How Do I Start My Family History?

mazeI’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves this question, way back when we started … and have heard many others ask the “How do I start my family history?” or “Where do I start?” questions along the way.

Having worked in the genealogy industry for many years, it is a question I have been asked many times. And I feel that anyone who gets asked this question should be honoured, as they are then potentially helping this person get started on the journey of discovering their family tree. One key thing I have found is to keep it simple, so as to not overwhelm and put them off.

So I wanted to share with you my suggestions for first-time-researchers.

1. a pedigree chart and family group sheet
2. a couple of key genealogy websites
3. and I suggest they buy a copy of “Where Do I Start?” by Shauna Hicks

So going each of these steps in a little more detail … firstly I introduce the potential-new-researcher to what a pedigree chart and family group chart are, and show them how to fill them in starting from themself  and working backwards, and explain how they need to fill in as much information as they know before asking other family members to see if they can fill in any gaps. For some great genealogy and family tree forms that you can download for free, checkout both Family Tree Magazine, and Misbach.

Together with this I tell them about looking for sources around the home, and explain to them the types of things to look for. To get an idea of the types of records you might find at home, here’s a checklist of 77 things to look for.

While everyone’s research varies from person-to-person, from country-to-country, two websites that I say to everyone that they should use and bookmark are Cyndi’s List, and FamilySearch, as both cover worldwide resources, and they are free. Because both of these websites are vast in content it is easy to be overwhelmed, and get lost on them. So I show the potential-new-researcher how to use them, the various ways of finding what you need, and navitating around.

UTP0010The third thing on my beginners’ list is Shauna Hicks’ book “Where Do I Start?“. It certainly can be overwhelming beginning your family history, but Shauna who is well-known throughout the genealogy community in Australia and New Zealand has broken down the beginning steps into 10 weeks, focussing on a different aspect each week. These steps allow the potential-new-researcher to work through things in a orderly fashion.

This beginner’s guide is written for those researching their Australian and New Zealand roots, but the concepts would apply to researchers worldwide.

To give you an idea of what is covered, here’s the chapter listing from the book:
Week 1 Look for home sources and stay tuned
Week 2 Build strong foundations – certificates, history and geography
Week 3 Has your family been researched by othrs?
Week 4 Flesh out the family using archives
Week 5 Flesh out the family using libraries
Week 6 Get help from genealogy and family history societies
Week 7 Discover more family stories
Week 8 Use social media to discover more relatives
Week 9 Write your family stories and learn more
Week 10 Overseas research

Sound good? It’s available in both printed book form, and as an ebook download.

While I’m sure many others have different ideas on what should be taught to a first-timer, this is simply my list that I wanted to share with you.

3 thoughts on “How Do I Start My Family History?

  1. Bonny Bagnall says:

    The easiest way is to start from yourself, you need your own full birth certificate this will have your name your parents name, when and where they were married. Your Fathers occupation then you go to your Mother and Fathers birth certificate which will give their names. When and where they were married then go to your Grandparents death certificate and so on

  2. Shauna Hicks says:

    Thanks Alona for mentioning my new book. I hope people find it helpful.

  3. Hi Alona, for a beginner one of the things I would do is concurrently start or update computer skills for anyone that is not on top of this. It would be ashamed to do all the steps Shauna writes about to be left with a jumble of unfiled notes. Fran

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