Part of the enjoyment I get out of family history research is helping beginners and starting them on their journey of discovery. Often as these beginners are leaving the Family History Library, they ask the question “What can I do to continue my research at home?” When I was first asked this question, my inexperience caused me to overcompensate by naming off every single resource, skill, and strategy that a researcher might need.

It became obvious that the “fire hydrant” approach was a tad overwhelming to most beginners who quickly forgot their research enthusiasm and fled for their lives. I discovered that giving them a deluge of information gave them a tendency to flight and the decision to leave genealogy to the “professionals.”

In this vein, it is important to remember that the biggest danger to budding family historians is lack of confidence fueled by perceived research failure and not knowing where to go to increase their research knowledge. In reviewing this question, I created a quick checklist of valuable steps to give beginners the confidence and groundwork for independent research.

The two following principals are necessary to give a sure foundation to those who want to proceed with research on their own:

Compiled Sources
After asking family members for information, scouring the attic, closets, and underneath beds for old records and photographs, a serious exploration should be undertaken to discover what is on the Internet. Check compiled databases and use search engines, such as Google, to look for family names and pedigrees online, all the while sourcing any significant discoveries.

It can be helpful to find what others have done, but only if you use discretion. On one of my own lines, someone was so concerned about leaping across the pond that he tied my great-grandmother to a lovely man who never had any daughters.

Verifying the information found on pedigrees on the Internet can also give those who feel they’re still on shaky ground valuable research experience in using this research “safety net.”

A pedigree file is only as powerful as the sources that back it. Sourcing in its simplest form should list:

  • The name of the source
  • Where the record itself is located in the source
  • Where the source for the record can be found

For example, “Chelmsford Parish Registers, 1832 Christenings - page 34, Family History Library film #1472064.”

Focusing on the basics of research will help teachers who feel inexperienced provide a foundation useful to any beginner, applicable to any area of research. The next installment will deal with how to focus what is known about an area of research and be able to provide it in manageable portions.

Comments (12)

Post a Comment »

  1. As a little afterthought, consider reading this blog for its answers to the records question https//

    Sarah Lowe 29 March 2011
    4:35 pm
  2. Dear Bernice and Julia, To answer yalls questions in turn, although PAF is no long being updated, it is still prefered for its simplicity of form and useability. If you prefer something with more features then there is a wide range of options you can find by simply Googling. PAF is still, and will be still current use compatible, so if that is what a research prefers, it is perfectly reasonable to use it for years to come. There is sometimes a small battle between genealogists to use the best way of recording and what that way may be. However, I have always felt the best way of recording information is the way that allows the researcher to organise and analyse data, add or remove new information and share information. Some people are more comfortable with paper, some with computers. Some people like to keep meticulously indexed research books that double as a list of sources. Some people love the speed they can achieve in their research with using sourcing templates. It is importance to focus on the need and comfort level of the patron youre helping. As far as how and where a source should be recorded, the answer is usually no longer than the maxium amount of time they are willing to spend before they dont want to source everything and where they can find their sources quickly. I hope that was of help, SLowe

    Sarah Lowe 29 March 2011
    4:30 pm
  3. Thanks for your comments for beginners. I wondered how you handle the subject of what program do you recommend for our home use since PAF is no longer going to be updated?

    Bernice 28 March 2011
    5:59 pm
  4. Dear Joan, I appreciate your familiy history struggles, we all find brick walls from time to time. However, this isnt the best place for such a comment. Family Search has a forums site at where you could post research questions and get some assistance there. You can also recontact Family Search support and explain the situation. They are very nice and have probably had similar calls before. As every location has a different quality and quantity of records I would encourage you to look at what is available in that area, perhaps using a site such as and seeing what you could best use there. Usually if youre trying to track someone down it is best to use records that give family relations such as the church records of the established church (such as Catholic or Church of England) in Europe, census records if its late enough or will and land records. Good luck with your search, SLOWE

    Sarah Lowe 28 March 2011
    4:43 pm
  5. Thank you for this training. Im excited for Part 2.

    Carol Cooper 28 March 2011
    12:01 am
  6. You might like to view the beginning video research series at this link http// And see the familysearch help center using key word begin for the documents listing beginning family research processes.

    VL 26 March 2011
    8:11 pm
  7. Dear Melanie B, I dont know the FamilySearch sites policy on the blog content. However I can give you a couple suggestions. Look over the Family Search Wiki under the learn tab up above. The Family Search Wiki is great for beginners because it helps them get a sound understanding of research strategies of various areas on their own time. There’s also the Research Courses part of the Learn tab there are a lot of courses which teach basics under principles and tools https//, which by the way, can be used in your local family history library. I would encourage though, if you want to use one of them to come up with a short introduction and to watch it a few times so that you can be prepared to answer questions. I would also suggest forming a list of general free websites such as and the Allen Public Library at http// I hope that was helpful, SLOWE

    Sarah Lowe 26 March 2011
    3:50 pm
  8. Im not sure people know what to do with the information they find in their homes. People come to the library with pages of names/dates theyve found or were given. Before they can research they must put this data in readable form. Do they use paper forms or a software program where they can update, correct and share without retyping? Where do they record their sources? This, to me, is basic. And its difficult because there are so many choices. But how a person begins recording is an important part of the foundation for success. Record keeping is so basic and its hardly discussed.

    Julia Bateman 25 March 2011
    3:25 pm
  9. Im not sure that people automatically know what to do with the information they find in their homes. Ive had people come into the library with pages of names and dates theyve found or have been given to them. Before I can help them they have to put this information in some readable form, like a family group record and a narrative of pertinent facts. This, to me, is basic. Do they put the data on paper forms or should they obtain a software program so that they can update, correct, and share the information without rewriting it? Where do they cite the sources? How they start recording their data will greatly affect their success in my opinion.

    Julia Bateman 25 March 2011
    3:16 pm
  10. I have been researching my great grandfather, James Fenno, for over a year and although I have gotten info on his wife and children I cannot come up with any info about James other than his marriage to Hannah and his fathering fourchildren. I have a case ID for him which I received from Family Search Support but I must have deleted it from my internet. I am not too swift with the internet so when I mistakenly deleted the information you sent me I was very frustrated with myself but I will soldier on. What do you msuggest? Thanks Joan (Fenno) Grammel.

    Joan Fenno Grammel 24 March 2011
    7:31 am
  11. What a great article. Cant wait for part 2 The most common request Ive been receiving lately from patrons at our Family History Center is for a class on Beginning Research. May I use your post as I design the class? Any other links or suggestions that you might have for Beginning Research resources?

    Melanie B. 23 March 2011
    8:17 am
  12. Thank you for this information The class that patrons at our Family History Center have been requesting recently is Beginning Research. May I share this info with them? Cant wait for part 2 Also, any other links that you could suggest as I put this training together?

    Melanie B. 22 March 2011
    10:09 pm

Leave a Comment