1. The best place to start is with living relatives and inherited boxes. Look for dates and places for birth, marriage, and death. Ask where parents and grandparents are buried. Ask if anyone has done previous genealogy research.
2. Record all your direct ancestors on a Pedigree Chart. Start with yourself. You are #1. Your father is #2 and your mother is #3. Men are always written above their partners and have an even number. Women always have an odd number. If you double a person’s number, you get their father’s number.
3. The Family Group Sheet is used to record a family unit with children. One form for each couple and their children.
4. Write everything down as you find it, even record misspellings.
5. Follow genealogical conventions:
a. For women use birth name.
b. Dates are written DD MMM YYYY. Example: 26 JAN 1950 (Abt, Circa or C, range, Bef/Aft)
c. Place names are written from small to large separated by commas. If one jurisdiction is unknown still keep the commas. Examples:
i. Ferndale, Whatcom, Washington, United States;
ii. Ferndale,, Washington, United States if the county is unknown;
iii. ,Whatcom, Washington, United States if the city is unknown.
d. Surname Option: Make all surnames all caps. Or make direct ancestors’ surnames all caps.
6. Search online for:
a. Census records. Start with 1940 and work back.
b. Civil records (birth, marriage, and death)
c. Church records (birth, baptism, marriage, membership, death, burial)
d. Obituaries (a wealth of information about relatives)
e. Social Security applications, claims, death index
f. City Directories often annual with occupations and household members. Then google the address.
g. Voters records
h. Land records.
i. Wills and probate. These are filed separately.
j. WWI draft registration
k. WWII at National Archives
7. Birth and death certificates were not required until the early 1900’s. Dates vary by locale. Find out the dates in your area of study before you start looking.
8. For birth certificates, if you can’t find them online, you should be able to find an index to be sure it exists. Send for copies of birth certificates. Tell them “for genealogical purposes”. You do not need a certified copy and it might be cheaper.
9. Also likely to be online but if not, send for copies of marriage certificates, which show ages, parents, witnesses and other important information.
10. Look online, then send for death certificates which may show cause of death, residence, parents’ names, birth and death dates.
11. List your source for everything even a phone conversation with Aunt Mary. There are rules for citations for every kind of source.
12. Evaluate sources. Either primary or secondary. Consider if it is an official record, how close to the time of the event, did the reporter have personal knowledge. Determine how likely it is that the information is correct.
13. Find your own sources. Don’t just copy other family trees.
More things to keep in mind:
1. There are usually 3 generations per century. Four at the most.
2. Men usually married around age 24 (rarely married before 20).
3. Women usually married when they were around 20 (rarely before 16)
4. Usually first marriages were between couples nearly the same age.
5. Older widowers usually married much younger women or women who had never been married before.
6. Births occurred at two-year intervals. The first child was usually born a year after the marriage.
7. As a woman aged, there was more separation between children.
8. Child-bearing years usually ended around the age of 45 and rarely after 52.
9. Families and neighbors quite frequently migrated together from their old homes.
10. Women rarely traveled alone.
11. Men usually married women from their own neighborhood.
12. If someone “strange” shows up on the record, check the man’s former home area.
13. Can ‘t find someone, check records in the West.
14. If you have a male ancestor born around 1840, check Civil War records.
15. A lot of pioneers moved to counties with the same latitude or longitude from their origin.
16. Immigrants moved to areas with climate similar to their old homes. Someplace with the same growing conditions or occupations like farming or fishing.
17. If you have a relative with a virtuous name like Charity, Patience, Silence, etc., look in New England.
18. Children often were named after grandparents. Sometimes middle names or even first names were the mother’s or grandmother’s maiden names. Some cultures have specific naming traditions for children.