I am writing this post on the last day of 2021. From what I see about interest in family history and genealogy, that interest peaks out in January and February. So, assuming that you or someone you know is just now getting started with their interest in genealogy I thought this might be a good topic.
I have a lot of rules about genealogy that apply to doing the actual research but there are some more fundamental principles that also need to be considered. First of all, we need to move on from what we know to what we do not know. This principle presupposes that we know something. There is a tendency in family history to work from a fan chart view about what needs to be done. Here is a fan chart that might give you pause if that is where you are starting.
The earliest openings on this fan chart is in the 1700s in Wales and Ireland. If you want an example of a steep learning curve, these are good examples. The blank spaces on this ten generation fan chart are there because over a 100 years of genealogical research has not been able to find records about these people. What this chart does not show are the tens of thousands of my relatives that haven't been "found" who are the descendants of all the people on the chart.
But what if you are really just starting out? What do you know about yourself? Where were you born? Who were your parents? Who are your siblings? Do you have an alternate set of parents by adoption, guardianship, or other relationship? What do you do with this information? You start an online family tree and enter all the information you know. Then you start looking and asking to find out more. Where were your parents born? What other events occurred in the lives of your family? Marriages? More births? Deaths? What were your family's religious beliefs? Where did they go to church? The answers to these questions and many, many more are the basis for starting to look for records of these events.
How do you know when and where you were born? Most people in the United States would immediately think of a birth certificate. But maybe you should know that birth certificates are a recent addition to the huge pile of genealogically important records that exist. Some states in the United States did not require birth certificates state-wide until well into the 20th Century (1900s). You may have to rely on a different kind of record to get a reasonably accurate birth date.
Now, we are to the real beginning of genealogical research; finding the records that may have information about the events in our ancestors and relatives' lives. Where are these records? Oh, now you have the main question.
If you were going to start building or rebuilding a house or restoring an automobile or learning how to play the piano or whatever, you would have to start learning a lot of things that might not seem important or interesting until you started your project. Well, surprise, genealogy is just like every other challenging, interesting, detailed, and difficult activity you can think of. Oh, you got a new snowboard for a gift. You are on your way to the mountains to try snowboarding for the first time. How long will it take you to learn how to just stand up and move on a snowboard? Or a bicycle, or a hoverboard, or a scooter, or whatever?
Despite the advertisements from people who are trying to get you to do your genealogy, it is not easy, but it is worth the effort. So here are some places to start learning what you really need to know to get started in finding your family.
- The Family History Guide -- a free educational website with all the instructions you need to know.
- The FamilySearch Research Wiki - a free website that gives you all the information about where to find all kinds of genealogically important records.
- The Brigham Young University YouTube Channel -- over 600 educational videos that tell you almost everything you need to know about genealogy.