Start by recording what you know about your family tree on a Pedigree Chart. For a Pedigree chart you can fill out and print click here. If you would prefer to fill it in by hand, you can print a blank form.
Try and fill it out with just what you know about your ancestors to begin with. It will be interesting to see just how much you know and if any of the family legends you have heard over the years have any bases in fact.
Putting your material into a computer program might be a little easier. Click on the “Computer software” tab at the top of this page for sources of free and commercial genealogy software programs.
On the Pedigree Chart, notice in the upper left hand corner how names, dates and places are recorded.
Use full names when recording names. Put "nick" names in parentheses.
Record only the maiden names for all females. You can't trace your grand mother's ancestry with her married name.
If you only know her first name, you might record, for example: Mrs. Jane Smith.
If do not know her name at all, record: Mrs John Smith.
Record the dates as done in Europe: day, month and year.
To record a location, start from the smallest entity to the largest such as city, county, state, country.
For a person born in the USA, an example would be: Chicago, Cook, Illinois, USA.
If a person was not born in a city and you know the county, you might record just the county and state: Cook, Illinois, USA.
If you only know the state, you will record: Illinois, USA.
In other parts of the world, locations may be: City, Province, Country. For example: Chester, Cheshire, England or Acapuloc, Guerrero, Mexico.
Record the location as shown on the earliest record you have of the event. Many times the place where a birth took place is in a different county or province today and in some cases even in a different country! For example, a person may have been born in a town which is in Poland today, but the town may have been part of the Kingdom of Prussia when the event took place.
Step Two: Around the house
After completing the Pedigree Chart to the best of your knowledge, there will be some blank spaces.
The information may be somewhere in your home or in the possession of other family members.
Get a box and begin to collect any information that will help you fill the blank spots such as:
Certificates - Birth, Marriage, and Death
Obituaries, Newspaper articles
Anything else that might contain family information
Rather than carry your partially fill out forms around with you when you go look for information, you might create a “To Do List.
Here you will list in detail what information you are specifically looking for. For example: What is the birthday of Aunt Betty? Then you will write down where you might find that information such as: Ask my cousin George the birth date of his mother.
Again record what you are trying to find out and where you plan to search to find out what you are wanting to know. Here is a sample of a To Do List
An additional benefit is when asking a family member for a specific bit of information such as a birth, it almost always seems to bring other facts connected to the event. This may not happen if you ask a general question such as: "tell me all you know about Aunt Betty. It is very important to be very precise in your questions and only ask for one fact at a time!. Ask for such things like when was she born, where was she born, when did she die, etc.
3. Research Logs
Because you will probably look through thousands of sources over the years it is important to keep track of what you have researched and your results.
If you researched the US Census looking for your Great Grand Father John Smith and did not find him, make a note so you won't waste time looking at it again because you can't remember if you have already looked in it. You can download an example here of a Research Logs or