Genealogy How Tos

Top 10 tips for beginner genealogists

So, you want to start a family tree? Here are my top 10 tips, gleaned from many years of trial and error:

  1. Go ahead and sign up for (or the .com equivalent). If you’re serious about this, try the one month subscription as a trial. I have a copy of Ancestry Canada, and for the rest, I go to the library. (Hot tip: it might be free at your library, too.)
  2. You might find it easier to begin at the end, by which I mean searching for registrations of deaths. Depending on the year, you may be able to find these online via provincial vital statistics, and they are a wealth of factual detail: date of birth, place of birth, and the names of the parents, to name some of the major facts available.
  3. You’ll quickly learn that genealogy is the search for everything. This is a joy and a curse. You can really get lost in the details. For example, beyond your grandmother’s maiden name, where did she go to school? Who was her maid of honour? Was she married more than once? Did she serve in the war? Does she have siblings or children she didn’t tell you about? How tall was she? What colour was her hair? Did she travel to the USA, or to Europe, and was it by car or by boat? Who were her neighbours and friends? This is just the beginning.
  4. You’ll also soon realize that even if you find the records, they may not be all that accurate. Census takers may have had terrible penmanship, or couldn’t spell the family names, or the person answering the census might have been lying about any number of issues.
  5. Take your time carefully reviewing every record you find. Read everything: the content, the borders, and the notations added in ink after the fact. This will not be as easy as it sounds. See the featured image sample.
  6. Related to the above, download a copy of everything you find. (Yes, you can attach it in Ancestry, but what if you cancel your subscription later?)
  7. Avoid connecting your family tree to other family trees you’ll find under Ancestry hints. Use the hints, just don’t accept someone else’s work without a serious amount of fact checking first. Not everyone is as diligent as you, and you really want to avoid having to eliminate whole family lines later. (Yes, this happens.)
  8. Read a few How Tos once you’ve gotten familiar with what you’re doing. It’ll make a lot more sense, and be relevant to the questions you’re having.
  9. Take notes. If you’re not sure what’s going to be relevant or important, you can try using pre-made blank forms like this one.
  10. After you’ve been researching a family line for a while, go back over your records and read everything again. You will have learned a great deal more by this time, and so you may see something you missed on the first review. This will save major frustration later, when you have spent time and money acquiring records that you later realize you already own.
Sample census from 1861

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