02_How to Start your Family History Research


By Doris Bateman

This course is designed for those beginning their family history journey.  We will discuss an organized approach to finding information, including finding records in your own home, interviewing family members, and organizing the information you find into a detective kit.  We will explore how to find the online records and physical records that will help you find your family, use a research log, and record and evaluate your findings and sources.   Use an organized approach to research:  
  1. Identify what you know
  2. Decide what you want to learn
  3. Select the records to search
  4. Obtain and search the records
  5. Record the information you have found
  6. Evaluate and use your findings
1. Identify What You Know:         Gather Information about your family
  A:  find and organize the family records you have in your own home.  You might find:  
  • Family group records, pedigree charts, and Books of Remembrance
  • Birth, marriage, and death certificates
  • Family Bibles and church record certificates
  • Family histories, journals, diaries, and letters
  • Obituaries, funeral programs, photos
  **Initial organizing can be as simple as putting everything you find in a cardboard box, then sorting by individual or family into file folders or binders with tabs. B:  Interview family members   Family Members are a priceless resource.  Do not procrastinate doing this step, we never know how long their memories might be available to us!   It is best to begin by asking open ended questions that lead them to stories and memories, and save the data questions, such as “When and where were you born” to the end of the interview, as those type of questions shut off the flow of memories.  Chapter 5 of “A Members Guide to Temple and Family History Work” has excellent tips on how to do this, and a good list of questions in Appendix B, p. 43.  It is free at LDS distribution center.   C:  Check newFamilySearch/ FamilySearch Family Tree plus other online databases.   See what information is there on your family.  Classes on how to use them and individual help are available at the Ogden Family History Center.  Realize that the info there is only as good as the researcher.  If good sources are not attached, the information needs to be verified by looking at records.    
2.  Decide what you want to learn:         Prayerfully choose one person or family line to research
  A:  If you have only a name:  
  • Go back 1-2 generations or until you have good information, and start there.
  • Find records that verify your info.
  Write down everything you know about your beginning ancestor:  
  • As you write, you will find that you get ideas that would never come otherwise.
  • This is the beginning of a Research Report
  • Write down the things you need to find out.
  B:  If you have a lot of info:  
  • Summarize the most important dates and places, and your sources of information.
  • Call it your “Key Information Sheet.”  On this Key Information Sheet:
  • *Write down* what info you need to find
  • This is called your Research Problem.
  • Also write any questions that have arisen in your mind.
3.  Select the Record to Search:    Organize your research efforts    
  Use the Record Selection Table on page 45 of The Members’ Guide.  
  • List the records you want to search on a research log.
  Organize your detective kit:   I use a floppy 1” binder for a family line in a certain geographic area.  Then I always have the important information I need at my fingertips.  If you must put your research aside for while, then you will know exactly where to start searching again.   Tab 1:
  • Key Information sheet
  • Printed copy of the pedigree
  • Printed copy of the family group sheets that pertain to the info I need to find
  • The Research Report
  Tab 2
  • Your research log.  Or make an expanded research log by creating one page for each book or record you plan to search by copying and printing:
  • From an online card catalog, copy and paste the bibliographic info into word and print that as the one page for each record.
  • Make notes on it regarding the success (or failure) of your search. Add the date of your search.
  Tab 3:
  • Maps of the area (new & old maps can be found online or at the FHL) & a description of the area.  Find out and record where the records for that area are held.  For England, go to http://maps.familysearch.org/
  • Knowing where the government and religious boundaries are will help you find where the records are you need to search.  Knowing what towns, counties, and parishes lie nearby will help you decide if a record you find is likely to be your ancestor.  Also, understanding what historical events may have affected your ancestor’s life will lead you to available records.
4.  Obtain and search records:        
  Search for the records online, and make a copy/and  or digital image of everything you find.:  
  • Search the census.
  • It is free at FamilySearch.org
  • Also free at Ancestry.com at the Ogden Family History Center.
  ~  Begin with the most recent census the person might be in.  If you can’t find them, search for another family member’s nameOr think of how the name might have been interpreted by an indexer reading poor handwriting.   
  • Search for vital (government) records at Family Search.org and Ancestry.com
  • Google  for historical online records by googling the name, the location, and ‘~genealogy.’  e.g.:
“Elias Webster Dorset ~Genealogy
  • Join a mailing list or message board.  (Rootsweb.com)
  When needed, also search books, microfilms, county records, that are not on the Internet  
5.  Record the Information you have found:         See chapter 4 of the Member’s Guide
  Record the info from the records you find (Documentation):
  • You could do this by hand, but there are free versions of some very fine programs that will save you time, money, and effort in the long run.
  • The ones that sync with FamilySearch are:
  • Roots Magic,
  • Legacy Family Tree, and
  • Ancestral Quest.
  • Record full names as they exist in the record where you found them.
  • Record the city, county, state, and country in full (do not abbreviate)
  • Record the full date in this format:  10 April 1901.
  Record where you got the info (Sources):  
  • Record where you found each piece of information.
  • Attach digital copies of records to the event in your family history software.
  • If the information is not in newFamilySearch/Family Tree, record it there.
  • If you are LDS, and the ordinances haven’t been done, you get to do them.
6.  Evaluate and use your findings:        
  • Each piece of information you find can give you clues as to where to look for further information.
  • Search for other sources on the Internet and in books, microfilms, and government records.
  • Add this info to your records and newFamilySearch.
  • Certain staff members at the Ogden Family History Center are experts in doing research in various areas and countries.  Come in and ask for help.
  • When you run into a brick wall, choose another ancestor and begin the cycle again.