Do you want to start researching your family history but aren’t sure how to do it? This article, the first in a series, will help you get started by explaining the basic information you’ll need to locate and record for each relative.
When starting genealogy research, always begin with yourself and work backwards. Initially, you’ll need to obtain the following basic data for each person you add to your genealogy file: name, dates and places of birth, marriage, and death, place of burial, their parents’ names, spouse’s name, and children’s names. You can add additional facts for each person – but more about that in another post.
Record full names, if possible. Some families use the same first name for multiple individuals but use different middle names. In this situation, a full name can identify a specific person and lessen confusion.
For example, a number of males in my Smith family were given the first name Johann. Trying to identify and keep straight multiple Johann Smiths, especially when they lived near each other, is maddening if not impossible. Fortunately, each of these Johann Smiths had different middle names which made it easier to distinguish between them: Johann Adam, Johann Anthony, Johann Nicholas, and Johann Stephan.
Birth, Marriage, and Death Information
When recording births, marriages, and deaths, list the date and the location where the events occurred.
While there’s no right or wrong way to record the locations where life events occurred, I prefer to be thorough and include as much information as possible. I always include the names of the city, township, county, and state. If it’s pertinent, I’ll also include the name of a facility and a street. Recording insufficient information can often make it necessary to go back and find the information a second time. And that’s not fun.
Example: Born February 1, 1990 at Chartreuse Hospital, Emerald Street, Lime Township, Greenburg, Pennsylvania.
City, Township, and County Names Sometimes Changed
Over time, some cities, townships, and counties changed their names. Let’s say your relative was born in Smithville, but later, the town’s name changed to Charlestown. How do you record this? I would list it this way: born in Smithville (now Charlestown), Center County, Ohio. Do the same for changes in township and county names.
Record the names and locations of cemeteries where relatives are buried. Sometimes a person’s information is so difficult to find that the only recourse is to visit or contact the cemetery where they’re buried. There are times when gravestone inscriptions may provide the only existing information for a person. Most cemeteries have burial records which will prove helpful when gravestones are illegible or missing or when you don’t know the location of a grave.
Recording Your Information
Before collecting information, you’ll need to decide how to record it. Unless you already have a lot of information, a spiral-ring notebook and file folder will get you started. Record your information in the notebook and store loose papers in the folder. Once you have a lot of information, you can purchase a genealogy software program for your computer. I’ll discuss software in a future article.
Are you ready to get started?
Don’t let fear stop you from learning about your family’s history. When I began tracing my family history twenty-six years ago, I knew nothing about genealogy. But along the way, I bumped into people who knew how to research and they graciously taught me. I’ve now researched over 10,000 people and compiled a number of family genealogy books. I’ve also had the time of my life meeting distant relatives and traveling to areas where family members once lived. If I can do this, you can, too.
I know getting started can be a little overwhelming, so I’ve made a simple form that you can download and use to record the basic information discussed in this article. To download this free form, click this link: Genealogy – Individual Form
If you have any questions about getting started, please leave them in a comment and I’ll answer them.Don't let fear stop you from learning about your family's history. An adventure may await you! Click To Tweet
Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter loves using her training in education, research, writing, and speaking to teach and inspire others about a time in America that was anything but boring. A member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Cynthia believes that history should be alive and personal.
All written content and photographs ©2010-2016 Cynthia Howerter and are not to be used without prior written authorization.