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Gathering Your Family History

Many people who are interested in researching their family history tend to jump headlong into the internet and quickly begin searching specialized family tree databases looking for references to their family name. This approach will quickly lead to confusion and frustration. The internet is a wonderful research tool and it contains much that is useful to someone researching their family history. But it is also incomplete, inconsistent and often outright wrong. For someone starting out in genealogy, it is better to try more obvious avenues of investigation before venturing onto the internet.

The best place to start researching your family history is to ask members of your own family. Not surprisingly, they will know more about your family than anyone else. Talking to family members can be both productive and enjoyable if it is done in a consistent and logical manner. Here are some tips and ideas to help get you started:

• Ask extended family members (aunts, uncles, distant cousins, etc.) if anyone in the family has done any genealogy research. Most families have at least one person who has taken the time and effort at some point to collect the family history and archive important family documents. Finding out who this person is and what they have done can give you an enormous head start on your own family history research. Just remember that this person has probably spent years collecting the information. When you ask this person for information on your family, be polite and be clear as to why you want the information and what you are going to do with it. For example, many people will frown very heavily if you put personal family information (dates of birth, home addresses, etc.) on the internet for all the world to see without their explicit permission.

• Collect all relevant documents and papers you have in your possession and put them in one location. This would include such items as birth certificates, baptismal records, marriage certificates, immigration records, citizenship documents, newspaper obituary notices and death certificates. Some families will also have wills, land deeds, military records and medical records that can contain useful information. Also, don’t forget to check the family bible. The inside cover pages of the family bible were once a popular place for people to record important names and dates. Scrapbooks and old photos can also provide useful information, especially if someone recorded the names, dates and locations of the people in the photographs.

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