Opinion

Start research a step at a time

Are you interested in learning about your genealogy but leery you will have to purchase software or dedicate a great deal of time and money?  Or is that you don’t know where to start?  If so, this column is for you.  

You don’t need to spend money to learn more about your family until you know if you want to pursue genealogy.  Begin by deciding how many generations you’d like to know about.  Keep it small at first. For many people four or five generations beyond themselves is all they want to know about and it’s relatively simple to research unless you’re dealing with a foreign country.

Let’s assume you want to find five generations of your family.  In order to keep track of what you find you’ll need a pedigree chart.  You can download (or have someone do this for you) free charts and family group sheets at the website of the National Genealogical Society www.ngsgenealogy.org/free-resources/charts.  Print out one copy and photocopy others so you have a stash of blank forms.  The pedigree chart allows you to see several generations at once.  The family group sheet lets you record information on a particular family, parents, children, and spouses.

Start by writing down what you know.  Begin with yourself, name, date of birth, marriage, spouse.  Then enter your parents’ information and your grandparents’.  Most people know names  even if they don’t know all the dates of birth, marriage, and death.  Next check with your family.  A relative may have documents or photos including diaries, letters, photo albums, a family Bible, or other sources.  They may not even know clues are there.  My baby book, for example, has a page listing my family tree through my great-grandparents.  

When it comes to vital records, birth, marriage, and death, you can learn a lot for free by visiting a library with access to FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com (US version).  If one is open near you Family History Research Centers of the LDS Church can provide help.  Using Family Search and the free library version of Ancestry.com you can find U.S. Census records, listings of military service and draft records, vital records and indexes, and burial sites.  When you find something on a family member add it to your pedigree or family group charts.  Remember to note where you found the information such as “Ancestry.com.  Maine Birth Records 1617 to 1922”.  Towns have cemetery records and a visit to a cemetery may revel birth and death information as well.

Still unsure?   On FamilySearch you can find free webinars for beginning genealogists that will help you and I guarantee if there is a local genealogical society close by, you’ll be able to find mentors eager to offer advice and answer questions. Don’t be shy.  None of us was  born knowing how to do genealogy and we all had help in one form or another.

So if you’ve always thought of finding more about your family don’t be intimidated.  With little investment you can start the journey.  Good luck.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft.  Nancy holds an MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com. 

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