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Looking Ahead

Once you have recorded all of the information that you and your family can remember, you'll need to begin some outside research. But before you run out to the library, there are a few things that you should do:

First, you need to decide which branch of the family you want to begin researching. Starting with yourself, there are four branches that you could follow: the ancestors of your mother's mother, of your mother's father, of your father's mother, or of your father's father. Of course your family tree branches off into even more directions with each preceding generation, but the idea is to choose one section of the family to start with so that you have a defined goal when you head to the library.

To start with, you may want to choose a branch about which you have very little information, or you can choose a branch about which you have several generations of information, and try to find even more. It's all up to you. Once you've chosen a branch to start out with, stick with it for a while to see how far back you can go. Be realistic, and remember that it's not always easy to find information; it may take some time and effort.

You can research more than one branch at once -- it may make sense to do so if you're making special trips to distant libraries or archives. Just be sure to keep your notes well-organized.

Next, when you've selected a branch, it would be a very good idea to learn a little about the history and geography of the place where those ancestors lived. For example, learning about what political and historical events may have influenced your ancestors could help you figure out migration patterns. Knowing a little bit about the geography can help you out when there have been boundary or name changes in the places where they lived. Looking at maps from different time periods will help you out in this area. You don't need to become an expert, but go to the library and skim through a book or two about that state or country. Encyclopedias can also give excellent background information. A few well-spent hours may help you out quite a bit in the long run. Of course, as you find more of your ancestors, you'll probably discover that they lived in many different areas. Return to the library as necessary to pick up some knowledge about the places where they lived.

Finally, decide what kind of information you want to collect about your family. You could just stick with the basic facts, such as names, birth dates, marriages dates, and death dates. These are the kinds of things that you'll find in vital records, church records, and in family Bibles. On the other hand, you could dig a little deeper and find more detailed information, such as what your ancestors did for a living, what their addresses were, and what types of recreational activities they took part in. This is the type of information that you may find in censuses, city directories, and town histories. Once you've decided what you want to find, you can use our Step-by-Step Guide to find your family information.

Keys to successful genealogical research:

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