Getting Started with Genealogy Research


Genealogy can be a challenging and rewarding hobby. We've listed some tips below to help you get started:

1. Start with yourself – Include your name at birth and any name changes due to marriages, adoption, etc. You'll also want to include your place of birth, other places you've lived, the names of your birth parents and adoptive parents (if applicable), the names of your siblings, and any important childhood memories.

2. Work backwards in time – Start with yourself and work backwards in time, one generation at a time. Use census records to begin researching family members in each generation and follow up with documentation. Documentation often includes primary records (vital records, marriage records, death records). Documentation can validate census records or lead to findings that are omitted from census records.

3. Search census records first – Census records are the first source to be utilized in genealogy searches. Work backwards from the last published census, 1940, to the earliest census, 1790.  Bear in mind that statehood played a major role in when a particular state was included on the Federal census--states were not included in the census until they were admitted to the Union as a state.

4. Organize, organize, and organize! – Family trees are complex! Organize your research by ancestral charts, pedigree charts, and family group sheets. Other forms to use are research forms that can help you to organize the sources you've already used and avoid the duplication of research. Research forms can also help you to keep track of references or citations for sources.

5. Talk to relatives – Conduct oral interviews of family members. Family members can provide information not found in sources and can lead to clues about familial relationships.

6. Go beyond the census* – There are many other sources that you can use to find information:

  • Death records – These records are more accessible than other vital records. Death records were recorded since the mid-19th  century. Death records may list the name of the deceased at time of death, names of the parents, the name of a spouse or next of kin, the most recent address, the occupation of the deceased, date of death, cause of death, and place of burial.
  • Marriage records – Information often found in marriage records are the name of the groom and the maiden name of the bride, the date of marriage, the ages of bride and groom, the parents’ names of the bride and groom, and the name of the officiant.
  • Birth records – Before the 1920s, local governments did not require births to be recorded. These records were often closed to researchers. Birth records have the following information: place of birth, date of birth, gender and race of the child, name of the father, maiden name of the mother, and the ages of the parents at the birth of the child.
  • Newspapers and obituaries – Often provide death notices and obituaries that contain the name of the deceased, the parents’ names, the names of the survivors, the immediate family preceded in death, the places of residence, the location of the funeral service, and the place of burial.
  • City directories – Track individuals in the years between censuses: contain names, especially the head of household; home address; occupation; and place of employment.
  • Published books – Local history books contain details about local residents, history of each town and township, information about the founding of churches, the history of schools and organizations, and biographical sketches of local residents. Family histories describe mainly early Anglo-American families before the 1970s. After the 1970s, they may include more nationalities.
  • Cemetery records – Contain gravestone, markers, or tombstone inscriptions. They list the deceased person's name, birth date, death date, possible spouse name, and children’ names.
  • Military records – Provide basic information about enlisted service personnel or commissioned officers, often including: the name of the assigned regiment and unit, rank at the commencement of service and end of service, dates of service, birthplace, birth date, death date, and next of kin.
  • Church records – May contain birth, baptism, marriage, and death information. These records can determine an ancestor’s denomination and congregation.
  • Immigration records and passenger lists – May contain information concerning the individual’s name, age, place of departure, port of arrival, ship’s name, and the names of other passengers aboard the ship.

*Special note about Louisiana vital records:

Birth records were not required by law to be filed with the State of Louisiana until 1918. Death records were not required by law to be filed with the State of Louisiana until 1952. Louisiana is a closed record site, therefore records are not readily available online until the required number of years has passed for each vital record category. For Louisiana, births must have occurred more than 100 years from the end of the current calendar year before they become available online.  Deaths must have occurred more than 50 years from the end of the current calendar year before they are made available online.

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