Hints and Tips for Beginners

Are you starting to search for your ancestors?  Have you been looking for awhile?  I hope some of these small tips can help.  Let me tell you first;  I am not a professional genealogists.  I started looking for my ancestors about five years ago.  I put the papers away for awhile but got it back out when someone asked about a relative.  That triggered my interest again.  I am on several mailing lists and have talked with many people who have been very helpful.  Most people are willing to help when you have a question.  Some people on the list may own some census forms from the county you are in.  Others have books of some of the cemeteries.  Many of us have discussed ways to make it easier on the researchers (you and the person looking up information for you).  As ideas/suggestions/comments come up I will post them here.

Getting Stared in Family Genealogy

First – start with YOU and your immediate family.
Write down the follow ing about you, your children, spouse, and your parents

1. Write down full names. Use ALL CAPS for surname/last name. (eg. Beverly Ann JOHNSON)
2. Birth dates and places. Please include the city, state/province, and country.
3. Dates and places of marriages.
4. What were their parents names, birth dates, places
5. When did their parents marry and where.
6. Death dates and places. Burial places and dates if possible.

Now work backward, one generation at a time gathering information about your parents, grandparents, and so on. Names, dates, and places should always be documented by reference to the records where the information was found. This is really important in case you run across conflicting information. If you found the information on a Primary Source, such as a birth certificate, or death certificate, your information is likely to be correct.

You can note the sources on the bottom of your pedigree chart if you wish.

Once you get a start on your family history, you are likely to hit a dead end where no one in your immediate family knows any more information. Now you turn to other family members like Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, cousins, etc. If it is possible for you to visit them, that is a great idea! They might have family photos to share. Be sure to take a camera along in case
they don’t want you to take original photos. You can simply take a photo of each photo! Carefully document who is in the photos in a notebook.

Sometimes people tape record conversations with the relatives. Please obtain permission before doing this. Go prepared with specific questions. The same holds true if you write letters to relatives for information.

Writing Letters

* Always enclose an SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) or enough money to cover postage.
* Send a few specific questions about specific relatives. Don’t be too general asking someone to send everything they know about your family!
* Make sure to type or write the letter very neatly.
* The best results I ever got, were the times I wrote the questions on a separate piece of paper, numbered with spaces to place the answers.
* Always offer to share any family information/pedigrees you have.

Scrap Booking Family Records

You might want to start off right away keeping track of what you find, in a scrapbook.
It is possible to make a ‘Scrapbook’ to create a beautiful Family History Record. You would need a few basics like:
1) Acid Free/Archive Quality paper -you can print up any historical information, family stories etc on this.
2) Photo paper to copy the photos (Kodak works best for me)
3) Acid free clear folders
4) Get an album that says “acid free/lignin free”.  Those magnetic albums aren’t. The paper to put your pictures on should also be acid and lignin free
5) Use writing pens or markers which are acid/lignin free.
6) Photo safe glue stick/photo corners/photo stickers

A Few Suggestions

* Rather than paste original old photos, it is best to make copies by scanning and then printing.
* You can also use a photo program like Photoshop or Paint shop pro to improve the look of old, faded photos.
* Since old black and white photos are made up of several layers including an emulsion layer, made up of organic materials, photos are likely to mold if they are exposed to hot temps (over 70F) or in damp areas such as found in basements.
* Keep the old photos in a cool, low humidity environment, in photo boxes, so that the photos do not touch each other, and keep negatives from touching each other or the photos, as they will stick.
* You can use a genealogy/family history program to type up and store your data.
* That can be printed off on your acid free paper too and added to the scrapbook, next to photos.
* Save your work on cds or zip disks also so you can print off copies for relatives. They can also be a great source of information for you too.

It’s not a new idea but it has gone through a lot of changes throughout the years.  Many people keep scrapbooks and photo albums.  Some people call them Heritage Albums and include information about ancestors, some as many as 10 generations back.  It’s a great way to preserve your family history.  If someone in your family has already started gathering information, you are ahead.  If not, you have to start at the beginning.  The beginning would be YOU.  Then your siblings, parents, grandparents, etc.  When I first started looking into my family history, I listed myself/siblings as #1, parents as #2, etc.  But as I found other people searching for ancestors I found that they count themselves last, listing their great-great-so forth-grandparents as #1.  So, whatever works for you!  Now, putting all the information into a scrapbook.

Organize your pictures.  Find out who they are, what the event was when they were taken, what the date was, anything you can, but don’t write on the backs with a pen.  An ink pen can leave the indents in a photo.  You may find a relative with a million pictures in boxes.  Isn’t that where most people store their pictures?  As you sort them out, think of how they will go into your book.  You may want to sort by chronological order, such as 1900-1920, 1920-1940, or by more or less years.  You may want to sort them by families.  You will decide by seeing how many pictures you have.  Other than pictures, you will need a few supplies.  You can really go overboard with those supplies.  Scrapbooking is a big hobby lately.  There are all types of decorative scissors, stickers, punches, paper, and more.  But if you are starting out new, start with the basics.

That is your basics.  Want more?  Want to decorate?  Get a book on scrapbooking or go to a scrapbook class.  You will learn how to mat photos, trim with decorative scissors, use a punch to add leaves/hearts/anything.  Preserve your photos, add the written information, you will have a Heritage Album.  Good luck