Updated/Edited: 3 March 2015
I’ve had a few friends ask me about how to begin researching their family tree and so I am going to share, right here, about how to get started, using mostly FREE resources, or nearly free, so that anyone can get started right where they are today!
The best place to start gathering information is with yourself and your immediate family.
It helps to get a bit organised and there are lots of free charts available online to help you do that. Start by gathering basic information using a “Pedigree” and “Family Group” chart.
Step #1 – Download and fill out a pedigree and family group chart, to the best of your ability, with the help of your parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts! While most research and family trees are today created on a computer or online, you will find that having a hard copy, as a ready visual, is still extremely useful to have. You should retain hard copies of your research even though you will be creating a family tree on your computer with genealogy software and online.
Get free charts with video descriptions and instructions:
#1 How to Pick a Style of Genealogy Chart by Joe Buggy at about.com
#2 How To Use a Pedigree Genealogy Chart Online at genealogy.about.com
Step #2 – Download FREE Genealogy Software.
There are at least TEN FREE software programs for family history research. I have downloaded and used the Legacy Family History STANDARD free edition and upgraded it, but after a few years I have switched back to Family Tree Maker by Ancestry (not a free software). I have not used “GRAMPS” which looks very promising and found at Best Free Genealogy or Family Tree Software. You may want to take a look and consider trying them both for a week or two to see how they work for you. Just find the one you enjoy using the most.
UPDATE: March 24, 2013, I just downloaded the GRAMPS program and ran into some difficulties just trying to get it started. To be fair, I am not very computer literate! I am now thinking that Legacy is a bit easier to get started and so I would recommend Legacy unless you have some computer software skills.
Option #1 – Legacy Family Tree by Millennia. You can also create great looking web pages with Legacy. Very user-friendly for the “least computer savvy” of us out there! There are also lots of tutorials available.
Option #2 – GRAMPs Genealogical Research Software, a free software project and community. You can create “narrative style” web sites with GRAMPS. A little software and computer know-how required!
Step #3 – Look for Records and Stories.
Now that you have a few tools to help you get organised let’s get looking for records! One of the best resources online and for free is the US Gen Web Project.
“Welcome to The USGenWeb Project! We are a group of volunteers working together to provide free genealogy websites for genealogical research in every county and every state of the United States. This Project is non-commercial and fully committed to free genealogy access for everyone.”
Organized by county and state, US Gen Web is a great place to start! Using the information you already have collected from your family, go to the state and county where your ancestor was born or married or died. Each Gen Web site is administrated by unpaid volunteers and they vary in quantity and quality of information.
“Ctrl+F” Keys: Don’t forget to use the “Ctrl + F” keys together to bring up a search window where you can then search for your surname on an entire page.
Another free site that is growing every day is Find A Grave, where you can search for names as well as cemeteries to find your ancestors’ death and biographical information as well as photos of gravestones which may give you a specific death date or other family connection. You can now search over 96 million grave records! I have personally found some very valuable information through “Find a Grave” and I have been able to download some really great gravestone photos to add to my family archives.
If you want to see if any genealogies have already been published about your family or want to read about the early history of a place where your ancestors may have lived just go to Google Books. There are many free previews and free downloads available but there are also some that you will have to pay for if you want to see more inside their covers.
Don’t forget to just “google” your family name and location. There are so many history and genealogical records being added daily that you should occasionally google your surnames and place names to see what is out there.
Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet is another site loaded with links and information about free and paid genealogy on the internet. Cyndi is a single mom who works hard everyday adding to and maintaining the links at her site. She even has a beginner category, so check that out right away!
Rootsweb, an ancestry.com Community! is a very valuable service provided by Ancestry which is free.
From their site, “The primary purpose and function of RootsWeb.com is to connect people so that they can help each other and share genealogical research. Most resources on RootsWeb.com are designed to facilitate such connections.”
Start on the Getting Started with Rootsweb page and then join some surname lists.
Facebook can also be a great place to connect with distant cousins. Just yesterday I met several new cousins related to me through my Great-Great Grandparents Samuel and Nancy (Luster) Moulder. One of them was able to give me some really valuable information about this family. I found them on the Mohler – Moler – Moulder DNA Project Facebook page.
Not everything on Ancestry.com has a price! You can start an online family tree at Ancestry.com for FREE! You won’t be able to access their records but you’ll be able to get a beautiful interactive tree set up online where other members will be able to find you when researching the same people you are. You can adjust privacy settings so all living people will be kept private, for your eyes only. One of the best ways for growing your family tree is to reach out to distant cousins and others that are also researching your same family lines.
50 Free Genealogy Sites at family history daily
Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy yourself! It is really exciting finding new stories about your ancestors! Be careful though, as it can be very addicting!
Teresa (Hamilton/Pepper) Rust