1. Gather what you already know about your family.
Scour your basement, attic and closets (and those of your family members) and collect family records, old photos, letters, diaries, photocopies from family Bibles, even newspaper clippings. E-mail far-flung relatives to ask whether they have records that may be of help for your genealogy quest.
2. Talk to your relatives.
Ask your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles about their memories. Don’t ask just about facts and dates—get the stories of their growing up and of the ancestors they remember. Try to phrase questions with “why,” “how” and “what.”
3. Put it on paper.
Write down what you know so you can figure out what you don’t know yet.
4. Focus your search.
What are the blanks in your family tree? Don’t try to fill them in all at once—focus on someone from the most recent generation where your chart is missing information. Try to answer that “mystery” first, then work backward in time.
5. Use Public Records
To start your genealogy search you can use public records to find your family members. For access you can go to the National Archives or view their online resources below.
- Census Records
- Military Records
- Immigration Records (Ship Passenger Lists)
- Naturalization Records
- Land Records
6. Search the Internet
The Internet is a terrific place to find leads and share information—but don’t expect to “find your whole family tree” online. You can search records on the FamilySearch.org website for free. Ancestry.com subscribers can search that site from home, or see if your local library offers Ancestry Library Edition for free on its computers. There are many other resources on our side menu you can use as well.
7. Discover your local Family Search Center
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more than 4,000 Family Search Centers where anyone can tap the world’s largest collection of genealogical information. Using your local center, you can borrow microfilm of records such as the birth, marriage or death certificates of your ancestors. More than 2 million rolls of microfilmed records from all over the world are available. Compare the information in these sources with what you already know, fill in the blanks in your family tree, and look for clues to more answers to the puzzles of your past.
8. Organize your new information.
Enter your findings in family tree software programs or on paper charts (make sure you note your sources). File photocopies and notes by family, geography or source so you can refer to them again. Decide what you want to focus on next.
9. Plan your next step.