By Brandi M. Seals
How do I get started?
Researching your family's genealogy will either be really easy or fairly difficult. If someone has already researched it for you, you can easily tap into their information. If no one else has, then it is your job to piece together information until you can come up with a fairly accurate idea of your family's genealogy.
As you go along, expect to find mistakes. You might have great aunt Minnie but she is listed as Miriam on a census record. Do not be surprised when you unravel misconceptions that your whole family has. For example, my great grandmother went by the name of May. Her children knew her first name was May but then why is her grave inscribed for A. May Geiling? Because she apparently went by her middle name and now no one knows what her first name was. She is also said to have died while giving birth to one of my great uncles. She did not. She may have died giving birth but the baby must have died too because she died a full year after the uncle was born.
Do not get bogged down by the errors. Try to reason things out even if they are contrary to what you have been told in the past. As time passes our memories get worse, we confuse things and do not realize it. So although you may start by interviewing relatives about what they can remember, do not take their recollection as the absolute truth. It may be close but not quite right.
Once you have filled out as much of the family tree as possible, go online. Use search engines or genealogy websites to look up as much information as possible. Generally speaking, you will need the name of deceased relatives to use the genealogy websites. Anyone living will not be listed as name, only as Living followed by the last name.
Once you get on the trail of your genealogy you may be surprised that it does not go back very far or it could go on and on. Just because someone says the information is correct, does not make it so. You will often find conflicting information on the genealogy websites when you look at what other people have researched. Try to find additional information that will steer you towards what information is correct - like census records, marriage records or any other public record.
Can I get the information with out paying for it?
Yes, you can get lots of information for free. Start with your own family. Ask your grandparents or parents about the previous generation. Older people love talking about the past. You will get plenty of information which you can use.
For additional information, visit the Church of Latter Day Saints. They run a website full of genealogy information that you can access for free. You may get lucky and find your family on it, if not do not get disappointed. You can still see if you can find anything about them on Census Finder. Census Finder locates free census records for visitors.
Check with RootsWeb or other pay to use service but be aware that you can often time get some information for free. Generally family histories researched by others are free. They generally only charge for letting visitors view supporting documentation (like census records).
Why are census records important?
Census records offer us a glimpse into the past. While people's memories have faded and research may be inaccurate, the census records give you a peek into the past. Find out if your great great grandma could read. Find out what her husband did for a living or how many children they had living with them in 1900. You will also find out the names and ages of those children. Census records often include the country of origin, so you may be able to track down where your family emigrated from.
How do I keep track of all this information?
Create a spread sheet or document to house any information you have. You will want to note people's names, their birth date, death date, when they were married, who they were married to, the names of their children and when they were born. Of course you may also want to know where all these events took place so you can track where your family came from. You can also go online and search for a pedigree form. A pedigree form is used to keep track of genealogy and generally has a space for all the aforementioned information.