Getting Started in Genealogy
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Getting Started in Genealogy

by Liz Walker

(Article was originally published in Tulsa Kids Magazine in the "10 Tips" column.)

Over two hundred and seventy years ago, a twenty one year man named William Dill, stepped off an Irish immigrant ship onto the shores of a new colony called New York.

William settled in the fertile farmlands of Delaware. It was there he started a family with his young wife, Mary. William and Mary were my (7 times) great grandparents. They were the first members of my mother's paternal family to venture out of Europe and into a new world.

I know about these ancestors because my mother’s brother, my Uncle Charles, and my second cousin, Maurice, spent years in the back of dim-lit libraries and county courthouses shifting through dusty genealogy records.

On my father's side of the family, my Aunt Marcia has been the chief genealogist. Her efforts are still a work in progress. With names like Smith and Miller those branches of the family tree may take a bit longer to fill out. But my aunt has one advantage that the Dills didn't: a computer.

Research sites like,,, and are enhancing the age old methods and bringing the county courthouse or the distant library to your home computer. Computer software like Family Treemaker or Reunion for (MacIntosh computers) has made charting the family tree easier than it used to be. Yet even with all the new technology, genealogy still requires time spent searching the old fashioned way, in person at libraries, courthouses, and cemeteries.

My Aunt Marcia once became so immersed in her genealogy work that she almost spent the night in an Indiana library. She wasn't able to gather her materials quickly enough when the library's closing announcement was sounded. By the time she reached the exit, the door was locked and bolted. She and her companions spent several long, panicky minutes searching through dark, empty hallways for an escape route before they found someone to let them out through the basement.

Don't let my aunt's experience scare you, though. Most libraries give plenty of warning before locking their doors.

Are you ready to become your own family history sleuth? Kathy Huber, Genealogy Librarian at the Genealogy Library in Tulsa, Oklahoma says, "Genealogy is a great course in American History."

Kathy also has some tips to get you started.

1 Begin with yourself and work backwards.

- Interview older relatives and family friends.

- Collect information on vital statistics like, births, marriages, deaths and locations where these events occurred.

- Check family records, the family Bible, newspaper clippings, old letters and photographs for genealogical information.

2 Visit cemeteries where family members are buried. My aunt says that only a genealogist can get excited about visiting a cemetery. She may be right, but it can be especially thrilling to find old cemeteries where you can verify information for relatives that are several generations removed.

For the benefit of future genealogists, take a pencil and paper to make a rubbing of the name and dates on the stone and a camera for photographs.

3 Keep good records. You'll need some basic supplies:

- Loose-leaf notebook

- Loose-leaf dividers (one for each surname on your family tree)

- Notebook paper

- Pencils and pens with black ink

- Ancestor (or Pedigree) charts

- Family group sheets

Reminder: keep track of where you locate each piece of information as you go along. It's also helpful to keep a list of publications you searched that turned out to be dead ends.

4 Fill out your ancestor chart and family sheets.

- Always record unproven facts in pencil and proven facts in black ink.

- Use all capital letters for surnames since some given names may be mistaken for a surname.

- Include middle names and nicknames. Use maiden name for females.

- Adopt the European system for recording dates - 27 Sept. 1997.

- Record places in the following order: city, county, state.

5 Search one family line at a time. Your surname may be your first choice, but we already discussed my maiden name, Smith. (My married name, Walker, would be just as much fun - but that's another story.) My aunt struck pay dirt with her grandmother's maiden name, Dierdorff. She discovered another woman on the internet who was researching the same name and guess what - we're related!

If one limb of your family tree is too difficult, jump to another one. After all, the search should be fun.

6 Learn what is available at area libraries and in court house records.

- For example the Tulsa Library has lots of information for Oklahoma and surrounding states but little on Alaska. (However, materials can often be borrowed if you need them.)

- Court house records would include, marriage records, probate records, land and property records, tax lists, civil suits, criminal cases and divorces.

7 Join:

- A Genealogical Society. They can provide a helpful for exchange of information.

- A family association. If you come from a well known or well researched family, it's possible they could be organized. Listings for some of these groups can be found in the Genealogical Helper published by Everton Publishers. P.O. Box 368, Logan, Utah 84321.

8 Attend family reunions when ever possible.

9 Evaluate and verify all your information. Treat data as clues until you can find proof for every name, date, place and relationship.

10 Read. The following books will get you started.

- Searching For Your Ancestors by Gilbert H. Doane

- The Handy Book For Genealogists by Everton Publishers

- Roots For Kids: A Genealogy Guide For Young People by Susan Provost Beller

- Climbing Your Family Tree: Online and Off-Line Genealogy for Kids by Ira Wolfman

- Unpuzzling Your Past: A Basic Guide To Genealogy

- Idiot's Guide to Genealogy by Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls

- To Our Children's Children: Preserving Family Histories For Generations To Come by Bob Greene and D.F. Fulford

This last book is not a "how to" book. Instead, it has over 200 pages of questions to ask your living relatives about their daily lives. You don't have to ask (or answer) them all, but even just a few can add life to the bare branches of your family tree.

This page was created by Liz Walker. Copyright 2002. Last updated 10/09/ 2002.