10 Step Program for Genealogical Research:
Start with What You Know

1 Conventional Wisdom says: Work from the known to the unknown. (And, in general work backwards )

2. That means your first step is to establish and report what you know.

3. Pick a family to focus on. Take the family group sheet for that family and start to visualize the family. You should begin to feel that you know them. What information is missing? For example, do you lack the date and place of the marriage of the family. What information is incomplete? You might have the date and place of death, but do you know the cause? How old was the person when he or she died? What was the makeup of the family left behind? What do you know about their lives? Did they farm? Did they own their land? Serve in the military? Send their children to school? Did all the children survive to adulthood? As you start to make the family real to you, questions will arise that can form the foundation of your research. (simple sample )

4. Place: As you find places your ancestor lived find maps and atlases to help you get a place your ancestors. Use gazetteers to find where places were located. Keep track of place information to help you analyze information.

5. Time: The next step is to place your ancestor in time. Look at whatever dates you have and start to create a timeline. Start to gather historical information on the locality, then place your ancestor in context of the larger world around him. One of the best ways to learn of events specific to the lives of your ancestors is to read the local newspapers for the time period he or she was in an area.

6. Get all the census records. You will want them anyways, no matter what. Use your time line to learn which are available. This will add information and give you more clues for your research.

5. NOW you are ready to really get started; at this point Define your research problem and plan your research (one step at a time). But before you start, go over a few tips on what not to do.

6. Learn what resources are available to help you solve this problem.

  • Start with the FHL catalog
    • Much of what is owned by the Family History Library is now indexed and available online.
    • Material that is not readily available from the FHL might be found in other libraries or archives
  • See what has been published – not everything that has been published is at the FHL
    • How can you discover what else is available?
    • How can you get your hands on material once identified?
      • Use WorldCat to see which library owns it
        • If you can't visit that library:
          • Ask your local librarian about interlibrary loan
          • sometimes a library won't lend a book, but provide photocopies through ILL
          • Check Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness to see if someone could visit the library in your stead
          • Purchase it-- most in print books are available through Amazon.com, but if not, find the website of the publisher of the book or see if it available from a genealogy book vendor such as Maia's Books
          • Hire a researcher in the area
  • Find out what is available that hasn’t been published.—not all unpublished material has been filmed by the FHL

8. Now unfocus… try to see your family as part of a large picture and investigate collateral relatives, friends, associates and neightbors.

9. Round out your family. Try to find details and stories that will add depth to your research. Fit that family into historical and local events. Read old newspapers in the area they lived. See if you can find artifacts of their lives -- bible records, pictures, dishes, recipes. You will probably have to contact other descendants to do that. One way to find them is through the family message boards at rootsweb.

10. Spread the word: Write it up. Cite your sources. Deposit your findings where others can consult your research. And keep researching… there’s always more to learn.