Get Started with Genealogy – Where to begin?

To begin can be a very daunting task, one that can cause a bit of anxiety but does not fear; by the end of this article, I hope to have calmed your nerves. Let us begin by understanding just what is genealogy.

The dictionary defines Genealogy as:

  1. Study of families’ history: The study of the history of families and the line of descent from their ancestors.
  2. Family History: A pedigree line of a lineage can be traced directly from an ancestor or earlier form, especially that of a specific person or family.
  3. Family Tree: A chart or table that shows the line of descent from an ancestor or more previous way, especially that of a particular person or family

As you can see, it is the history of our families and our descendants, pedigree, ancestors, forebears, lineage (as noted in English Thesaurus).

Genealogy is a topic we all have in common; just the mention of our family history causes us all to ponder. We all want to know more than is already known about our immediate family.

Research is not a daunting task, just a time-consuming task that will bring such joy and satisfaction that it is hard to put down once started. So the question is raised where to begin?

Identify – What you known about the Living

With the above title, you are now thinking, ” If that’s it, l can do this” well, yes, you can, one step at a time. Just remember this is a process and full of rewards. Here are some basic principles to follow.

Before we begin, keep these principles in mind:

  • Start with what you know.
  • Work from the known to the unknown.
  • You are working with families, not just pedigree’s.
  • Enter full names (enter nicknames in brackets).
  • Always record women using the maiden surname.
  • List children in chronological order.
  • Record places from smallest to largest.
  • Do not use abbreviations for names or places.
  • Use names, not numbers, for months.
  • Record years using four digits.

First, let’s begin, write down what you already knew about the living:

  • Your name and birth (include a place of birth).
  • Your parent’s names and births.
  • Your spouse’s name and birth.
  • Your spouse’s parent’s names and births.
  • Your children’s names and births.
  • Your brother’s and sister’s names and births.
  • Grandparents.

Start with a notebook, use a page or two for each person (this notebook will be used to transfer information to Family group sheets or Pedigree Chart, etc.). We are not after perfection; that will come later. You might have to ask a few questions if not sure about all the information you are trying to gather; this is part of the fun stuff communicating with the living. This conversation could learn to more information than you had intended to collect; if so, write it down; it can be saved to use later.

Now that wasn’t too bad, to get started with genealogy research is not all that difficult; as I alluded to before, it only takes time and patience.

Investigate-What do we know?

Now the real work begins. We need to identify now what family members have known about our deceased relatives.

Talking about the deceased could be a sensitive topic if a family member was recently deceased (so I am sure I don’t need to advise how to proceed).

I have always enjoyed this part of the search, talking with parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. I enjoy listening to their stories from their childhood about Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and so forth and, in turn, getting to known relatives that I have never met. Knowing their name, when, and where they were born takes on a personal attachment, making the whole journey more exciting.

Set-a-side some time to visit each family member, ask questions about what they remember about different family members, and listen to all the stories. If they are willing, make a recording of the conversation. You could take on the role of researcher. Make notes of the interview, noting in particular names and births as correct as possible. (finding sources will correct this information later) Be sure in your notes record what information needs to be verified. Ask lots of question to keep the conversation going, be patient as the conversation could get on a roll that doesn’t seem to end. (voiced from experience but enjoyed every minute) Enjoy the ride and relish every moment spent with your loved ones.

Gather – What Sources can be collected

Now is the time to start verifying and finding missing information. If you already knew names that you might have received after talking to living relatives, continue with a list of names and births as you did prior. It is time to find out about the family members that you only have the first name. Or even a nickname, such as “Grandpa John, Uncle Ned, or Auntie B.” Maybe that is the only name your parents or grandparents knew them by; perhaps the only birth information they have is the month. We could go on with the missing information; that is why we need to proceed to the next step to find the real data that is missing.

Getting Started With Genealogy - Where to Begin|Old Photos in Wood Box

Gathering Family Sources:

  • Birth Certificates
  • Albums
  • Pictures
  • Letters
  • Scrapbooks
  • Bibles
  • Baptism records
  • Cemetery records
  • Christenings
  • Citizenship records
  • Journals
  • Obituaries
  • Diaries
  • Funeral programs
  • Family records

The above list could go on and on, but, you get the idea.

There are many areas in your home or that of your parents or grandparents where documents are stored. They could be in shoe boxes, plastic or cardboard storage containers, large Kraft envelopes.

Once you discover each document add the information you glean from it to the list; you have started following the same pattern as above. Then add any missing information you need for a particular relative; also, add any new names not mentioned in your family conversation. If there is more information than the basic, make notes on your sheet listing the document. And any additional information about the relative, if it is a letter, biography, or like with lots of data, could research later.

Sort & Separate – What was gathered and collected

Now you have all these documents, pictures, books, etc., what do you do with them?

If time permits, as you are gleaming all that excellent information from each source, sort them into two separate boxes. Cardboard boxes work great at this point, manila envelopes, etc. (more sorting can come later). If you are dividing your Mother’s lineage, sort one by Paternal (Grandfather) line and second as Maternal (Grandmother) line, continue this process with each line or surname.

Only the beginning

There is much to learn about genealogy; I hope you have gained from the information in this article. There is so much more to discuss, and I am looking forward to yours and my journey. You could be wondering why I suggest using a pen or pencil and paper instead of computerizing. With the information you just collected, it’s good to start with the basics then work our way towards genealogy programs. If you are a novice or expert and have a software program you use that is “awesome,” don’t forget to print hard paper copies of your information. We will discuss in more detail later how to properly store the documents and organize your files.

I hope you have found this article informative and the boost you needed to ” get started.”

Have you found a treasure trove of family keepsakes that have helped in your genealogy research?  If so, I would love to hear about what you have uncovered and how it has benefited your research efforts. Please leave them in the comment section below.

Kindest Regards


4 thoughts on “Get Started with Genealogy – Where to begin?”

  1. Hi Rose

    It is important to know where you have come from, as your family lineage will tell you this information. I think everybody what to know which do they think they are, but it seems a lot of work, sometimes for little reward. 

    This is why registry offices are useful, especially nowadays where birth, marriage and death certificates can be obtained easily. This can be expensive. I find that if you family is base in one country then it is easier to trace than if your family comes all over the world, where record keeping can be  lacking and records can be destroyed.

    Thank you for this interesting article.


    • Hello Antonio, Thank you for the interest and taking the time to comment on the topic. Yes, everyone has an interest to know where they came from, and it gives us such satisfaction when we make those discoveries.

      Now days with all the indexing that is being done by volunteers, there are a lot of source documents available for our viewing, and many waiting to be indexed. Several Websites make the records available to the public, they provide an awesome service, with billions of records. 

      The other wonderful tool is families from all over the world, have made their family trees available for the public viewing, through these same search websites. 

      Please, let me know if I can be of assistance, when you decide to begin your search.

      Kindest Regards


  2. Researching your ancestry is a fascinating topic. I have tried to do this before, but my search dried up leaving one set of my ancestors on the Essex coast (I am in the UK), and I can only assume that they arrived there from Europe. I wondered if you had any ideas as to how to investigate further there?

    You have great ideas on how to begin your research, which would be very useful to anyone starting out. Thank you so much for your great post.

    Chrissie 🙂

    • Hello Chrissie, 

      You are correct, genealogy research is fascinating and very rewarding. It is time consuming, but when you do find an ancestor very rewarding. Sorry to hear your experience had been difficult. 

      Most genealogy websites have records from all over the world like,,,, all have records from all over the world and they share most of those records with each other. 

      I am not sure where you search before, but might I suggest you start with they specialize in British and Iris records. Their headquarters are in London UK. They are unique in that they have access to the more difficult records to find. headquarters are in Paris, France. My Heritage headquarters are in Or Yehuda, Israel and have offices in the US. 

      Hope this helps with your desire to find those missing ancestors. 

      Let me know if I can be of assistance.

      Kindest Regards


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