Whether you are in the middle of researching a line, or you are starting from scratch, you must begin your research of a family by recording what you already know from sources of information immediately available to you.
Identifying What You Know
You are going to begin with the target person and work your way back in time. This means finding and recording documents that link this target person with their parents. In addition, it’s important to not try to rush this process and speed on to the grandparents until you have fully documented this first family. This will be the foundation upon which you will build all other information.
It can be very tempting to record birth, marriage and death and just move on. However, remember as a genealogist it is extremely important to document and cite sources of information. You can do this on paper, or online. There may be times during the interview process that you will want to make an audio or video tape. Keep and store all of this information. If this person has siblings go ahead and record information about them as well.
Beginning Sources of Information
Gather up as many documents as possible from the family and friends of the target person. Many times searches begin with a family Bible in which someone has written names and birthdates, or perhaps there are photographs to be logged and categorized. Try as much as possible to identify the people in the photographs along with the date the photograph was taken. Was there a story about the photo? Capture all of that information.
Was the target person in the military? Did they have any military medals that someone kept as a treasure? Was this person baptized? Does the family have a baptismal certificate anywhere? What is know about any land the family may own? Are there any deeds, mortgages, or patents lying about?
Some families will keep prayer cards and registers from funerals. These may contain not only the date for the funeral, but indicate something about family and friends that would have known the deceased. Was the target person employed? They may have kept several versions of resumes. This would give some indication of how they moved about and the businesses where they were employed.
There are three things you can learn from these types of artifacts:
The person who cared enough to try to keep these artifacts cares about the target person, or family. They probably know more about the family because they think these things are worth preserving.
Some documents will be considered evidence. Wills often contain the names of the children and perhaps grandchildren. That baptismal certificate indicates something about birth. These may turn out to be the only clues for that event ever recorded.
Perhaps these artifacts will give you clues about other places to look for records. Maybe there was a court case that needs researching.
Many families keep newspaper clippings of obituaries. If you are fortunate enough to have these, they may contain where the deceased live and died, the date of death, names of children and/or spouses, and place of burial. Record each and every detail you find there. These clues could become important jumping off places for additional information.
Make sure to organize and catalog all of the information you collect. Try as much as possible to identify dates and locations.
There are many types of sources you might find around the home. Here are some that are the most common: