Where do I start with my family history?
I have had several friends recently ask me to do their genealogy. Usually the comment I hear is, “I have no idea where to start!” or “All my ancestors are gone” or “Nobody remembers anything in our family.” And my all-time favorite line, especially when it comes to Irish records, “all those records are destroyed, so we’ll never know!”
I’m here to tell you that even if no one remembers who your great-grandparents were, all is not lost. In fact, there are many records available to help you in your research.
So let’s take one of the questions I hear a lot, “I have no idea where to start!” Simple answer, start with yourself! First, record your information. Add your name, date of birth, place of birth and if you want baptismal information. Remember, there will come a time when someone will want to know about you someday! Add any information you want to add, such as your education, interests, and maybe where you’ve been on vacation and your occupations.
Most of us know who our biological parents are and may have some information about their lives. If they are still alive and you don’t have a lot of information to start with, ask them questions about their parents, dates of birth and death, and where they may have grown up. Obviously, if you are adopted, the search can be more difficult, but depending on the country you were born in, there are also some options.
Once you’ve gathered some information, keep it organized by using a pedigree and family group chart or by going to a hard copy of which you can get copies at many libraries or download it online or use one of the available computer programs. I use Family Tree Maker, but there are others that may work for you as well. At this point, you may find that you may have already collected enough information to publish two or three generations or even more than that.
Start looking at some of the free online sites like familysearch.org or the National archives (nara.gov). You can probably find valuable information from records like the US Census. Locating an ancestor from a census will allow you to search that region’s county history books, obituaries, and even vital records such as birth, marriage, and death certificates. Church records from this region would also be a valuable source. I wouldn’t start checking records overseas before you’ve exhausted almost all options in the US. There are a number of other online sites such as Ancestry.com, Findmypast.com, and Myheritage.com that can also be helpful, although you will need a subscription to these sites.
Many believe that Irish records no longer exist and your chances of finding anything are slim to none. This rumor is absolutely not true. Not all records were destroyed in the Dublin Four Courts fire of 1922. We now find some copies of church records that were never sent to the Four Courts for archiving, and a few pre-1900 censuses still exist and are now being show online. There are also a number of census proxies also available online that have also been archived outside of the Four Courts building.
What can also be helpful for the new researcher is a seminar or course that is provided by many libraries and even some societies provide an online seminar. Some programs such as the National Institute of Genealogical Research also provide certificate and non-certificate programs and courses for the family historian. If you are willing to make that trip to Ireland, the Ulster History Foundation also provides two family history conferences each year from its office in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The conference includes research at the Public Archives of Northern Ireland and a day trip to Dublin for research at the National Archives of Ireland, the Register of Deeds and the National Library of Ireland.
Well, that’s a lot of information, but once you get started, many of these entries will become very familiar. Just remember, the key to starting your family research starts with YOU!
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