Introduction to Family History: Family and Home Sources
Family historysearching for your ancestorsis a fun and rewarding experience. Family history includes biographical research and learning more about your ancestors. Genealogy is the study of the history of families and the line of descents of families and ancestors.
Start now! Searching for your ancestors may be one of the most rewarding adventures of your life.
Start with yourselfthe first place to begin your family history research is with your own personal knowledge. Start with yourself and work backwards. Write down your parents’ names, names of your grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other family members. Organize your family papers and keep track of sources.
Gather records of your family together in one place Bibles with genealogical details (known as family Bibles), church certificates, diaries and journals, letters, military records, newspaper clippings, photographs, scrapbooks, vital records (birth, marriage, and death certificates), wedding and anniversary announcements, and others.
Next, contact relatives, especially your oldest relatives, regarding your family—asking about your ancestors’ names; dates of birth, marriage, and death; and where these events occurred (the localities).
- Be aware of spelling variations of given names and surnames (last names).
- Ask about the maiden surname of females.
- What church did your family members attend?
- Did any family members serve in the military?
- Keep track of relationships.
- Ask your relatives if they have certificates, photographs, and other similar family records.
- Contact your relatives and ask them about biographical details, including where family members lived and are buried.
- Family traditions may also be helpful.
Charts and Forms
Identify names, dates, places, and relationships. Record this information on a pedigree (ancestor) chart. You should start with yourself and be “number one” on the pedigree chart. This form is serves as a “road map” or “skeleton” showing names of your direct line ancestors and other family history details.
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Family Group Sheet
You will also want to compile family group records for each family. These forms, also known as family group sheets, show name of the father, mother, and children for each family on your pedigree, along with genealogical details. There is space on family group records to document your sources, such as Family Bible or 1900 U.S. Census (be sure to include details regarding title of the record, locality, microfilm number, page number, etc.). Be as complete as possible.
Free pedigree charts, family group records, and other genealogical forms may be printed from the Internet. Visit BYU's Family Search Lab website and click “Print Genealogical Forms.” Then click “Pedigree Chart” or “Family Group Record”, two useful forms for beginning your research. (The Family Search Lab page is a family history/genealogy resource site associated with the Utah Valley Regional Family History Center. It has links to such programs as PAF, TempleReady, and Ancestry.com.)
Genealogical charts and forms may be printed at no cost from the following Web sites:
- Religion 261: Introduction to Family History
- KBYU Television: Ancestors
Get organized! You may wish to keep copies of your pedigree charts and family group records in a three-ring binder or in file folders. Some people keep a Research Log, or list of records searched.
Personal Ancestral File
You will want to enter your family information into a computer program. Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is one of the most popular and easy to use genealogy software programs. The current version is PAF 5.2.18. It is recommended you use the current PAF version.
After you have gathered family information, you will want to proceed to Unit 2, Installing PAF.
After installing PAF you will be able to view and print pedigree charts, family group records, and other forms.
Family History Tips
Work on your third and fourth generation ancestors, then move on to your fifth generation. You will want to record the children and other family members for each generation and make sure the genealogical information is as accurate as possible. You will then be ready to move on to your sixth generation and trace their children and families.
The Family and Church History Department teaches a four-step research process:
- Write Down What You Already Know About Your Family
- Review What Is Missing
- Find Out What Information Already Exists
- Share What You Have and Decide What You Want to Do Next
A free one-page handout, entitled “How Do I Start My Family History?” (order number 32916), is available from Church Distribution. This guide outlines the steps to take in beginning family history research. It includes simple instructions and a pedigree chart.
LDS Church members should meet with their ward family history consultant for assistance in filling out forms or using the Personal Ancestral File program.
Additional Tips for Beginning Research
- Work backwards in your family tree, from known information (what you and your family members already know about the family) to the unknown (for example, a person who immigrated to America during the seventeenth century). It is unwise to trace all of the descendants of an immigrant or a famous historical figure to see if you are related.
- Be sure to search for all family members of each family unit. Family group records are valuable tools that will help you list genealogical information for each family member.
- Learn about the types of genealogical records that are available for the areas where your ancestors lived. Be aware of the basic sourcescensus records, church records, vital records (sometimes known as civil registrationbirths, marriages, and deaths), probate records, and so forth. For example, some records kept in the six New England states, such as town records, are different from those kept in the Southern states. Records kept in the British Isles are different from those in Scandinavian countries.
- Be sure to keep track of your sources. List the author, record title, page numbers, and where the record is located (including the Web site address if found on the Internet). You will want to record sources and notes for each person in your PAF database.
- Prepare a timeline of life events for each ancestor. A timeline may help you decide what sources to search. For example:
- If your grandfather was born in 1929 in the United States, be sure to search the 1930 U.S. census.
- If an ancestor was born in 1899 in the United States, he or she should be enumerated in the 1900 federal census.
- A male ancestor born in 1899 might be listed in the World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.
- A relative who died since 1962 might be listed in the online Social Security Death Index (files created by the Social Security Administration).
- Be familiar with family history Internet sites. The largest Web site of free genealogical information is FamilySearch. Here you can search millions of names, share your genealogical information, and search the Family History Library Catalog (the online catalog of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City).
- You may wish to take a genealogy course or attend family history conferences, seminars, or workshops to get more help with your family history. In addition, online genealogical courses are available, including several free or low-cost Web courses:
- Guidebooks (“how-to” books), introductory texts, and Internet sites are available which describe the different types of records and record keeping practices for many sources and localities throughout the world. These resources will help you get started with your family history research.
- Learn about new family history sources and Web sites. BYU's Center for Family History and Genealogy publishes a free online monthly newsletter. Send the Center an email if you wish to be added to their mailing list.
- Latter-day Saints, and others, will be interested in reading the Religion 261 Online Lessons, Introduction to Family History. These lessons will help you get started in your research.
- The BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy’s Internet site lists major Web links of genealogical interest. Click on Web Links. For example, RootsWeb is a very popular Web site that includes free databases and research tips. Of particular interest is the RootsWeb Surname List (RSL) where you may be able to locate others working on your same pedigree lines.
- KBYU Television has posted online research helps and resources that may assist with your family history research.
- RootsWeb has published an online Guide to Tracing Family Trees.
- Visit a local Family History Center (branch library of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City) to see what family history records are available in your area. Centers are listed at FamilySearch Internet under Library and then Family History Centers, or call 800-346-6044 in the United States and Canada.
- Search genealogy and family history collections in libraries in your area. One way to find libraries is to check the Google Search Engine under the name of your locality of interest, and then search for libraries, archives, or historical societies. Most public libraries have genealogy or local history collections.
- Introductory research guides are available on the Internet and many are available online at FamilySearch. Three valuable research guides are available online at FamilySearch Internet, as part of Research Guidance:
- A beginners page is available at Cyndi’s List which includes online beginners guides, hints, and tips.
- It may be useful to determine if others have already worked on your pedigree lines. It is usually helpful to first search compiled sources (such as biographies or genealogies), and then search original records (such as census records and vital records). To do this, perform a “survey” for your ancestors’ names:
- Check the databases listed under Search for Ancestors on the FamilySearch Web site. Begin by searching All Resources. Of particular interest will be the International Genealogical Index and Pedigree Resource File databases.
- Check to see if family histories, compiled genealogies, or biographies have been published for your families. See the online Family History Library Catalog at FamilySearch. Especially useful is the Surname Search.
- Check the online Family History Archive. Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library and the Family History Library are digitizing thousands of printed family histories (compiled genealogies). Digitized family histories are cataloged in the online Family History Library Catalog and linked to the Family History Archive Web site.
- Search for your ancestors’ names in the Google Search Engine. It may be helpful to place parentheses (“first name last name”) around your ancestors’ names. Be sure to search for different spelling variations when using Search Engines and other computer databases.
- If information is found in compiled sources and genealogical databases, continue to do research and verify the information found. Original records, such as church records and vital records are more reliable than a compiled genealogy or a computer genealogy database.
- Set goals for your family history, such as determining a birth, marriage, or death date in a particular locality. Of special interest are “primary sources.” For example, church records, land records (such as deeds), military records, probate records (such as wills), and vital records, and so forth, are primary sources. Federal census records in the United States began in 1790, and are especially helpful after 1850 because all of the family members are listed by name along with age, gender, occupation, state or country of birth, and other information. Federal census records have been microfilmed and digitized; they are available on the Internet. When using census records, start your research with the most recently available census (1930) and work backwards. It is usually best to work on one family at a time.
- Many libraries, including public and university libraries, participate in Interlibrary Loan for a nominal fee. Many genealogical sources may be loaned to libraries, such as books and microfilms.
- As a reminder, be sure to keep a careful record of your sources and record that information in PAF. The following lessons will show you how to record sources. Notes may also be included, such as biographical details about each ancestor. Copies of documents, photographs, sound clips, and video clips may be inserted into PAF.
- Begin by searching family and home sources
- Organize your family records
- Record your information on pedigree charts and family group records
- Be aware of spelling variations, especially surname variations
- Work from known information to the unknown
- Interview older family members
- Search compiled sources first, then original records
- Keep track of records searchedcite your sources
- Keep copies of records found
- Don’t assume that no one else is working on your pedigree
- Share your family history information with other family members
- Contribute your accurate compiled genealogy online to Pedigree Resource File at FamilySearch under “Share Information.”
- Have patience, and don’t give up!
Good luck with your family history research!