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Basic Research Steps on Family History

Posted by Elise on October 12, 2009


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1.  Remember your Ancestors


Begin by remembering information about each member in your family that will identify that person. Each person can be identified by personal information, such as the following:

  • Name
  • Other members of the family
  • Dates and places of important events such as birth, marriage, and death
  • Ancestral village
  • Occupation

Get forms or computer programs you can use to record your family information. They make the task of recording and organizing easier. You can get basic ones for free on

If you prefer writing information on paper, download or print these two forms:

  • Pedigree Chart—A pedigree chart lets you list your pedigree (your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and so on).
  • Family Group Record—A family group record lets you list an entire family and their information. You will need several copies.

If you prefer using a computer, download the free program Personal Ancestral File, or install a family history program of your choice.

Record the information you remember about your family on the forms or in a family history program.

  • First fill out a form for your own family, and then work back to your parents and grandparents. You can quickly see what you know and what information is missing or incomplete.

2.  Use Sources in Your Home

Look for sources in your home that might contain the missing or incomplete family information.

  • Useful sources include birth, marriage, and death certificates; family bibles; funeral programs; obituaries; wedding announcements; family registers; and ancestral tablets.

Add this information to your pedigree charts and family group records.

Record the sources of the information (use the Notes or Sources section on the forms or in your family history program). This helps you and others know where the information came from.

3.  Ask Relatives for Information

Make a list of other relatives and the family information they may have.

Contact the relatives—visit, call, write, or e-mail them.

  • Be sure to ask specifically for the information you would like. (For example, “Do you know when Aunt Jane was born?”)

Add the information to your pedigree charts and family group records.

Record the names of the relatives who gave you the information in Notes or Sources.

Congratulations – You have filled out family group records and pedigree charts with the information your family has. Now you are ready to look for information in other records.

4.  Choose a Family or Ancestor You Want to Learn More About

Look for missing or incomplete information on your pedigree chart and family records.

Select a family or ancestor with missing or incomplete information.

  • Start with the generations closest to you, and work your way back. Usually, it is easier to find information for a family member or ancestor born in a recent period.

5.  See If Someone Else Has Already Found the Information

Warning: A common mistake is to gather every reference to the surname even if the person is not clearly a relative.

Look for the names in Search for Ancestor. This will search the databases that are a part of FamilySearch Internet. The databases include family histories submitted by others.

Look for a published family history.

Look for the names in the Family History Library Catalog, Surname Search.

  • The search will list family histories in the Library’s collection that contain the surname.
  • You can arrange to see many of the histories at your local family history center.

Look for published family histories on other Web Sites or at public archives and libraries.

If the family histories do not contain information about the family you want, search for records from the locality where your ancestor lived.

6.  Search Records for Information About Your Ancestor

Use Research Guidance. Research Guidance helps you find copies of original records, such as censuses and birth records, based on where the person lived and the time of his or her birth, marriage, or death. You select the place and time, and Research Guidance provides a list of recommended things to do and records to search in priority order.

Download and print forms and guides to help you. Many forms and guides are available in Research Helps to download for free. These forms will help you plan, record, and analyze your research.  Free Family History, Family Tree, and Genealogy Records and Resources from Around the World

  • Pedigree Chart—Download or print a form to list your pedigree: your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and so on.
  • Family Group Record Form—Download or print a form to list an entire family and their information.
  • Personal Ancestral File—Download a Windows®-based program to help you organize your family history information.
  • Search for Ancestors—Search for deceased individuals in the database.
  • Family History Library Catalog, Surname Search—Search for published histories of individuals in the Family History Library collection.
  • Family History Centers—Locate a family history center near you.
  • Web Sites—Locate other family history Web sites that may contain histories or information about your family.
  • Research Guidance—Search for records that may have information about your ancestors.
  • Research Helps—Access forms and other helps to download or print.

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