In your initial foray into exploring your family history, use free resources first. You’ll build a foundation of family knowledge that may be enough to satisfy your interest. In addition, that foundation will be essential if and when you decide to expend funds to trace roots further back — to another part of the country or another continent, for examples.
I have created a Genealogy Resources Web page that guides you to many great free resources on the Web, as well as to books and several of the best known for a fee online services. You will find free resources on census records, immigration records, internment records and much more. There also are links to helpful advice on getting started as well as to free genealogy forms.
In conjunction with the resources listed there, here are steps to getting started on family history research, free.
- Collect all of the names, dates and places of birth and death of your immediate family members — siblings, parents, grandparents. Then add aunts, uncles and cousins as well. While some people want to follow only their own direct pedigree line, it can be helpful to have a picture of the full family.
- Interview your parents and grandparents about their own lives. Tape record the interviews and type up your notes. You have likely heard a number of family stories told, may even remember of few of them. But if no one has recorded them, those stories soon will vanish. Capture them for posterity.
- Ask a few questions at a time if your family members are uncomfortable with the formal interview approach. Ask for more than names and dates. What were people’s occupations? hobbies? What different places did they live — and when? What do they know about their family back a ways?
- Record the answers in whatever system works best for you. Family history sheets and family tree charts are traditional approaches. You should use those, but may also notecards, ring binders with research information stored in plastic sleeves and so on.
You now have the heart of your family. What’s next? We’ll continue with optional approaches for your next steps.
This is the first in a series of genealogy and family history research ideas to help you find your family and ancestors for modest or no cost.