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How Do I Get Started?

Posted in Genealogy 101

Are you interested in learning about genealogy? There are lots of sites on the Internet that point the way.

  • is very comprehensive; it is designed to be a one-stop portal, like other sites.
  • USGenWeb is good if you’ve already started and need more information.
  • has an abundance of links, but if you’re a beginner it might be a bit overwhelming.
  • Cyndi’s List is a great site and well worth a visit.
  • is “the oldest free genealogy site.”

I became interested in genealogy when a photocopy of a descendant tree prepared for a family reunion was passed on to me by my grandparents. In fact, it was almost exactly like this one, but because it was prepared for a Cunningham family reunion, it included more desdendants. One of these days, I need to get more of my cousins on my own tree so they can use the information I’ve found to further their research. That was about 15 years ago. I think that’s the first time I had given thought to the fact that I was part of an extended family that stretched back into history. I wanted to know more about these people from whom I descend. I wanted to know their names, where they lived, what they did. So, I became an amateur genealogist.

At first, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t really know where to go for help. This was before the Internet, and I wasn’t really sure where to start. I found Tracing Your Ancestry Logbook at a bookstore. I was a student at University of Georgia, which has a great microfilm collection. I started with the desdendant chart I had. Once I had found those individuals on census records, I was stuck. What did I do next?

I floundered for a few years, not really knowing what to do. If I had it to do over again, I would follow this plan for compiling information:

  1. Fill out Family Group Sheets as completely as I knew.
  2. Send photocopies of my Family Group Sheets to individuals in my family who might be able to correct and add to them.
  3. Interview as many older members of my family as I could. Sadly, some of them have passed away since I started compiling family records — I will not have the chance to ask them about their families again.
  4. Take down all the information I can about individuals with the surname in which I am interested. I have had to make multiple trips to the library to take down information I could have compiled the first time I went if I had only been more thorough.
  5. I would make copies of all records I find and keep them in a binder. This includes information from books, historical records, online pedigrees or other genealogical reports.
  6. I would be more persistent about getting information from relatives. When relatives haven’t responded, I have most often let the matter drop. I should have made more of a pest of myself.
  7. I would plan my research trips. Sometimes, I went to the library on the spur of the moment, and I was not prepared for researching.
  8. I would be more judicious about what information from others’ research to include. I would make copies of anything that pertained to my family, but I would not create records or Family Group Sheets unless my information was based on solid sources.

One of the things I eventually did do right is get a software program. The first one I bought was Broderbund’s Family TreeMaker. It is a pretty good program. Essentially, it allows the user to create family group sheets and in turn, develop all types of reports. It also allows the user to create scrapbooks with image files. Admittedly, I did not have the 2005 version, which looks sleeker than the version I had, but I felt FTM was limited in that other types files could not be uploaded into scrapbooks. I also felt that the “notes” section was limited. However, it was easy to navigate.

I have recently purchased Family Tree Legends by Pearl Street Software. I am really happy with it. It seems to have all the same features as FTM, but uploading files to the Internet is easier, and many different types of files may be uploaded into scrapbooks. I also like the different options available for reports. I think the reports look nicer than those in FTM. It was also less expensive. It also has real time Internet backup. If you have ever lost a ton of data because your computer crashed, then you will grow to love this feature.

You don’t have to buy software in order to keep track of your research. After all, genealogists managed without it for a very long time; however, I would recommend it. Family Tree Legends has Internet backup of files, but I would still recommend keeping hard copies of Family Group Sheets and other reports. You might even purchase a logbook, as I did, which comes complete with forms you might use. If you prefer, you can download all you need to start here:

You need Adobe Acrobat Reader in order to view pdf files. Happy researching!

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One Comment

  1. Heather Smith
    Heather Smith

    Wow! I am so inspired by your blog. I found you by typing in some research questions about a cousins worksheet. I blog and am working with my family tree info at Ancestory and also maintain my own program – Roots Magic. I was wondering if you could answer a couple of questions for me…. Does FTL have the ability to attach scanned documents to each ancestor, ie: obituaries, etc. ?
    2nd, who hosts your blog? I have long wanted to link my ancestory tree to my blog on blogspot but haven’t been able to figure it out. Thanks, you are an inspiration.

    July 5, 2007

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