from a number of different sources.

Sources of Information

These can range from certificates and documents hiding away in your home to database collections on genealogy websites such as Ancestry.

There is a wide range of information that we can find around our homes.

My What Sources of Information At Home Can You Find article discusses just what can you find around our homes.

The advantage of this source is that it is completely FREE!

You just have to look for it.

What resources are there?

The Internet is also a great resource of information that we can use to trace our ancestry. Genealogy Search Websites such as Ancestry, FindMyPast and MyHeritage contain a plethora of records about our ancestors.

These sites will contain Census records, voters list, trade directories, electoral registers, and more.

We can also find information through books, visiting local libraries and archives, cemeteries and the area in which our ancestors lived.

The great thing that I have learned about genealogy is that new information is always being added.

Sometimes though we do need to be patient. So if you cannot find what you are looking for then you can either take a step back and research another branch.

When you come back then you might be surprised as to what may be available.

Preserving our family history is also important!

An important aspect to genealogy is preserving the information that we have found.

Through researching my family tree I have learned to write up my ancestry and stories so that it can be passed down to generations to come.

It is important to me and many others who are researching our past that what we find is recorded and is passed on.

2. Interview Your Relatives

One source of information that the family historian can utilize is by collecting information, stories, certificates, records and whatever else that they can share with us.

Ask Our Relatives For Help

This is a free method that can be used to build our family tree. Although out of common courtesy you may want to offer something in return.

You may be interested to check out a helpful post on Ancestry 101 that gives additional tips for interviewing your relatives.

Get ready for your interview!

To begin with you will need to decide what kind of interview that you will conduct. This could be telephone, by letter, or email, or the best would be in person.

You will need to put the person at ease that you are interviewing. This is particularly true if you are recording the interview.

You could record the interview by either using a tape recorder or video camera. You could though simply use pen and paper.

Bringing items to the interview can also help you. You could bring photographs that could trigger a memory for your relative.

You may also want to bring with old family heirlooms like medals, coins or even letters.

Remember though that when you do start the interview that you try to keep to the order of questions that you have in front of you.

It’s OK if you digress slightly. If you do feel like you will digress too much then you could come back to that topic in another interview.

Top 20 Family History Interview Questions

3. Organize Your Research

An important aspect that is part of family history is organizing your research. There is no point collecting all that information if you do not store it properly.

Organize Your Genealogy

Poor storage methods will mean that you will not be able to efficiently access any of your research.

Besides retrieving your research there are other reasons as to why you should organize your files:

1. You will know what details are missing from your research if your records are in order.

For example, you may have a birth and marriage record but not a death. If you can find details quick and easily then you will see what is missing.

2. You can share your research. Part of ancestry research is collaborating with other family members. If your records are ordered then your relatives are only free one branch of your history then you can share with them that branch.

There is no point giving them mounds of information and letting them find what they are after.

3. You will be able to know where you left off even if you leave your research for some time and come back to it later.

Can imagine coming back to your research and having to figure out just exactly what you have done so far.

One way that I have organized my research is to divide my family into branches. So, I will have one folder on my computer just for one branch.

In that folder I will have census records, certificates, pictures and other types of records.

Check Out Organizing Genealogy Research Collection Now!

4. Backup Your Research

Backing up your research is an obvious part when it comes to family history. Obviously you do not want to spend a considerable amount of time on your ancestry only for your computer to crash.

Backup Files

You don’t want to lose everything!

What a heartbreaking situation that would be?

Can you imagine painstakingly putting in all that information again?

You may have just lost research regarding one family member or group. Or it could be even just one branch.

If you’re really unlucky it could be your whole family tree.

For this reason it is not only best to backup your files on another device but maybe a third as well.

My own research is not only stored in two different areas on my computer, but also on a flash drive and an external drive as well. I maybe over precautious but I fear what information that I will lose.

Backup your files research on:

  • Other areas on your computer
  • Flash Drives
  • External Drives
  • Cloud services

If you have ever lost your work, for whatever reason, then you will need to salvage what you have lost. I have been in that situation before and it is horrible.

I knew though where I needed to go to regain what I had lost though. But the time I lost finding it all and typing it in all again could have been used for further research instead.

5. Cite Your Sources

It can be quite exciting to find your ancestors’ records and documents through various sources. Immediately once you have found these you just want to put them into your genealogy program.

Documents and Letters


However, when doing this you may accidentally forget to cite these sources.

Citing your sources is just as important as the other tasks. This is a task that must become second nature to you when you are researching your family history.

Please be assured though that it will over time.

Reasons to cite your sources:

  • Verifying that the information that we have found is correct. This is important as you do not want to be adding to your tree every piece of evidence that you come across. I have seen many members trees on Ancestry that contain mistakes.
  • Help future researchers. If you show people where you have found the records then other people will be able to check those sources for themselves. They may do this to continue researching a particular branch for example.
  • Your research will look more credible. Following on from the previous point you want to show that you have done your research. This will be evident if you have taken the time to cite your sources. As a result of this then it will look more credible.
  • Your research will be more organized. This is similar to the second point. By citing your sources you will know where you have checked and therefore know what step to take next.

My Final Thoughts

As I mentioned at the start of this article these tasks will become second nature to you as you journey through your family history.

I did not write this article to scare you. Merely to bring attention to the tasks that you will need to complete as you build your family tree.

You will master these as you go along and in time you will produce a family history that you will be proud of.

Also, you will create a legacy for generations to come.

Your descendants will be able to pick up where you left off and trace out your ancestry further.

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this family history 101 article and what the five basics of this hobby that you need to master. If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.

Please share with family and friends if you think this post will help others by using the social media buttons below.


  1. sandra January 29, 2017
    • Owain January 29, 2017
  2. Hans Kristian January 26, 2017
    • Owain January 26, 2017
    • Owain January 24, 2017
  3. Pierre-Alexandre Cote January 22, 2017
    • Owain January 22, 2017
  4. Furkan January 21, 2017
    • Owain January 22, 2017
  5. David January 21, 2017
    • Owain January 21, 2017
  6. Kevin McNamara January 21, 2017
    • Owain January 21, 2017
  7. Francis Donaghy January 21, 2017
    • Owain January 21, 2017

Add Comment

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies and tracking. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this. For more information, I refer you to GDPR requirements cookie and tracking law When you don't want cookies placed then you are free to leave this website. DECLINE COOKIES