Genealogy and Ancestry For Beginners: How to Get Started

old family photos

Everyone has to start somewhere, and when you are new to researching genealogy and ancestry, it can be quite a daunting task!

Today I’ll share some of the things I learned when I first began exploring my family’s genealogy and ancestry. My hope is sharing these resources for ancestry and genealogy for beginners it will help you dive in fearlessly.

First Things First: Why Are You Interested in Your Family’s Ancestry and Genealogy?

Before you dive into the deep scary waters of trying to create a family tree online, there’s something you should ask yourself right now: Why are you interested in researching your family’s history?

There are no wrong reasons of course, but understanding your interests specifically will help you best determine the best path to take for researching your ancestral origins.

Here are a couple of example reasons one might want to start researching their ancestry:

  • Preserve Stories and Family History
  • Learn About History and Culture
  • Understand Genetic Traits for Health Reasons

Knowing why you want to explore your family’s history will help you start with the right tools when you know your intentions from the start.

For example, if you’re interested in researching your immigrant family’s nationality or have an interest in your genetics for health reasons, you may wish to start first with genetic testing services.

You can order DNA genetic testing kits from sites such as Ancestry.com, 23andme or FamilyTreeDNA.

If you are interested in primarily preserving family stories and memories, you may not need the genetics so instead your search can begin by simply reaching out to your oldest living known relatives. These may be your grandparents or great aunts and uncles.

Family stories, photographs, records, and heirlooms are often passed on from generation to generation, and these serve as excellent starting points to understand the story of your family tree. A simple list of family history interview questions can give you some very fascinating conversations!

Of course, not all family members are as excited about genealogy as you might be, at least not at first. Some may have privacy concerns if you are using online ancestral matching databases and posting information about living family members.

While most sites do offer some privacy safeguards to ensure sensitive information about living family members isn’t posted freely available online, these privacy concerns are something to consider. If a family member doesn’t want you to post about them, you shouldn’t!

Fortunately, the more you research and share, often times other family members can’t resist the “genealogy bug” and soon jump on board afterward.

Make a Plan Before You Start Researching

One of the most challenging aspects of researching your family tree is organizing all of the information and data you collect.

Today it is very easy to access many public records files online, however, it can be difficult to organize everything into one place so information can be found easily. This can become even more difficult as you try to connect the dots and share research between family members.

Staying organized can also be challenging when trying to preserve and document family heirlooms. For example, photographs and other paper records may need special archival sleeves so they do not become damaged from exposure to sunlight or air.

Several websites which offer ease of finding family tree matches are available, however, most of these are not free systems. While it may be convenient, most of the popular family tree generator websites charge a premium subscription price to fully research your ancestors.

Once you have a system figured out, it’s important to stick to it the best you can. This will help prevent lost and missing files and information later down the road, especially as you begin discovering your great-great-great-grandparents.

Ready to Jump In? Start With the Basics

Once you’ve determined what information is of most interest to you, and have a basic system set up for how to keep track of your research, you’re ready to get started with researching genealogy and ancestry.

The best place to start is with a simple family tree diagram. For ease of updating and reference, this can be done through a number of free online programs, as well as paid software programs and even mobile apps.

To create a family tree, you start with yourself, listing your name and birth dates, and then you trace back to your parents, and then their parents. As your family tree grows, you can add siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins. Think of it as a physical tree, with many branches, and you always start at the base of the tree with yourself.

If there is information or images you already have for any of these relatives, it is helpful to start organizing it now. It’s always better to be proactive in organizing your files, especially in the beginning! This will help you stay on track with good habits right from the get go.

Collecting Family Stories About Your Heritage

Many of us have stories, legends, and memories from our passed on family and friends. These stories are all part of our greater heritage – the influencing factors in how we became the way we are today, and how we might be able to better serve future generations.

There are many cultural and environmental factors that have influenced several families over the centuries – from famines and wars to environmental circumstances and cultural traditions.

Learning these things can be inspiration for traveling, as well as simply learning more about the history of our modern cities and regions. You might be surprised to find out several descendants of the areas first settlers still live in the same regions some 200 years later today.

To help you get started, we have this list of family history interview questions, which are a great way to get started in documenting your family’s stories and experiences.

There are so many interesting things to learn about family history – even if it is not something you wish to document or keep track of it, it certainly can keep you entertained down the internet rabbit hole for quite a long time!

It’s Always a Good Time to Learn About Ancestry

The good thing about ancestry and genealogy is there truly is never a bad time to start keeping track of things. In today’s digital age, it is becoming easier and easier to research information as well as connect with family members from all around the world to bring clues to your own origins in this world.

I hope this will help encourage and inspire you to jump into researching your genealogy and family history. It doesn’t have to be hard. Go your own pace, follow what interests you and enjoy learning all that you can.

Do you have questions about starting the process of telling your ancestral story or maybe some other tips to share with beginners? Tell me your thoughts in the comments section below!

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