Genealogy 101: How to trace your family tree

Tracing your family tree (genealogy) is definitely a lot of work, but it doesn't have to be overwhelming. Knowing where to start and how to proceed can be difficult. This page is here to give you a few tips and hopefully point you in the right direction. 


Organization: In pursuing your ancestral roots, you will be acquiring a large amount of information of varying types that need to be kept separate but easily accessible. If you are not organized, you will likely drive your self crazy and give up after a while. The three biggest things that help me are file folders, a word processor, and a family tree database. As your tree grows, the database will become more important and ever so convenient. A family tree database is well worth the investment. Keeping a separate file folder on your computer for family tree info only is a really good idea too.


Steps in tracing your roots:


1 - Write down all the information that you can get about your family in one place. Start with your parents, aunts & uncles, etc. Any relative you have is a potential source. A second cousin (or even a friend of the family) could have a picture of your grandfather with valuable information on the back packed away somewhere. All information is valuable. Dates and locations for birth, baptism, confirmation, marriage, death, employment, and especially military service and court records. Once you have constructed your family tree as far as you can go that way, you are ready to move on.


2 - Begin searching outside the family at the library. Public libraries can be a wonderful resource. Libraries have old newspapers on microfilm, and sometimes books about families with your surname. Some libraries have cemetery and census records, and most of the time the librarians can be extremely helpful. Let them help, they enjoy it. Census records are a rich resource for genealogy, use them if you can. They are becoming more widely available all the time. News papers contain obituaries and sometimes birth records that can be invaluable.


3 - Other places to look are Cemeteries, and vital statistic records. Places like the department of health and social services, or courthouses. You can find out some good stuff from a marriage record, or a death certificate. Sometimes these can be difficult to get a hold of if you live in a different state than the one you need to research in, but you can usually get lots of info over the phone.


4 - The internet! I can't sing the praises of the internet loud enough. There are many people working hard to get records and info onto the net. Cemetery records are making it on there at a fantastic rate, and new census records are being posted all the time. Billboards are a great resource. Often times, there are relatives out there that you don't know you have, looking for you. Post your name and what info you have and are looking for on as many billboards as you can find, like and Do a search for you last name on Yahoo, Google, or There are probably many people out there with your last name who have their family trees and other info on web sites all over the net. Check them all out, and if you find any interesting leads, e-mail them. Do a web search for genealogy and follow some of the links. There are sites like Cyndi's list which contain thousands of links to vital statistic records, cemetery records, census records, adoption records, etc.


5 - Purchase software. You can not only buy a family tree database, but you can buy things like U.S. census records, marriage records, immigration records, and other stuff.


Common Types of records to look at:


Birth, death (death certificates and obituaries), and marriage records are probably where everyone goes first. Also see your family bibles, letters & other correspondence, and the backs of old pictures.


Census and military records are a very good source of information because the U.S. government keeps good records. 


Some other good resources are: Church records, adoption records, cemetery  and funeral home records, immigration and naturalization records, LDS (latter-day saints) records, wills and other legal records.

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