Getting Started in Genealogical History

Genealogical History getting started

Some Helpful Hints and Reminders for Getting Started

Click here to print the "RESEARCH CHECK LIST"


  1. Write down all that you know concerning yourself, your parents and grandparents.
  2. Interview relatives, especially older family members. Take notes or tape record the conversation(s). Try to get specific dates, times and locations of events, we well as a sense or feel for what the times and places were like. Be sure that your questions are understood.

  3. Write to relatives not close enough to talk with directly. Try to be precise or specific in the questions you ask. Always include a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope).

  4. Seek out family Bibles, photo albums, old letters, scrapbooks, trunks, etc. Check family tokens and keepsakes. Don’t forget friends and neighbors of the family.

  5. Check for published genealogies on any of your family surnames in your local library, as well as the libraries of historical societies, genealogy societies, state universities, DAR, and the National Archives, LDS Family History Library, and, Library of Congress.

  6. Check old census records for documentation of your ancestors’ whereabouts at certain times.

  7. Move from the known to the unknown. Try to document the most recent happenings first; in other words, document the death before the birth or marriage.

  8. Church records provide the best source for early births, baptisms, marriages and deaths/burials. Cemetery records can also offer documentation of deaths/burials and often will yield other information such as family members, cause of death, etc.

  9. Courthouses offer good documentation through wills, estate inventories, land records, tax records, and other court records. Some vital statistics may be found; check with a courthouse employee for the names and types of records kept and the availability of them. Certain official documents and titles of office holders who kept them vary not only in different counties and states but also at different periods of those counties and states. Many unusual records and information have been kept for unique, local reasons.

  10. Old newspapers help in providing death notices and obituaries, births, and marriages. Obituaries often detail military service, occupation, church affiliation, and memberships in various organizations. Social occasions, lawsuits and other events may be recorded, especially in a small town.

  11. Local histories and maps of the area can offer valuable clues to the family’s involvement or place in the community.

  12. If you use or have access to a computer, record your surnames at the various genealogy web sites. Check out your surnames on some of the online directories for regular mailing and e-mail addresses, and subscribe to some of the free, online newsletters. (Dick Eastman’s online newsletter at is an excellent source of genealogy news, homepages, software reviews, etc.)

  13. It is imperative that you write your name and address on each page of your information!

Click here to print the "RESEARCH CHECK LIST"

Note: Remember that even original, official documents can contain errors!

The Genealogical Society of Southwestern Pennsylvania thanks Fayette County Genealogical Society for use of its writing.

© 1999 GSSWPA All Rights Reserved.