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Getting Started In Genealogy
by Robin Pyatt Bellamy

There are many, many tools available online for genealogists and I refer you to Cyndi's List for a good place to start.  What is on this page are my tips, take them or leave them, and the tips passed on from our site users.

You know how you are, and your kids and parents (presumably) so that is where to start!  Write down everything you know, then work backwards.  List your parents and siblings, your grandparents, and make notes of things you have 'heard' in family legend so you can check them out.

What you need:  Basic forms (see below) or at least paper and pencil. A three ring binder is a handy helper, along with dividers and perhaps a good folder or two.  Once you start to accumulate information and photos you will also need things like protector sheets, a three hole punch, and a good filing system.  Also consider some software if you are a home computer user.  I prefer the free software from LDS called PAF (Personal Ancestral File) but many people use Family Tree Maker or other software.

Researching On Site

Always the preferred method, researching onsite is something a serious genealogist cannot avoid.  All proposed linkages and dates need to be documented and that means copies (sometimes certified copies) of licenses, deeds, certificates, and the like.  This means courthouse trips and library trips ad nauseum. 

What to bring:  Change for copiers, paper, pencils with erasers, white gloves (for handling delicate items when allowed), reading glasses if necessary.  You may also want a watch, because time slips up on you!  For those with allergies, be prepared for dust and mold, especially when working in courthouses.  I have found a granola bar (munched quickly in the rest room) can save me from a blood sugar drop and energy problems because I tend to not take lunch breaks.  This isn't recommended!  Pace yourself and take a lunch break.

More technologically savvy genealogists may want to bring a laptop computer, digital camera, small voice recorder, palm scanner device, and/or a PDA (like a Palm Pilot) to quickly access and enter information.  Make sure your batteries are well charged! 

Paper Forms

Many online sites have free printable bank forms for use in your research.  Here are a few of them.  Consider taking forms you will use many of to a print shop to have them copied in bulk--ultimately it is less expensive than printing many blank forms from your printer.  Most print shops can also bind them like a tablet which is nice for on site researching.

Here are some free sites:

Family Group Sheet, Pedigree Chart, Timeline, others in both gif and adobe pdf format, to use alone or with the PBS television series "Ancestors"
Pedigree Charts, Family Group sheets for Microsoft  Word (PCand Mac), WordPerfect, Excel and Clarisworks. WinZip or Stuffit Expander required.
Correspondence Form
Form for Deed Research
Form Letters, Research and Correspondence Log Tables, and Abstracts for Census Records
Excel spreadsheet. Has a separate page for each census year from 1790-1920, and Soundex pages for 1880-1920...great for tracking a single family through the years.
Forms to order copies of articles found in PERSI from the Allen County Public Library.
National Archives and Records Administration Request Forms http://www.archives.gov/research_room/obtain_copies/military_and_genealogy_order_forms.html 

There are many more sites with downloadable forms.  This is just a sampling. 

Online Research

There is a lot of information on the world wide web.  Not all of it is accurate, and NONE of it should be taken as fact.  ALWAYS do your own research!!!  ALWAYS document your OWN sources.  This site contains a list of suggested research links that is a good place to get started.  Start with the sites that are completely free, then when your research hits that proverbial brick wall you might want to consider paid memberships to sites like Ancestry.com and others.  Webroots.org, familysearch.org (the LDS site) and Rootsweb.com are very helpful FREE sites.  USGENWEB is a fountain of good information.  But the bottom line is, you need to actually SEE those census pages, family bibles, wills, deeds, etc.,  not just take someone's transcription as fact.  Usually they are correct, and aside from a rare few, nobody is out to purposely mislead you.  But always use the information highway as a path to your destination, not the destination itself! 

Computer Databases

How did we ever live without a computer?  Hands down, the best organizational tool for genealogists is the computer.  Good software is available in many places, and most will create and import from something called a GEDCOM.  GEDCOMs are a unified format for all genealogical information so that it may be portable from one user to another.  While it is possible to create your own database and/or spreadsheet and text documents (using available tools like Microsoft Word and many others) it is far easier to acquire an existing software packages.  One of the most popular is Family Tree Maker which is available for purchase at many thousands of outlets (online, bookstores and software stores...even places like Best Buy and Office Max).  There are also some free programs that will do very nicely.  Personally and professionally I use the free Personal Ancestral File (PAF) available from LDS.  I've found nothing I need it to do that it can't.

Search for software by going to a search engine and typing "genealogy software" and you will find no shortage of choices! 

Your Own Website

Ready to share your information?  What better way than the web?  If you are using a software package for your data, there is a good possibility that it has a feature that will create the web pages for you.  Consult your help section for more specific details for your package, but here are some basics.

Every web site has to have a start page.  This page would be  titled index.html or index.htm (both work exactly the same).  This is the page that a person sees when they type in the address to your page.  All the other pages in your site should link back to this page so nobody gets lost!  It's also a good idea to put your email address on each page so that people can contact you with comments or questions--or maybe even let you know they are a lost cousin!  You don't have to be a programmer to make a good site, but you should get familiar with how the system works. Search the web for information on how to write html (hypertext markup language--the basic language for web site creation) and look at how other sites are written.  The directions that make the page appear are called source code and can be viewed by right clicking your mouse on the page and choosing the option view source.  It may look pretty complicated but it is really not too bad when you get used to it.

Once your web site is created, you will need a place to put it on the web.  For this you will need web space--some computer somewhere that will store your files you created and make them available for others to look at at any time.  There are many free providers (Yahoo/Geocities, Angelfire, and others) and your internet service provider (ISP) may even give you a small bit.  Others are available at a cost.  Rootsweb.com and Webroots.org both provide limited space with approval and some restrictions.  Webroots.org offers space to paid members, along with email addresses.

Once you have secured your space, you will need an address so that you can tell others where to find your work.  The place that keeps your files (host) will assign an address and give it to you...something like http://member.organization.com/username and that would be sufficient address to give others.  If you are interested in a "dot something" name (domain name), those are available at a yearly rate from several places like Godaddy.com and  Register.com .  There are no shortages of people willing to sell you a domain name!  They will then direct you on how to attach your host address to your domain name.

Still lost?

Feel free to email any questions to me that you may have.  I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Planning a family reunion?  Here are some web sites with great ideas.  At piattresearchers.net, it is our goal to plan research conferences, NOT reunions.  These links to other sites may help you in your planning.  If you are planning a research conference, please click here

Templates for creating reunion memory books and activities.  There are some samples or you can order the pack for under $50 US.  The same site also has some good planning tips at  http://wedesignwebsites.com/FamilyCalendar/family_reunion_tips.htm

Easy to follow and understand checklist for reunion planners.

Wonderful thorough site created by LaRae and Eireann and hosted on rootsweb.com.  Some great ideas!!  Site also includes lots of recipes and 'down home' items.

Reunions Magazine's online site.  Dedicated to all facets of all kinds of reunions.

Better Homes and Gardens reunion suggestions.

and of course, Cyndi's List

This site has lots and lots and lots of links to help with reunions!


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