New England Historic Genealogical Society101 Newbury StreetBoston, MA email@example.com
By Rhonda R. McClureGenealogist
| Basic Steps | Tips | Video | Commonly Used Forms | | Common Abbreviations | Glossary | Need Help? |
Genealogy is one of the most valuable pursuits you can participate in. Learning about who you are, where you come from, and “meeting” the thousands of people who came before you, can be a rewarding and even life-changing experience. The most basic tenet of researching your family history is: work from the known to the unknown. With that motto as your guide, plus using the suggested steps and tips below, you'll be on your way to discovering your family history.
Begin your family history with these basic steps:
Once you have completed these steps, you are certain to identify further questions and other missing pieces of information. Start the research process again by locating and identifying sources that might help you answer your next set of questions.
When working on your genealogy, here are some tips and best practices to keep in mind:
For more tips on how to stay organized, visit our Getting Organized page.
Watch the online seminar, Getting Started in Genealogy, presented by Rhonda McClure. Learn tips and best practices for conducting research, choosing software programs, and filling out charts and forms.
Family Group SheetA family group sheet provides a snapshot of each nuclear family and records pertinent information about each family member. This information may include:
Download our family group sheet.
Five Generation ChartA multi-generational chart provides a road map of your ancestors and includes basic information about each couple: full name and date and place of birth, death, and marriage. Each person on the chart receives a number. The subject of the chart is number 1; the subject’s father is 2, the mother is 3; the father’s father is 4, the father’s mother is 5; etc. Each chart is assigned a number and cross-referenced to connect charts and generations. Thus, every ancestor receives a unique number that can be used as shorthand or for filing. E.g., 3:6 refers to chart number 3, person number 6. Download our five generation chart.
Research LogResearch logs are an excellent way to keep track of the research you have already accomplished. They contain a list of every source you consulted—and whether your search was successful or not. Handwritten or typed, these logs help prevent duplicate searches and lookups. Download our research log.
Below are some commonly used abbreviations you will encounter during your family history research.
Census records: An official recording of information about individuals living within a household. Federal censuses were compiled every ten years starting in 1790; state censuses also exist and the information they provide and available intake years vary from state to state. Church and Synagogue records: Records kept by religious institutions of parishioners, including marriage certificates, baptisms, confirmations, burials, birth records, Hebrew School attendance, and other materials.Family Group Sheet: A form designed for the recording of basic birth, marriage, and death information about members of a single family.Land records: Deeds, mortgages, and other records dealing with the buying and selling of property; they often show ownership, location, and give a description of the property.Military records: Records generated as a result of an individual’s involvement in the armed forces, including draft registration cards, service records, pension records, and bounty land records.Multi-generational chart: Sometimes referred to as a pedigree chart, this chart provides an ancestral road map for you (or another person). It details each generation: your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc., going back in time. This chart typically does not show siblings and other children.Naturalization records: Records generated through the process of an individual applying for and becoming a citizen of a country.Passenger lists: Records generated in tracking individuals arriving or departing a country. Passenger records have changed over time with different questions being asked through varying periods of immigration.Primary records: Documents and records considered the closest to an event, and the most accurate. They are usually created at the time of an event and by someone who was present.Secondary records: Records of a second-hand nature, including published family and oral histories, biographies, and other items generated at a later date by someone who most likely was not present as the event being recorded.Vital records (civil registrations): These records refer to civil (rather than religious) registrations of births, marriages, and deaths.
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Whether you are just beginning your family research or have been researching for years, NEHGS Research Services is here to assist you. Our team of experts can:
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