Getting Started with Family History (April 2013 update)

  1. How do you get started?
      1. Identify known family information – write what you know – fill in as much of a predigree chart as you can – check with relatives – has anyone done research on your family?  (see Types of Websites in Section 2 below)
      2. Decide what you want to learn – look at your pedigree chart – set a research objective.
      3. Select records to search – what types of records are available for your locality in the time period you are searching? (check on the research wiki to find out about records that are available) – where can you access them?
      4. Obtain and search the records – keep a record of your findings in a research log
      5. Evaluate and use the information – is this my ancestor? Record the information. Share what you have found.
      6. Do more research or set a new goal.

Go to a Family History Centre and get a copy of “How Do I Start My Family History” (includes a blank pedigree chart) – and for personal help! – you can also look in the Research Wiki under Learn at – the same section of the website has free research courses.

Tip #1 Is this my ancestor?  Consider the following:

  1. Is the possible match person living in the right place to be my ancestor?
  2. Is this event in the right time period to be within the lifetime of my ancestor?
  3. Is the possible match person too young or too old to have been my ancestor?
  4. Are names of children associated with the possible match consistent with what I already know about the children of my ancestor?
  5. Do the ages of the children seem logical, or are they too young or too old to be my ancestor’s children?
  6. Is this the right spouse?
  7. Are the economic conditions of this person consistent with the known family history?
  8. Do the relatives and associates of your ancestor appear in records with the possible match?
  9. Is the possible match person affiliated with the church you know your ancestor belonged to?
  10. Could the possible match person, living in a neighboring county, be my ancestor?  County and electoral district boundaries changed over the years.
  11. Why is the name of the possible match person spelled differently from my ancestor’s name? The name of a person was commonly spelled differently in different documents.

Tip #2 Make a decision about your possible match – choices:

  1. Confirm the person as your ancestor.
  2. Suspect that the person may be a relative with the same name.
  3. Eliminate that person as your possible ancestor.
  4. Decide that there is not enough information yet to confirm or eliminate this person as your ancestor.

(From “How to Recognize your Canadian Ancestor” in  the research wiki at

Tip #3 Select a genealogy software program to record, and organize your research – & print reports. There are even several very good free programs available – Rootsmagic, Ancestral Quest, Legacy FamilyTree have free versions – some people like Personal Ancestral File (available as a download from – there are many many choices.  Take a test drive before deciding – matter of personal choice!

  1. Using the Internet for Family History – tips and strategies:
  • The Internet is a wonderful tool with which to do family history.
  • There are some very good sites and some not as good, so be selective
  • Just like printed materials, being on the Internet does NOT mean it is true!  VERIFY any information you obtain from the Internet unless it is from a scanned copy of an original record.
  • Remember that indexes, and typed copies of originals are secondary sources
  • Unless it is a scanned copy of an original document it is not a primary source
  • You always need to look at the original whenever possible
  • You can’t do all your research on the Internet (yet!), so recognize that you will need to use a library and archives at some point
  • Use “Find on this page” (Ctrl + F), found under the “Edit” to search for a specific word, such as a surname or place, on a web page
  • Keep a list of the addresses of web sites you have visited, along with what you found there – the Internet is very changeable, what is there today may not be there tomorrow – consider how you can save the information you find (Hint: take a screen shot)
  • Be aware of spelling variations and nicknames – e.g’s James may be Jas, William may be Bill or Will or Wm.  Just because you know how the name is correctly spelled does not mean the person who wrote or transcribed the record will have it right!  Try to work out how it was written in the record.  Could a birth in Middlesex be transcribed Mexico?  Could Bethnal Green become Green Bethnal?  Be careful in the use of Mc or Mac.
  • When was the website last updated?  This could be a problem if you are looking for the latest information and the web site was last updated in 1999.

Types of web sites:

  1. How to site – help with doing your research – – great tool for finding how to do research – for many countries
  2. Research done by others and sharing your research
    1. Familysearch –  has Family Tree and older collections such as Pedigree Resource File and Ancestral File
    2. World Connect – free trees at
    3. Ancestry  $ – has a trees section
    4. MyHeritage – 2nd most popular site for Family History –  limited free version, otherwise $
  3. Databases – original images and transcripts – some are free, some are pay to use
    1. Record search – – gets its data from Familysearch Indexing and extraction
    2. Automated Genealogy –  Canadian census – Library and Archives Canada and
    3. Freebmd
    4. or  $  but free at a Family History Centre
    5. FindMyPast – $ – free at a Family History Centre – there is a US branch too.
    6. Scotland’s People – official govt documents – reasonable $- http:/
    7. Ellis Island
  4. Cemeteries and Obituaries
    1. Billion Graves
    2. Find a Grave
    3. AFHS Cemetery projects – online – the dropdown list next to cemetery name shows you the range of names
    4. AGS Cemetery projects – need to ask  about availability
    5. Early Alberta Newspapers at Alberta Heritage Digitization Project
    6. Peel’s Prairie Provinces – newspapers and more
    7. Also contact individual newspapers and funeral homes for obituaries
  5. Search engines – learn how to be good at searching
    1. – but also use the national sites by google so you can more easily focus your search to sites in one country e.g. ,
    3.  – uses 3 search engines at once (google, yahoo, bing)
    4. Mocavo – a genealogy search engine – – free but advanced searches $60 a year
  6. Maps
    1. Google maps –
    2. Bing maps –
    3. Google Earth –
    4. Old Maps –  – lots of sites available
  7. Directory/Gateway sites
    1. Mary’s Genealogy Treasures
    2. Cyndi’s list
    3. Genuki
  8. Archives and Libraries
    1. Familysearch – Family History Library in Salt Lake City – microfilm and fiche can be ordered and sent to your local LDS Family History Centre – use the library catalog at – order films online at
    2. Canadian Genealogy Center at Collections Canada – Western Land Grants, immigration, military ,
    3. Parkland Regional Libraries – such as Innisfail Library – have access to HeritageQuest Online (especially good for US Censuses) for free and a good guide to Family History/Genealogy and more   and Red Deer Public Library – free access to HeritageQuestOnline – see our article on using your local library at
    4. College and university libraries – try WorldCat search
  9. Surname and locality interest lists
    1. Rootsweb
    2. Genuki
  10. Blogs and Newsletters
    1. Dick Eastman
    2. Ancestry Insider
    3. GenealogyInTime magazine – Canadian – publishes weekly newsletter
    4. To find a blog for your FH interests go to
    5. International Blogs
  11. Family History or Genealogy Societies – publications and surname interest lists
    2. Alberta Family Histories Society – includes 1906 census index, some Alberta Cemeteries and much more
    3. Alberta Genealogical Society
    4. BC Genealogical Society
    5. Saskatchewan Genealogical Society
    6. US National Genealogical Society
  12. Scandinavia
    1. Danish census
    2. Swedish church records – see original pages – pay to use or go to your local LDS Family History Centre – service now owned by
    3. Danish church records – digital images for free! –
    4. Norwegian church records – transcribed and digital images for free! –

For a “click and go” version of this handout go to or – you can subscribe to get our new articles automatically.

Also see or for help with using RootsMagic

This entry was posted in Cemeteries,, General, Getting Started, Maps and Gazetteers, Research, RootsMagic and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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