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Genealogy: How & Where to Start Researching Your Family's History

I enjoy writing about personal experiences with my family. I am interested in traveling, any culture, ancestry relationships and animals.

Search in Libraries

Search in Libraries

My Family History Research

It seems the further back I trace my ancestors, the further back I want to search, and websites like provide a huge amount of information. Keeping tack of research, documents, and pictures is much simpler to do when you use a genealogy software program.

I have this idea that we can all leave a legacy behind in this world when we’re gone, such as precious memories for loved ones (family and friends), laughter, good deeds, pictures, material goods and so forth. I believe my ancestral tree is the legacy that I will leave for my children, grandchildren and well beyond. I am leaving behind something precious, which can be passed through the generations long after I have met my maker.

Some of the benefits of tracing my ancestors to date include:

  • Learning about your ancestors, where they came from, wars they fought, their occupations and so on.
  • Meeting distant relatives that I didn't even know existed.
  • Getting an idea of medical problems that run in the family, which primarily comes from reading death certificates.

The health history is very important as there is DNA testing available for some diseases, particularly breast, ovarian and colon cancer, so if you see that a lot of family members died from these diseases you may want to get the blood test which sometimes insurance will pay.

I like to understand the type of lives my ancestors led, along with learning a great deal about their beliefs. One benefit is the many new things I have learned about American history, which I somehow wasn't taught in school.

Places to Search for Ancestors

It is not difficult to get started:

  • Begin asking questions to anyone in your family that is older than you. You will sometimes be amazed at what you will learn.
  • Copy all available birth, marriage, christening, deed and death records that are available to you. You don't have to have the originals, but a copy is acceptable.
  • You can find a lot of information on the internet with Ancestry being one of the best known sites.You can pay for the service in your home, and almost all libraries have it for free.
  • The Mormon Church has a huge volume of information as well.
  • You can find microfilm at churches in you area and at many libraries. It just takes a phone call.
  • If you don't have a computer program, then you can start with forms that are found on the Internet. You will be surprised how fast you can fill a file drawer, and some office supplies are also helpful. You can also use large envelopes to store your documents.
  • You will want to check census records when you get to that time frame. The 1940 Federal Census has been released.
  • NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) is the place to contact or visit for military records. Some military records, particularly pension files, have a wealth of information in addition to the military history. I found my great grandfather's hand written documents from the civil war. And, yes, they were written using cursive.
  • Searching cemeteries can also give you valuable information. If you know the county of death, check the courthouse for death records, probate records and wills. Family information in wills is usually accurate and an excellent source to aid your search.
  • Many counties have local genealogy societies and often have large data bases of records for that area. Contact the society and for a nominal fee they will copy records for you.
1876 Home Built by my Grandfather: We had the pleasure of touring my grandfather's home in Andover, Ohio about 2 years ago.  The present owners were delightful and most accommodating.

1876 Home Built by my Grandfather: We had the pleasure of touring my grandfather's home in Andover, Ohio about 2 years ago. The present owners were delightful and most accommodating.

Ways to Organize Your Genealogy

To be successful at keeping track of the ever-increasing volume of information it is almost imperative to have a good genealogy software program or a well organized book of charts. Previously, people used index cards, folders, notebooks, etc, but while they work well for storage in particular, you can’t beat having a good program that organizes everything.

I've found that all of the major programs are good, and you can download a trial version of any of them to try out their various functions. It really comes down to whatever suits your personal preference.

4 Good Software Programs for Organization

  1. Family Tree Maker 2017 – Family tree maker is the number1 selling software and it has made several upgrades in this new version. It has enhanced integration with and many other features. I just bought this one to upgrade from my 2010 version, so I am still learning about the new upgrades. One unique feature I found is you can start with your mother and do a maternal GED file. As anyone who does genealogy research knows, the men are much easier to track than the women. This program has the capacity to store picture, video, audio and more, as do the other newer programs
  2. Roots Magic software is recommended by Heritage Quest Magazine. It has extensive family history reports, and you can store photos, sound bytes and video clips easily. As with the other programs, it has full GEDCOM support to make sharing data with others easy. You can create shareable CD’s of your data to share with family
  3. Legacy Family Tree Software – This is another popular program it contains a name list with an advanced editing system. It also allows comprehensive import from other software, and it has a split screen feature that allows you to view two trees at once which is very unique. It's other features very similar to the last two programs I described.
  4. Family Atlas Genealogy Mapping Software – This is a new, different type of program that is becoming very popular. This program allows you to map out exactly where your ancestors lived by importing data directly from your genealogy software. You can add text and pictures to maps. It has a lot of other useful features.

Hopefully, if you are interested in your family history you will explore these products or other new ones, and try a free download. You’ll quickly learn that you can easily begin recording as these programs are not difficult. After I bought my first program, I took the family Bible my grandfather had kept and filled in numerous details, which started me down the path of research. It has been a wonderful adventure for me.

7 Common Genealogy Mistakes - And How to Avoid Them

Aids to Enhance your Knowledge

Understanding the United States Census from 1790-1940 will give you a wealth of information, and each census from 1850 forward asks for a little bit of different information. Each one has it's own unique features. Women were not listed until 1850.

Attend seminars in your area, or take courses on line to increase your understanding. That will definitely help you be more productive when tracing you ancestral tree. Tracing one of my lines back to Ralph Smith, one of the early arrivals to the Plymouth Colony, was one of my first achievements.

The Family Tree Form is another simple written form to see just which facts are important. There are pedigree charts and numerous other forms to help you sort out each family. It is important to copy documents that prove what you enter, especially if you are interested in joining one of the numerous genealogy societies, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution.

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Genealogy Software


Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 30, 2020:

Hi Robert,

I love to do the research and traveling to learn more about your ancestors is very rewarding. I am glad you have found out about your family tree. Thank you for your comments.

Robert Remy from Eagle River, Alaska on September 02, 2017:

I concur and couldn't agree more. My ancestry work has been very rewarding for my family as we have learned so much more than maybe our prior ancestors even knew. I have a fun tale to tell in the afterlife. I now have an excuse to travel the world with some purpose behind it.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 14, 2013:

Smirles, I absolutely agree in I think it's great to know about your family history. I enjoy the research and am involved in a couple of lineage societies like the DAR. Thank you so much for your comments

Sandra Mireles from Texas on October 14, 2013:

Loved your hub, Pamela99. I have been doing family history research for 35 years. Just finding out about my ancestors. I have done some writing about a few of them. I encourage everyone to research their family. Start with yourself on a family group sheet, document yourself, your parents, inlaws and living relatives and work backwards. Also a fun hobby. Thanks so much.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 29, 2011:

JamaGenee, My mother's test showed the areas of Europe where her family originated but no specific information. I think the male DNA uses the Y chromosome which can track a specific family line.

Maybe you will like Roots Magic. I don't know too much about Legacy but have a friend who uses it, but she also uses at least one other program. Good luck with your research. Thanks for your comments.

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on December 28, 2011:

You're right in thinking DNA testing for women is a waste of time (and money). I don't recall off hand the reasons, and it does have its place, but it's only the male DNA that can verify an ancestral line.

Although I probably won't abandon Legacy, I'm hearing good things about Roots Magic. I've been meaning to give it a test run, and thanks to your recommendation, it'll be sooner rather than "someday". ;D

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 28, 2011:

JamaGenee, I am thrilled the 1940 census will be released soon. I have been unhappy with the newer versions of FTM also but stated using Roots Magic. I like it better. DNA testing for women seems to me to be a waste of time as my mother did hers and we learned nothing substantive. My male cousin on the other hand spent a tidy amount of money and we really learned a lot from his testing. He is the only male left in my mother's maiden name line, so it was quite exciting. I wish the cost would drop also. Thank you for your comments.

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on December 28, 2011:

Pamela, I think many people find history b-o-r-i-n-g until they find they have a "dog in the fight" (an ancestor). Then it's no longer just a bunch of dates to memorize, but accounts of people with whom they share blood and genes.

However, I think when the cost of DNA testing becomes affordable for everyone, a lot of family trees are going to have to be seriously revised...or scrapped all together!

As for genie computer programs, I tried them all before settling on Legacy. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of FTM (which is a huge memory hog, btw), but then how many bells and whistles does one *really* need to keep track of dead ancestors? The basic version of Legacy is (and always has been) free, but I always pay for the Deluxe version which costs about $20 but has features that I DO use and would be lost without.

The 1940 census, btw, will be available (on Ancestry) in February.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 28, 2011:

michabelle, Thank you so much for your comments.

michabelle on December 27, 2011:

Very informative. Nice work!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 19, 2011:

familyTreeHelper, Thanks so much for your comments.

FamilyTreeHelper from Belleville, Illinois on November 19, 2011:

Very well written and informative! :) I also find genealogy quite addictive. I just can't help it! Thanks for the information.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 20, 2011:

Liola Lee, Thank you so much for your comments.

Liola Lee on July 20, 2011:

An excellent and well written hub!!

Liola Lee on July 20, 2011:

An excellent and well written hub!!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on June 18, 2011:

Trish, It really can get out of hand. I finally got folders and a file cabinet which helped me get more organized. Thanks so much for your comments.

Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on June 18, 2011:

Hi :)

I have been working on my family tree for many years and have boxes and boxes of information. It really needs sorting out!

I'm not very good with 'software organization' and gedcoms are a complete mystery to me :)

Genealogy / family history really is an educational and addictive hobby, but one that can run away with you and leave you feeling overwhelmed by information.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on January 14, 2010:

Thank you for your comment Roberta.

Roberta99 on January 14, 2010:

Lots of good info to start on. Sounds facinating

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on January 10, 2010:

Bpop & Bail Up, Thanks for your comments. I hope I have spurred an interest in genealogy for both of you. I so wish I had written down some things when my grandparents were alive. You can never start too young.

Bail Up ! on January 10, 2010:

What a great idea. I've always been interested and ask my parents tons of questions but never thought to keep a record of it for posterity. Good info, thanks.

breakfastpop on January 10, 2010:

Fascinating hub, Pamela. I know very little about my family tree, but I am interested. You have given me something to think about pursuing. Thanks.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on January 09, 2010:

Thank you for your comment Hello. Maybe you will get started researching your family tree.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on January 09, 2010:

This a subject which interests me very mych. Thank you for your informative hub.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on January 09, 2010:

Tom, I would start with copying a family tree sheet and pedigree chart off my website or off the internet. Start writing everything you do know about your family. Talk with relatives. Read any article for new genealogist. It doesn't cost money so much; it takes time. Knowing the grandparents maiden names is very helpful. The internet is loaded with websites for genealogy. is a wonderful resource and available at most libraries also. Try to get all available copies of documents for your family, like birth, marriage, wills,death certificates, etc. If you want more specific information, email me and I will be glad to help you get started.

Tom Whitworth from Moundsville, WV on January 09, 2010:


I don't know hardy anything about my family tree. I do know my grandparent's names including both grandmother's maiden names. How much do you need to get started?

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on January 09, 2010:

Eovery, You might get hooked on it like I did.

eovery from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa on January 09, 2010:

My family has a lot of the geneology done. I need to get more involved and work on it some.

Keep on hubbing!

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