I'm an absolute starter to genealogy and I've always found it very interesting so last week I decided to build my family tree.

What are the key things I should consider when getting started?


3 Answers 3


I've previously published what I think is an excellent set of instructions to get started. It was originally written for people getting started in Jewish genealogy in Manitoba, but it translates well for anyone. I'll reproduce the beginning here, removing the specific Jewish references:

1 - Getting Started

Gather What You Can

You have probably become interested in your family history because you already know something about your family and want to know more. Start with yourself and your immediate family and see how much you can collectively remember. Go through your house and find photo albums, scrapbooks, or anything else that can help jog your memory.

Learn About Genealogy

Go to the public library and borrow some books on Genealogy. There are many excellent basic books that can answer most of your questions. You will also find books specific to research in your country, and there are also books specific to your ethnicity.

What to Collect

It is entirely up to you. Ancestors only? All relatives? Everyone with certain family names? Do you want to follow all your lines back or do only a few or even one line interest you most?

What information will you collect? Names (Surname, Given name, Middle names, Maiden name, Nicknames, Namesake) Dates (Birth, Marriage, Death, Burial, Immigration, other events) Places (Birth, Marriage, Death, Burial, Immigration, other events) Addresses, Phone Numbers, Notes (to explain anything that needs explaining) Stories (to bring life to the people) Photos, Personal Documents, Legal Papers, Newspaper Clippings, Obituaries, Maps, Letters, and anything else that is of interest.

Organize Your Information

There are as many ways to organize your Genealogical info as there are ways to organize your desk. From the basic books on Genealogy, find a style you like best. An ancestry (or pedigree) chart, and Family Group sheets are considered as basic equipment. Use looseleaf binders and store your information together in groups of families. Start simple, and add to your system as your requirements grow. Choose a very simple numbering scheme so that you can find information about a person, or cross reference a person very easily. Numbering schemes will drive you crazy, so just do it, and in a year you can change it to what you really like. Same goes for your original organizational system. Do not computerize right away. You will find you will be amassing information so fast at first, that a simple manual method of organization is best. After a while, you will have the basic structure of your family outlined. Then you can computerize and make future work easier.

Document Your Findings

Keep a special binder to document all the research you have done. All of your handwritten notes, photocopies, clippings, and other documentary evidence should go into the binder. Organize the items by place or person that you obtained the item from. The reason for this is so that if you went back to that place or person for further research, you would know what you previously obtained. Number each item, and put references to these sources in your family information. You will be happy you did several years later when you forget where you got something, especially when you run into conflicting information.

Set Some Standards

Use mixed case in your own records for surnames, but use CAPITALS for surnames in correspondence. Give the maiden name (birth surname) for women. Enclose nicknames, or changed names in double quotes, i.e. " ". Dates are best in the form: 24 JUN 1983. Again, the basic books on Genealogy can help you here.

Keep Private Information Private

Be sensitive to others, and do not record anything anyone would not want to be made public. This may include divorces, adoptions, addresses, phone numbers, or even birthdates. If you must record this information, keep it separate so you will not inadvertently publish it or otherwise give it out.

Making Up a Family Tree

Once you have enough names and several generations, be bold and make up a large wall-chart with all the relatives you know of on it. Let others see it and add to it. Then make small copies that you can carry with you or send out to people.

That should be enough to keep you busy for several months or years. Once you're ready to go further, the rest of my full article will be of interest to you. The additional sections are:

  • 2 - Adding to What You Have
  • 3 - Computerizing
  • 4 - Getting Serious
  • 5 - Making It All Worthwhile

Some things to think about when starting your research:

What are you trying to achieve? To learn about your direct ancestors? To document the family? To discover relatives you might not know of? To learn about history through the lens of your family? Are you interested in the history of your family in the US, or are you also looking for information about your ancestors from the old world as well?

Do you have good sources to start with (e.g., a family bible, a living grandmother), someone else's research that you can use for hints, or are you starting from scratch?

Is there a local genealogical society that you can join? Such a society can be a huge asset when it comes to learning about sources, methods of research, and just for having someone look over your shoulder to make sure you're on the right track.

Finally, as with any new skill, it's important to read about it: books, blogs, Q&A sites like this, etc. even if they are not directly related to your family or ethnicity/nationality. Others examples often serve as inspirations for your own endeavors.


One of the best places to learn how to do genealogy is Kimberly Powell's blog. Just go to:

How to Begin Tracing Your Family Tree

That will get you off to a very good start in an organized fashion.

  • 4
    While that link may answer the question, it's preferable to post the essential parts of the solution here and provide the link only for further reference. Otherwise, should the link become unavailable in the future, the answer becomes useless.
    – Luke_0
    Jan 13, 2013 at 0:59
  • Luke, it is much more likely that the link to this site will disappear before a link to about.com will. It is also far more likely that Kimberly expressed the essential parts of the solution far better that I ever could. Jan 13, 2013 at 18:36
  • 3
    Could you revisit some of the main points here with the link for reference?
    – Luke_0
    Jan 13, 2013 at 19:29
  • Edited to update Andy's link since Kimberly Powell moved away from About.com to Thought.co several years ago.
    – Jan Murphy
    Apr 18, 2019 at 18:32

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