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Getting Started

Tips for Getting Started

Researching one’s family tree is one of the fasting growing hobbies in America: it is estimated that more than 19 million people are currently searching for their ancestors! The good news for them and for any of you considering such a search is that the availability of new information in print and online is helping to make the process both faster and easier.

Before You Begin

Be sure you have all the proper charts and forms to use for organizing your research. The first would be a Pedigree or Ancestor Chart that has spaces for you, your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on. Another would be a Family Group Sheet to keep track of family members. A Research Log is also helpful for keeping track of books and websites that have been searched. These and other charts are available from Ancestry.com and can be downloaded and printed for free. It is also possible to create a family tree online, also through Ancestry.com.

Start Close to Home

My advice to beginners is to start close to home. That is, gather all of the information that you can from close family members, more distant relatives, and family friends. Talk to the eldest members of your family first. Search your home or those of your relatives for vital records (births, marriages, deaths), family Bibles, photographs, diaries, religious records, genealogies, and obituaries. These sources may provide very valuable and helpful information.

Also for beginners, I often recommend enrolling in a basic genealogy class because the research process must be a very organized one. It helps to understand right at the beginning what will be involved and how to organize your records and other materials. You can find such classes sponsored by local historical societies, libraries, and universities, or even online

Always Have a Plan

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced researcher, I always recommend establishing a research plan. Genealogical "how-to" books provide information on research methodology and the many resources available for tracing your family’s roots. The Researchers Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd edition, by Val D. Greenwood (Genealogical Pub. Co., 2000) [R 929.1 GREENWOOD] and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Genealogy, 2nd edition by Christine Rose (Alpha Books, 1997) [929.1 ROSE] are excellent guides. Unpuzzling Your Past Workbook, by Emily Anne Croom (Betterway Books., 2001) [929.1 CROOM] contains samples of the essential charts and letters you will need for contacting genealogists and exploring other sources. 

There are also some valuable research aids available for the more advanced researcher. Val Greenwood’s book mentioned above is helpful, as is The Source: a Guidebook of American Genealogy,edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking (Ancestry, 1997) [R 929.1 SOURCE]. Intended as a handbook and a guide to selecting, locating, and using appropriate primary and secondary sources, The Source also functions as an instructional tool for novice genealogists and a refresher course for experienced researchers. Whether currently researching their family or planning to resume a project, researchers should periodically review all previously gathered information and genealogical forms. This helps both to track progress and identify missing or updated information.

Good Recordkeeping Helps

Again, whether you are a beginner or an advanced researcher, always remember to record all gathered genealogical data on the appropriate charts (see ‘Before You Begin’ above). Care should be taken to ensure that sources are properly cited. And a record of all of the sources researched and the result of these searches should be recorded on a project-tracking calendar.

It’s also helpful—and often inspirational—to connect with others who are conducting similar types of research. Genealogical roundtables offer a source of both information and networking with area individuals who are also researching their family history. Local roundtables are sponsored by the Bridgeport Public Library, Fairfield Museum and History Center, the Fairfield Senior Center, and Pequot Library.