A Quick Start Guide to Researching Your Roots, Part 1

A Quick Start Guide to Researching Your Roots, Part 1

By Shannon Warnick

I miss my dad.

August this year marks 15 years since he died, almost half my life, and all of my adult life. In addition to my own loss, I'm sad that he'll never know his grandchildren and they won't know him - except through stories and photographs.

I remember a school project when I was in fourth grade. We were learning about family heritages and were asked to do a small family tree. I can still hear my father's chuckle as he informed me that we were a Heinz 57 family - a blend of several cultures. "German, Irish and Czech, mostly, then some English, and Dutch, and who knows what else," he laughed.

To be honest, I haven't given much thought to my heritage since then, except for the annual trip to the Kielbase/Kolache Festival held in my mother's hometown. There's nothing like good sausage, pastry and polka dancing to make you appreciate your heritage! As my children get older, I realize how much they've missed: rotary telephones, TVs without a remote control, and a time when you could leave the front door unlocked and not worry about a thing. To appreciate the future, they should know about the past. Not just any past, but the past they only share with each other; our family history.

So, if you're willing, I'd like to invite you on my journey in search of my past, my roots, my heritage. Taking it one step at a time, we're going to learn about those who came before us. Who knows, maybe there's a Madame Curie or Queen Elizabeth in our past. Maybe we'll uncover the truth to the story that our Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Uncle Pete was a part of the American Revolution. But we won't know unless we get started.

As with most journeys, there are a few things we need to do before we can leave.

#1. We need to have a goal.

Do you remember that commercial for hair conditioner that said "I told 2 friends, and they told 2 friends, and so on, and so on" while the screen filled up with more and more heads? Well, I have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents and so on, and so on. It's going to be pretty tough to look for all of them. Since I'm new to genealogy, I'm going to trace back fathers and sons. Why? Because following the males is easier since there aren't the maiden/married name changes associated with women. I'm taking the easiest route.

#2. We need a few supplies.

At the very least we need a few notebooks, some file folders and boxes to keep our documentation together as we collect it. We might also want a tape recorder or video recorder for personal interviews and software to store our discoveries.

#3. We need an organizational system.

You just have to trust me here, but it is going to be a lot easier to organize our material before we have much to organize. The best organizational strategy that I have found so far comes from The Beginner's Guide to Family History Research, Chapter 3. Basically, it works like this:

1 page per nuclear family/marriage

1 file folder per family group to hold the supporting documentation.

Keep a log of everything you find, as well as the date and source.

Keep notes on separate family groups (surnames) on separate pieces of paper.

#4. We need to learn about Family Group Sheets

This is the sheet that holds the facts that we uncover. You can use pre-printed sheets (see below), or make your own. Each sheet should have the parents at the top of the sheet, husband first (it's the name thing). Wife is next. Be sure to write down her maiden name rather than her married name. Beside each name, write down the date and place of : birth, marriage, death and burial. It should look something like this:


Birth - date/place

Marriage- date/place

Death- date/place

Burial- date/place

Wife (full name before marriage)

Birth- date/place

Marriage- date/place

Death- date/place

Burial- date/place

Child #1

Birth- date/place

Marriage- date/place

Death- date/place

Burial- date/place

#5. We need a starting place.

This journey starts at the end. It starts with what we know for sure, our families. So make a family group sheet for yourself and your spouse, if you are or were married. Start with your parents if you are still single. Create family group sheets for each family that you are aware of. Start collecting all the information you already have - old photographs, family bibles, old letters, anything that might hold a clue to the past.

That's it for now. Next time we'll start to fill in some of the blanks using the information we have on hand and talking to relatives that are still around. Now might also be a good time to start planning that family reunion you always talk about, but never quite get around to.

Until next time,


Some helpful resources:

Beginner's Guide to Family History Research

A Beginner's Guide to Genealogy in Seven Basic Steps

DearMYRTLE's Genealogy for Beginners

Various Genealogy Forms from About.com's Genealogy Site

About the author

Shannon Warnick is Mom to Lisa, Collin, Daniel and Sarah. She loves to research on the internet and help those around her find what they need. Shannon loves the freedom the Internet has given her. She is also a Independent Technology Consultant.


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