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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice  by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


How To Begin The Research Stage...

Now that you have completely exhausted your own knowledge, it is time to start another phase of research. Again, because we will start from the known and go to the unknown, seek out family members, young and old, as well as family friends. Ask if they know of anyone who has ever started a project of this nature. You’ll be surprised how often someone did start their genealogy but for various reasons may not have completed the entire project. Ask family members and friends who they think may be able to help you.

Many think this next stage is very formal but you will be surprised at the success it brings. Interview relatives and friends you feel have interesting family stories and history. The word interview can sound scary, but think of it more as a conversation with that person, one that you will direct in a way to gain as much information as you can. You may have known your grandmother all your life, but what do you know about her life.

Remember, if your genealogy just has names, dates and locations, it will be very boring. So get answers to the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of your family.

Several books have been written to help you with this project. Book #G02 in the Heritage Book Series Ask Lots of Questions, Get Lots of Answers... lists all the questions to ask to take a person from the first memories through growing up years, education, courtship, family, retirement, etc., etc. The course Producing your Family Video shows you how to preserve your family stories and memories on video. These resources are available from the Genealogy Store.

When you return home from an interview session, take the time to record any new information on your pedigree chart and on your family group record. Do this in pencil until you’ve verified the information from other sources. At the same time, you may also want to update your miniature tree, if you feel that it is still easier for you to visualize your family names through this drawing. It’s easier to update your pedigree and family group record forms when the information is clear and fresh in your mind, than trying to remember later.

What Resources Does Your Family Have?

Your own family has many records in its possession, so exhaust all these sources before you go to the outside world. Ask each person you talk to if they also have the following types of records in their possession or if they know who would.

Types of Records

  • Vital Records
    Birth or christening, marriage and death or burial certificates.
  • Personal Records
    Journals, diaries, letters, postcards, newspaper clippings, wedding invitations, photo albums, baby books, school yearbooks, scrap books, wedding albums, memorial cards, funeral booklets, medals and badges, jewelry, embroideries and heirlooms, work and retirement records. Personal records have so much precious information to give you.
  • Legal Records
    Contracts, tax bills, wills, probate documents, deeds and mortgages.
  • School Records
    Diplomas, awards and alumni papers.
  • Religious Records
    Baptismal and marriage certificates church memberships, the Family Bible
  • Government Records
    Military papers and awards, war call-up papers, citizenship or naturalization papers, passports, business licenses, social insurance or security cards, income tax forms.
  • Health Records
    Vaccination, hospital, insurance and doctor’s forms.
  • Family Bible
    A bit of advice. Years ago, it was a tradition to give a newly married couple a Family Bible as a wedding gift. Years later this bible was usually passed down to the oldest son. The Bible had a few pages to record the vital statistics of the family. If the information was completed as it happened it’s usually very accurate. Unfortunately, the facts were sometimes recorded long after the event took place and mistakes could have been made.

There are two easy ways of knowing if the information was completed after the fact. First, check the date the Bible was printed and compare with the oldest hand-written entry. Naturally, if your first entry is prior to the date of printing, the entries must have been filled in after the fact.

Second, check the handwriting and ink color. If the entries all look the same, then the chances are very good that they were also done after the fact.

  • Family Photo Album
    This is great to look through. Not only will it evoke memories of family members that have passed away, but it will also stir up many family stories. The photo album can be frustrating though because, so often, names and dates are not recorded. You may be lucky and have relatives that still remember the people in the pictures. Record the names as you go along.

You should ask your relatives about oral history. Are there audio tapes that exist? These could contain interesting family conversations. Remember, this could also be in a vinyl record form which existed before the cassette tape. Ask also if there are any old family movies. Ask who else might have tapes or movies. It is always a challenge to keep up with changing technology.

You should note all family information and traditions with caution. Stories are often embellished, so try to get more than one person to recount family traditions. Facts such as dates should always be verified for accuracy. But even if you find some errors, you will still have gained valuable clues.

All family documents are fingerprints left behind by members of your family. They are all clues and will help you solve the puzzle. They are all documents that will help make the past come alive. At this point you should have accumulated quite a bit by way of basic information. Verify if others have done research in your family’s genealogy.

Finding What Others Have Done

Write to the following places to check:

  • Public libraries and genealogical or historical societies in towns or cities where your family migrated to and from.
  • Small local newspapers in towns or cities where your family settled and where your family emigrated from.
  • You should also check with your local FamilySearch Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (I will explain more about this unique church organization later on.)
  • Individuals listed in directories of family names being researched, for example:
  • Genealogical Research Directory (GRD)
  • Le Bottin Québecois des Chercheurs en Généalogie

Remember, genealogy is such a fast growing hobby that a distant cousin may be listed in one of these volumes and may have already completed a portion of your family tree…


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

  • This page was last modified on 16 April 2014, at 03:13.
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