Skip to main content

See also:

Beginner's guide to genealogy research

Marriage certificate
Isabelle Esteves

Searching for your roots is a hobby that appeals to many people. Unless you have done this before, it can be quite overwhelming and confusing. Whether you live in Hartford, Conn. or Dallas, Texas the basic strategies to get you started are the same.

Before you start

Organize yourself before you begin. Get a loose leaf notebook and fill it with clear sheet protectors. This is where you will place all the documents you will accumulate. If you can afford it, buy a hand help scanner. When you come across pictures and documents, you will want to make a copy for your records. With a hand held scanner, you can copy anything, anywhere and won’t miss out on getting copies of important pictures or documents. Of course, always ask permission before coping anything and respect copyright laws. Also, always carry a note pad, a steno pad works well.

Interview your living relatives

This is the most important first step in genealogy research. You may have to ask around to know who these relatives are. Begin with parents and grandparents but expand beyond that to cousins, aunts and uncles and even great-aunts and uncles. In almost every family there is someone who is the keeper of the stories, pictures and records; you just need to find out who that is in your family.

Write down the stories

Don’t count on your memory, write down all the stories that you are told even if you are not sure how true they are. You never know where a grain of truth may lurk so write it down and it may come in handy at some later date.

Source anything you write or copy

This is one of the most important steps. There is nothing worse than going back to a piece of information and not knowing where you found it. If it is a person, write down their name and contact information. If it is a book, write down the name of the book, the page and where the book was located. There is no such thing as too much sourcing.

These are the first steps of a journey that may take years to complete. Chances are, it is a journey that may well continue for the rest of your life.