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Starting a Genealogy Project


Article by Kate Baxendale

Photography by Stock Images

Have you ever been curious about who your ancestors are? You can search for answers about your family's past by starting a genealogy project. It will take some time to dig up history, and you'll need to know how and where to look. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Set a Goal

There are many reasons why people research their family's history. Are you wondering where your ancestors came from? Who was the first relative to set foot on U.S. soil? Maybe you even have some missing links in your bloodline that you'd like to track down. Setting a purpose for your genealogy project will help keep you on track.

Start with What You Already Have

While it may be tempting to start Googling your family tree, start with your living ancestors. Ask your grandmother, your great-uncle and your parents what information they know about your family—where people were born, what they did for a living, marriages, births, deaths, etc. They probably have lots of old photos and documents that they can help you sort through. Just remember to take these accounts with a grain of salt; memories get distorted throughout the years, and misinformation can get passed along. Take notes from your living ancestors and research it later.

Start Your Research

Once you've gathered some basic information from your relatives, it's time to start digging online. The United States Census records are a great place to start. Begin tracking your family with the most recent census available (1940) and work your way back. Vital records (birth, marriage records) are also essential to finding your relatives. It is ideal to find all vital records for each person in your family tree.

Not every ancestor will be easy to find. When you hit a road block, Mary Tedesco of PBS's Genealogy Roadshow suggests:

  • researching the siblings, spouse and other relatives of the person you are trying to locate.
  • creating a timeline for that ancestor
  • "genealogy crowdsourcing" – posting all the info you have about the relative on a genealogy social media group to see if anyone has answers

READ MORE: Genealogy Tips: Getting Started

The Help Center on also has valuable guides for using official records in your research.

Organize What You've Found

As you gather information about your family, you'll need to organize it using an ancestry chart. Start with you, then list the names and dates of your parents, grandparents and so on. You can download blank forms here. If you choose to use genealogy software, it can generate these charts for you.

READ MORE: Beginning Genealogy: How to Get Started the Right Way

Genealogy research is an ongoing process. As time progresses, you may discover new information about your family that initiates another research project. Enjoy the process of learning more about your family tree!