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Research Tip 1: The Basics

by Raymond S. Wright III, Ph.D., AG
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Start With Yourself
Just getting started? The trick is to begin with yourself and work backwards. You'll ususally find gaps in information within your first four generations (those between you and your great-grandparents). Raymond Wright tells you the best way to go about your family search.
Many persons interested in their family origins start as surname searchers. They examine indexes, walk through cemeteries, search who's who books, and biographical encyclopedias under the surnames they know of from their families. This is starting at the wrong end of the process.

Begin with yourself. Make certain that you have the birth, marriage, and death dates and places for your spouse, children, and grandchildren. Use family group records available at local genealogy shops, bookstores, and stationers. You may wish to use one of the many computer programs that help you compile this data on your computer's hard drive or on diskettes. Local computer software dealers will be able to help you find a genealogy program. Local libraries may subscribe to the magazine Genealogical Computing, in which you will find articles about genealogy software programs.

After you have recorded dates and places for each member of your immediate family, do the same for your parents, brothers and sisters. Include your siblings spouses and children. Once this task is accomplished, fill in family group records for grandparent families — including their children, children's spouses, and children. One generation at a time, moving from the present into the past, you will discover your roots.

Usually within the first four generations — the generations between you and your great-grandparents — you will find gaps in the information you have about a birth, marriage, or death of an ancestor. Now the detective work begins. Your goal becomes the discovery of facts about ancestors, their children, their children's spouses and children. The best place to start your search is among living relatives: your siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Learn if they have more information than you do about forebears. You can extend your search to family members you have never met by using books like Elizabeth Petty Bentley's Directory of Family Associations. Your local library may have a copy. Many local libraries also have microfiche or CD collections of telephone books from most areas in the United States. Researchers often use telephone directories to make lists of persons from areas where their families lived and who have the same surnames. Post cards can be sent to the persons found with a query about their relationship to your ancestor(s) from the area.

As you gather information, arrange it under the family (mother, father, children,) that the materials describe. File the family group records you compile in generation order: yours first, then your parents, grandparents, and so on. Use a pedigree chart as an index of your progress. Again, local genealogy shops, book stores, and stationers will have charts you can buy. The first person on the chart will be you. Next, your parents, and then each generation of grandparents. Under each person's name will be a space to record their birth, marriage, and death dates and places.

About the Author
Raymond S. Wright III is a professor at Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah), where he has taught courses in family history and genealogy since 1990. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in history from the University of Utah. An Accredited Genealogist of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, Wright was manager of library operations there from 1979-1990. During his employment, Wright did numerous research assignments in archives and libraries in the United States and many foreign countries. He is a specialist on genealogical records in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Wright has served twice as chairman of the American Library Association's Genealogy Committee. He is also author of The Genealogist's Handbook: Modern Methods for Researching Family History.

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