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Genealogy How-To
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Family Finder
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* Starting out: collecting family memories

When you're first starting out, collecting information about your ancestors may seem like an enormous task. However, researching your family history can be as large or as small a project as you want it to be. It all depends on how many generations back you want to go and how much time you want to devote to it.

The good news is that, because you start with relatives that are close to you, collecting genealogical information is usually quite simple in the beginning. You may already know much of the information about your close relatives, If not, all you need to do is ask. Even when you do think you know, it's probably a good idea to verify the places and dates anyway.

The first thing you'll want to do is record the basic genealogical information that you know about your close relatives. The best place to start collecting information is with the most recent generation. This may be you, your children, or perhaps your grandchildren. You'll probably want to collect facts such as full names, birth dates and birthplaces, marriage dates and marriage places, and death dates and death places, if applicable. Take these facts and enter them into your family tree software. When you have collected information about yourself and any younger generations, then you'll want to start working backwards with your parents, grandparents, and so on, as far back as you can remember.

Next, you'll want to ask your family members for any information that they can remember. If you can't talk to them directly, then call them on the phone or write them a letter. Many family tree programs allow you to print blank Family Group Sheets. Sending them to relatives or taking them along when you visit relatives gives you an organized way to collect information. When you talk to relatives, you will want them to give or verify information about themselves, but you should also ask for information about other relatives. For example, if your grandparents are no longer living, ask your parents about them. You can probably even ask them about your great-grandparents. Talk to aunts, uncles, cousins, and as many other people in your family as you can. Another source of family information can be close family friends. You may be surprised by who knows what about whom in your family.

In addition to asking family members for names, dates, and places, ask if they know about old family Bibles, pictures, or other family records that may exist. Any information that you can get from family memories and keepsakes means less research that you have to do from scratch. See the topic Finding information at home for a list of potential information sources that you can find in homes.

Keys to successful genealogical research:

KeyGuidelines for writing to places to request information

KeyTracking your correspondence.

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