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Posted on October 13, 2015 at 6:00 am
You’re about to embark on an exciting journey! Learning about your family history and developing skills to do genealogical research can be the beginning of a lifelong hobby and passion. Here are ten tips to get started:
You’re going to be gathering a lot of information, especially for Steps 2 through 6. RootsMagic is a good quality software program that’s easy to use and will help keep you organized; there’s even a freebie version called RootsMagic Essentials.
Use software like RootsMagic to start recording what you already know about your family, starting with yourself. Add information about your parents, siblings, spouse, and children, then move on to grandparents, aunts, uncles, grandkids, and in-laws. Don’t just add the facts; write their stories in the notes sections.
By this time, you’ll be aware that you need more answers to questions about your family history. It’s time to make some calls or send some emails to family members. Better yet, visit your oldest relatives and “interview” them. It doesn’t have to be formal. Get them to help you fill in the blanks on your family tree or clarify vague information. Dig out that old photo album and have them identify unlabeled pictures and reminisce (write down those memories!).
Everything is not on the Internet. That being said, it’s a good place to start. I recommend the Vital Records Research Guide, which lists where birth, marriage, and death records are located online for each state. Don’t forget that the Spokane County Library District offers Ancestry Library Edition (only available in-library) and HeritageQuest, both with thousands of free online records!
As you do Steps 2 through 4, be sure to write down exactly where you found your information. Did Aunt Minnie tell you that story? Did you find information in an old marriage certificate in your family papers? Was it in a book or on a website? RootsMagic has a nice citation generator built in, so you can just fill in the blanks to produce quality footnotes or a bibliography. However you choose to cite, make sure you give plenty of details so you can always easily locate the information again later. This will give you leverage for Step 6.
This is a skill that takes practice and time to do well, but even beginners can do it. Sooner or later, you’ll find conflicting information between your sources and you’ll need to determine which is likely to be correct. An excellent summary can be found at the Board for Certification of Genealogists’ website.
You’ve probably gathered that there are a number of skills to hone and a great deal to learn about records and history. Genealogy books and magazines are a wonderful place to start. The Spokane County Library District has a number of helpful genealogy books in the 929.1 section. I highly recommend The Everything Family Tree Book: Research and Preserve Your Family History by Kimberly Powell. Don’t forget magazines! Family Tree Magazine is a favorite of mine, with tips and articles for every level of researcher.
There are a number of genealogy webinars, free and for a fee, which cover every genealogy topic you can imagine. Check out a list of upcoming ones at blog.geneawebinars.com. Don’t forget about local classes, too. Learn how to utilize Ancestry’s Library Edition and HeritageQuest from yours truly on October 29 and November 5, respectively, at the North Spokane Library. Register today!
The Eastern Washington Genealogical Society meets the first Saturday of most months, September through June, and their general meetings are free and open to the public. Meet a group of friendly people who love to research, won’t roll their eyes when you tell your family history stories, and can help you find the many offline records available in their free-to-access library collection. You don’t have to have ancestors from Eastern Washington to benefit from their knowledge and resources.
While you may have started digging into your family history to satisfy your curiosity, prove a family legend, or answer puzzling questions, it doesn’t end there. Genealogy research is no good unless it is shared. You can create books, photo albums, or calendars at MyCanvas; start a blog to share your family stories and photos at www.blogger.com; or organize a family reunion. There are tons of sites and software you can use to organize, plan, and prepare. I recommend exploring the genealogy resources on Cyndi’s List, but be sure to give yourself plenty of time—there are over 333,000 links!
I hope these tips motivate you to get started in researching your family tree. If you have any questions or comments, please list them in the comments section below. Happy hunting!
Professional genealogist Miriam Robbins has been tracing her ancestors since 1987. She is an active member of several genealogical societies and an award-winning “geneablogger.”
Interested in discovering your own family’s story? Miriam is teaching two genealogy classes at the library. Register today!