It’s a new year and you have a new hobby—genealogy. The first question a new researcher asks is, “Where do I begin?”
Answers may range from Internet subscription sites, purchasing computer software or employing a professional researcher. Those are all good answers, but genealogy begins at home.
You may be surprised by how many documents and ephemera you have already accumulated. Birth, marriage and death certificates may be tucked away in your desk or a file cabinet. A family Bible, wedding or memorial album may be leaning on your book shelf. Old cards or letters, graduation announcements or newspaper clippings could be in a storage box in the closet or the garage. . The family photos, in that box you tucked away as a rainy day project, could hold the names of your ancestors. A deed, vehicle purchase, loan papers or an old insurance policy will contain an address for a specific time. Once you begin your treasure hunt for family history clues, you will find even more possibilities. School records, awards, even a travel itinerary all have some genealogical value.
If your home search seemed more like an aerobic exercise, you may want to take a break before venturing into the next step.
File — Don’t Pile
When you’ve finished the home search, you should have a collection of papers. Let the filing begin. The best filing system is the one that works for you. Choose file folders or binders, or scan to your computer. An easy way to begin is to sort all items into smaller stacks by the surname, then first names, and then by the date. Label a file folder for each surname or use acid free sheet protectors to file them in three-ring binders.
If shopping for file folders and binders was too exhausting, it’s okay to take another break.
The Research Log is an index identifying the items in your folders or binders. You can create your own list or download a printable form on Family History Lab.
Only three columns are needed for the “Home Search”; date, description and location. The call and document number columns can be used later for on-line, library and other research. The date for the home search is when you found the item. The location is “Home of [your name].” The description should include identifying words such as “Marriage of John Smith and Mary Jones.” Create a Research Log for each folder or binder. File it on top of the documents for easy access and viewing.
Congratulations on your progress. You have definitely earned another break. The next lesson will be The Ancestral Chart, where you are number one.