Where to Begin?
Where to Begin? > Introduction
Do you suspect your great-grandfather emigrated from Sweden to Minnesota in the 1800s? Or are there family stories about a great grandmother who was a Cherokee Indian? Do you want to know if an ancestor fought in the Civil War, or if another was on the Mayflower? If so, this Genealogy eGuide will help you make the most out of the resources available in our genealogy collection.
Our genealogy collection consists of four major formats: online resources, the largest book collection in a public library in the Southeast, the microform collection, and vertical files. You can view information on each format through the chapters of this eGuide. The final chapter provides a narrative which demonstrates the typical use of some of the resources.
If you see a resource that you are interested in, there's no need to stop your reading to look it up or write it down. You can simply add the resource to your Links Basket and either access them or print them out once you are finished. There are too many good resources to let one slip, and the Links Basket will keep them all together in one place for you.
Tools to Get Started > Road Maps
Every family history search begins with a 'road map' to find your way from yourself to your ancestors. We call this a 5-generation chart. It is best to begin with yourself as #1 and then fill in all the facts about you, your birth date, birth place, and so on. Then move on to your parents, filling in all known information about them.
Always keep in mind you must know something to find something. Knowing a place where the event occurred (such as the county, city or state) and an approximate date will usually produce a record of the event. Use the information you have gathered to go back one generation at a time and focus on one ancestor at a time.
Recording what you know about your ancestors helps you determine what you still need to find out. With ancestors that are no longer living, begin with the death record, and work backward.
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Another road map you will need to use is the Family Group Sheet. This provides a place to capture a snap shot of a family unit all in one place. The information about the parents is at the top and then their children are listed in birth order below with all their information. As you look for information about your ancestor, it is helpful to know the names and particulars about his or her brothers and sisters, as this can often lead to additional facts about the family. Once you have your chart filled in with the information you know or have learned from talking to relatives, you are ready to begin using our resources.
You don't have to fill out the entire 5-generation chart or Family Group Sheet. Any information you have about any of your ancestors will be useful in getting started, especially names, dates, and places.
Tools to Get Started > How-To Books
At this stage, it is also a good idea to have read one of the many "how-to" books that we have in our collection. The following titles will introduce you to the numerous record sources you will be using as you search for your ancestors:
- Genealogy 101: How to Trace Your Family's History and Heritage
- How To Do Everything With Your Genealogy
- The Genealogist's Companion and Sourcebook
Tools to Get Started > How-To Books > Page 2
You should also be aware of a few standard, all encompassing reference sources used by family historians. We own the most recent editions of:
- The Source: a Guidebook of American Genealogy
- Ancestry's Red Book: American State, County & Town Sources
- The Handybook for Genealogists.
All three of these reference sources will guide you in researching your family history and answer many questions you will have about records, their locations and methods of finding them.
Tools to Get Started > Federal Census
The most comprehensive genealogy tool for Americans is the Federal Census which is taken at the beginning of each decade. These are available on microfilm and as part of the online databases we subscribe to. Since the original census records are held by the federal government for 72 years after they have been taken, the most recent census available to the public is the 1940 census. The best way to start is by identifying an ancestor who was alive in 1940 and moving on from there.
Your Guide to the Federal Census for Genealogists, Researchers, and Family Historians is a wonderful reference tool for becoming familiar with the census.
(For further details on accessing census records, please visit the Online Databases and Microform chapters of this eGuide.)
Tools to Get Started > Record Keeping
After you have searched the census and located your ancestor, your next step is to record the information you have found. You can print out the pages of information you find, whether it be from microform or an online database. You can also record the information on a blank census extract form designed specifically for that particular year of the census. These forms allow you to record the information exactly as it appears on the census so that you can refer to it later in your research.
Tools to Get Started > Record Keeping > Page 2
Your next step is to use the answers to the census questions, and let them lead you to search further for records about your ancestor.
Your ultimate goal is to create a complete picture of your ancestor's life. With the information you collect, you might even want to write a family history. The Library provides titles to help you organize your information or write a family history:
- Organizing Your Family History Search: Efficient & Effective Ways to Gather and Protect Your Genealogical Research
- You Can Write Your Family History
The remaining chapters of this eGuide will provide you with a detailed overview of all the resources available to you in our genealogy collection.