Although researching is interesting, it is a lot of work as well
This is Evan Brand, husband of Jamie, demonstrating how to not work.
Just kidding, he's really a hard worker!(and our son-in-law)
Researching is fun ... not drudgery. This kind of reseach becomes exciting because it is all about YOU and those you love. So relax, learn, follow through and enjoy.
But doesn't it get frustrating? Oh, yes! Especially when you run into that "cousin" (just someone related to you through your lineage) that won't share or won't talk. We all have those. Some are just very private people, some don't care a whit about what interests someone else, and some just plain don't want to admit they don't know or can't tell.
Ok, how do I get started?
First, assemble some materials. A notebook, envelopes, stamps, a good black ink pen, your address book, stationary, (or word processor), hand-held tape recorder with fresh batteries.
Using your address book, write to all of the relatives you can find, telling them you are starting a Family History, and that you need help. Enclose a questionnaire that they can use to simply fill in the blanks, or include a list of questions for them to answer. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope. (Do this for EACH request for information, whether from a person or another source. This is considered good manners in family history research.)
Write them all, asking for names, dates, places, anecdotes. Some will be flattered, some will be ready to help, but SOME, bless them, will know of another family member who "has already done a lot of research." They will probably suggest you contact that person. And THAT, you want to do!
Once you know the names of some of your early relatives, you can start to search in earnest. When I started, over 20 years ago, it required a trip to a family history library or genealogical society and hours of pouring over books. Today, we have a marvelous resource in the Internet. Not only is much of the information just sitting there, waiting for us to find it, but there are wonderful people out there who actually want to help you, sometimes even if you are lot researching their lines. These people will look up things for you from resources they have. And, of couse, those who turn out to be "cousins" will be delighted to share with you, perhaps to meet with you. Today I have dozens of "cousins" I have never met face-to-face that often snail-mail me paperwork unsolicited. I met two of my fellow searches face-to-face and we remain in touch today. Without my family history search I would never have known any of these people.
Starting with your own parents, ask if they have any documents you might look at, such as death certificates. (Assuming, of course, that you still have your parents, or that you are a natural child of your parents. By the way, researching when you have been adopted is, of course, a very different thing and not the subject we are dealing with here.) Old insurance papers, newspaper clippings, birth certificates, etc., all have valuable information. I remember when I first sent off for my first death certificate. Since I knew where and when my grandfather died, I was able to write for the death certificate. It told his parent's names, where they were born, the reason for his death, and other information. I was so excited, telling everyone "I got this death certificate today!" They thought, of course, that I was a little strange.
If your parents are unable to help, then ask for documents from other relatives, especially aunts, uncles, cousins. You may be surprised at what you find. One such "cousin" sent me old photographs that had belonged to her dead husband (he was my relative) and I had to find out who they were! It was a wonderful gift, others were able to identify some pictures for me, some are still waiting.
What is the notebook for?
Using a steno notebook or yellow legal pad, or whatever is best for you, be sure you log every single source you try. This may seem silly since you may have an excellent memory, but after a few months you find yourself wondering "did I write this source or that? Did they just not reply, or what?" Of course, if you are using your word processor you will have copies of your letters, but you still need to record your activities. Put down the date, address, and what you hoped to receive in your book. In a few years it will really be of value. By that time you'll have so many names you will have trouble keeping track.
Many people just try to find their lineage, straight back to Noah. They ignore the brothers and sisters of the people they are trying to follow. This is a big mistake. Sometimes the only way to find the "missing link" is through a sibling's information. For example, I went to the LDS library to research a great-great-grandfather. Nothing, and this is the best source of information other than the Internet I know. So I tried his brother's name and Poof! Up popped a whole line of relatives, including the great-great-great-grandfather I was looking for. They didn't know about my g-g-gpa! The very best information I can give you: keep good records.Don't stuff papers into a file or drawer. Keep them neat, in file folders or notebooks. Label anything that doesnt' move. Keep those "maybe it will fit" papers in a special place, too. One day it just might fit.
Still a little nervous about getting started. Second piece of best advice: just hop in there and do it! Write everyone, take the information you receive and write for documents from the locations you know about.
And the tape recorder? That's for your 85 year old Aunt Jane. Go visit her, ask questions, and tape the conversation. After a few minute's nervousness and "I don't like tape recorders," you will overcome the reluctance because 85 year olds love company who will listen to them.
Use your search engines! I located a great-grandfather simply by typing in his name. It did happen. There he was, on the Internet, placed there by another researcher. Oddly enough, I had been totally unable to find this man through usual sources. A word to the wise might fit here: Don't take the information others give you as "gospel." Check out sources, make your own inquiries. You will want to have a file of your own proof anyway. Sometimes researchers get a little careless and stop short of actually verifying information. Don't let that happen to you!
I hope this is helpful. I will be posting some Handy-Hints for researchers in the future, so y'all come back, y'heah!
PO BOX 8325
Red Bluff, CA 96080
Have you had an interesting experience researching your family lines? I'd like to start a page of stories of researchers. If you have one to tell, please send it to me at email@example.com. Hopefully I can get enough together to share. In the meantime, nice searching!