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How to Begin your Genealogy Research

Where to begin your genealogy research depends on what you know and what you are missing. You need to have a clue to your ancestor’s residence because most documents are recorded at the county level. Finding where your ancestors lived is important to the success of finding documents relating to them.

Overcoming Hurdles to Discover your Family History

Even if you know where your relative was living, another hurdle is the availability of old records. Unfortunately the United States did not start to record vital information as far back as other countries. That coupled with records being destroyed by natural disasters, your search may be more of a task than you hoped for.

Another hurdle might arise from not knowing where to look. Families moved due to many issues, religion, work, drought, marriage, etc. Tracking down exactly where your ancestors’ were living can be a chore in itself. Even if you do know where to look, you might be challenged by finding them in a certain area due to boundary changes every couple of years; you might be looking in the wrong county, or even in the wrong state. Discover how to research your genealogy through various documents including migration maps.

Types of Documents that can be Found by Knowing a Location

If you are seeking records to help with your ancestry, county-based historical data like voter registrations, wills, probates, guardianships, directories, churches, deeds for land, tax records, census, and newspapers announcements, obituaries, and unclaimed mail notices can be used to discover your family history.

We have compiled a list of when the following documents were first recorded by state: birth, death, marriage, divorce, taxation, probate, and last will and testaments. This is a good place to start, to see if what you are looking for might be available.

Vital Records are Obtained at the State Level

Although birth, marriage, and death records are recorded at the county level, most of the records that can be obtained, need to be filed at the state level. Before you spend your money on getting a copy of your ancestors’ birth or death certificate, you need to know pertinent details. They will not look up information based on vague details.

Steps to Help you with How to Research Genealogy

  1. If you can’t find information for a relative in a certain county, look at the adjoining counties you may find it there.
  2. If you cannot find your ancestor in the adjoining counties, expand your search by finding where their close friends and other family members are located, as you might find your ancestor followed them for a variety of reasons.
  3. If you can find relatives and their known friends, but not the ancestor you are searching, they might be found by trying different spellings for names and places. Think phonetically as to different possibilities of how someone could have written a name or place. Also try searching by using parts of names, nicknames, or abbreviations.
  4. Try using a soundex calculator to help with coming up various name spellings.
  5. Focus on one question for one person at a time, otherwise you will find yourself running in circles.
  6. Record everything you have tried to search even if you didn’t find what you were looking for. This will keep you from doing the same research in the future.
  7. Use a variety of different types of documents to find your ancestors. Obituaries, probates, and last will and testaments probably have the most genealogical data in a single source. They can contain information that you would only receive by reading, transcribing, and understanding the details that are in these types of family history documents. You can usually find and verify relationships, especially helpful for finding your female ancestors and who they married. They usually also contain other relevant information that can bring your heritage to life and get to know a bit more about your family heritage.
  8. To keep yourself on track with your task at hand we have created a process that follows 28 steps: how to do genealogy research.