I have come across many individuals, of various backgrounds and ethnicities, with interesting family stories and a desire to dig deeper. Or, they might not have much to go on, but really want to start somewhere in their research. The process isn’t as daunting as one might think.
There’s more to genealogy than old photographs. The paper trail is out there: birth and death records, census records, military records, marriage records, obituaries, ship manifests, wills, deeds, etc. Every one of us, living or deceased, has a place in the annals of history. And speaking of history, when you think about your own family in relation to Reconstruction…the Great Migration…the Great Depression…try placing an ancestor or a living relative in those contexts, and think about how he or she might have been impacted by a major era or event. Thinking in this way enriches the research experience, and helps to generate different angles to explore.
My aunt and I recently discussed our research processes with genealogist Antoinette Harrell, the host of “Nurturing Our Roots,” a weekly Internet radio show devoted to discovering and preserving family history.
There’s no time like the present to embark on your quest. Here are some tips to get you off and running without spending money right away:
1. If you have any elders in the family, sit down and have a chat with them. Come with pre-planned questions and inquire about the past–names, locations, births, deaths, etc. And, of course, get anecdotes! Go through old photo albums with them also. It would behoove you to bring some type of device to record the conversation for posterity.
2. Take the family names you have and start looking to see what’s out there. Try https://www.familysearch.org/, run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to find an online database or census listing, or a local FamilySearch Center where you can go in person to view old records.
3. County courthouses, historical societies, genealogical organizations, and offices of vital records are great resources. Start your list of relevant addresses and phone numbers of these places so that you have options in the future when you decide to order documentation. Go to http://www.cyndislist.com/ for help.
4. Check if your public library or university has the library edition of Ancestry.com, which is accessible (and free) for in-library use at many sites.