Genealogy - Where to Begin
Written and contributed by Bev, ©1999 - 2006

The best place to start Genealogy research is in class. Call your local community college or adult education program and find a Genealogy class to attend. It won't cost much and you won't believe how much you will learn. If you can't find a class, check some 'how to' books out of the library. Take notes - you'll go back to them time and time again.

Talk to all the family members - not just those you think will help.

Videotape the conversations if possible - especially with the older members. Take notes of everything that's said - do not rely on your memory! From some family members you will only get their own birth and marriage info and that of their children. From others you will get rumors of family history - don't take that as fact until you've seen documented proof. From yet others you will get facts about deceased members - parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. Get all the names, dates and places you can. And don't forget to write everything down! I know I'm repeating myself - but I can't stress the importance.

Involve other members of the family if you can. Organize a family reunion - all you have to do is get a location and notify everyone to bring a dish. Then, take your forms and start getting information. Let them know what you're doing and when you hope to have a first installment ready for them - you'll get better response than you think! Don't give it out for free - copying and binding will cost something - so let them know the approximate cost whenever you can.

Footnote absolutely everything - you must have documentation that proves your information or it is worthless. So much has been printed about some of my lines - with no references - and I don't know what's truth and what's rumor.

Get some good forms to use during your research - you'll need family group sheets, census sheets and pedigree charts. There are a number of bookstores that carry this type of form or your library, archives, historical society or genealogy society may have some. If you can't find them, let me know and I will send the address of a bookstore where you can get them. I'm not including it here, because I don't want you to think I'm advertising.

Now, get out your phone book - look for historical societies, genealogy societies, libraries and archives near you. And don't forget the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon) - they have excellent libraries for genealogy research and lots of records of others who are researching their families. If possible, join historical societies and genealogy societies for the locations that interest you. They generally have great newspapers or magazines and periodic meetings. They will also print queries for you that will reach people you'd never be able to find on your own. The cost of these organizations is usually about $10 - $15 per year, so you can join quite a few for a relatively small charge.

Go to any library, archives, historical society or genealogy society that has reference materials - especially census records, or county records for the counties of interest to you. Try to get enough info from your family interviews to take your family back to 1920. That is the last census that has been made public. From the census records, find your ancestor and write down all the info there - husband, wife, children, education, place of birth, national origin - absolutely everything! Look back and forth for a couple of pages - sometimes you find others with the same name - maybe another family member! Then go back to the 1910 census and do the same thing.

Keep going back until you run out of that family - now you have an estimated date of marriage. Check the county records for that marriage. Maybe it will also show the names of the parents of the bride and groom. If so, you're in luck - go back to the census and do the same research for them. If no parent's names are shown - check the census for your surname and search each record until you locate the ancestor's name. Check them all - the same name may appear with several families. Watch the children's ages and try to figure out which one is yours.

Visit cemeteries - write down all the information on the tombstones - some cemetery work has been done and books published that list all the graves and any information on the tombstones. See who's buried nearby - it may be another relative.

Visit courthouses - check for marriages, births and deaths of anyone with your surname. Also, check wills - sometimes, they will spell out the whole family for you. Look for land records - you may find that the land was given by a relative - look for the words - "for love and devotion" - that's your first clue to a relative.

Throughout this process, look for alternative spellings - seldom did one family keep exactly the same spelling throughout history. Not that the scribes were uneducated - it simply was not important! Nicknames were commonly used in legal documents. Family relationships were expressed differently too - cousin may have meant niece or nephew. Brother could mean friend, brother-in-law, Masonic brother or fellow member of the same church.

Look for changes in county boundaries - 14 original shires in Virginia became 100 counties in the early 1960's and is now down to about 92 - some became incorporated cities and are no longer counties. Also, in some states, cities are not a part of counties - they have their own records - that's true here in Virginia. In other states, they are part of the county and the records are together.

Online, find the sections that pertain to you in the Genealogy Message Board. It may be under surnames, states, nationalities or historical periods. Add your queries - include as much information as you can - names, dates, locations - and request a response by E-Mail. Don't put general queries in there - like "looking for Andersons". No responsible genealogist is going to respond to that. Instead - use something like - looking for parents of George ANDERSON who married Frances WOODSON circa 1740 in Fluvanna County Virginia. Do not put your queries in all caps - it's distracting. Instead capitalize only the surnames. In the subject line, put the surname and location - many people (like me) do not read a query titled "Looking" or "Help" or "Missing".

Find a Genealogy software package that suits your needs - there are lots on the market. Find one that will do pedigree charts, family group sheets, and family registers. It should also let you design your own lists - such as marriage lists and individual lists. An index should be generated when you print reports.

Most of all - have a good time! This is a fun hobby - relatively inexpensive - and loaded with new friends and family you simply haven't met yet! If you get the name of a distant relative - call information, get their number and call them! Some will think you're nuts (well?), but others will be excited to here from you. If you write to them first, they may think it's a fraud and ignore you - so call. I've found numerous distant cousins that way - have met most - and you'd think we've known each other forever! Don't think you're going to finish in a month or a year - this is an on-going process.

Return to Shenandoah County GenWeb Project

Created April 9, 1999
Updated April 25, 2006
© 1999 - 2006