How To

Family History for Beginners
Recording your information, interviewing relatives, citing your sources, requesting records, exploring online records and tools, and preserving and sharing your family history.

How will you save your info?
File Box, File Cabinet, Consider future scrapbook, File folders, plastic sleeves (archival safe!)

Programs to consider: online family tree - export to Gedcom

Windows Reviews
Family Tree Maker                        Legacy – Standard Edition Free (used by Mormon Church)

Mac Reviews
Reunion             Mac Family Tree             Family Tree Maker for Mac                        iFamily

Gather your information. As you go, always record where you got the information. Basic form: family Group sheet. Make copies for each generation, and for each important family unit. Fill in what you know. Keep your information stored by surname. I record women under maiden name until they are married, then under married name.

Call up your relatives, don’t be shy, but gather some info first then ask specific questions.  Tell them how important it is to you to know your history, and how you hope to share your discoveries with the newest generations.  Ask: Full name – do you know why you were named that? Where were you born? Who were your parents? Did they have siblings? Do you remember aunts or cousins? Where did you live? Why did you move?  If you can do it in person, do, if not do it by phone, (or letter w/ SASE) If you borrow items, bring them back. If your relative won’t let you take it, go there and take a picture of it.  Record who you spoke to, your name, date, and some basic info about your interview subject. If possible ask them to gather photos and ask about the photos. Record the interview if possible, but otherwise, just take great notes. Be kind!  Likewise, if you talk on the phone, have a piece of paper, take notes, record the date, and then make it neat right away and put it in your nice forms or software program

Gather your sources:  birth, graduation, wedding, family newsletters/letters, funeral programs, obituaries. Photographs, Oral history – plusses and minuses… record that information in your notes or program

Places to find records in person: (use your digital camera to make copies (if permissible)

Online – census, SSDI, military, wildcards, Family Trees – excellent source! If the document is available, click on it and save it.
Google – name + (obituary/death/wedding), using “-“  (don’t forget addresses on Google maps!)
Cyndi’s List – good for location specific. – living people – be nice!

Forms online:
Martha Stewart Fan Chart
Also see & Learning Center

DNA: What it’s good for – a general look at migration. Finding people who match (maybe close, maybe really far...)
What it’s not good for: naming names.
Test your DNA and follow up! Fill in your chart, mark your place on the map, reach out to your matches, consider joining a surname/community group.
DNA day:  April 15, 2011 – mark your calendar! Last year there was a HUGE sale on DNA tests at

African American history: Searching for names in wills, letters, look for“negro boy”, not necessarily “slave”. Don’t assume the slaveholder name is your ancestor’s surname. Search Census records back in time, then Wills, Tax records, birth records, freedmen’s records (including bank records). Don't forget 1860 census (you never know!)
Princess legend / Indian legend – DNA refutes this, but it’s an appealing alternative to the real story…
Database of Shoah Victims’ Names – free online family tree – a lot of Jewish families are here.

General Help
Martha Stewart How to Learning Center Genealogy How To

What to do with your history when you are done:
Make a poster (
Make a website
Print it up and share it – historical centers, genealogy clubs, libraries, archives.
Make a scrapbook – paper or digital
Make a book –
Write your own history
Photograph your family heirlooms and document them.
Ask your family about their names
Hold a family reunion
Travel to your ancestral homes
Tell your children and grandchildren.

Contents * Index * Contact
Created Sep 2, 2006 by Reunion, from Leister Productions, Inc.