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Genealogy Search Process: Home

Genealogy Process

How to Begin a Genealogy Search

Here are steps to help you get started on your adventures in genealogical research:

Identify what you know:

  • Start with information about yourself – your birth, marriage, and other information.

  • Create a simple family tree with your immediate family.

  • Write down your parents’ and grandparents’ information.

  • Include where they lived and/or grew up as well as birth, marriage, and death dates.

  • Find out more information about your close relatives and those on farther branches of the family tree.

  • Talk with older relatives. Tape-record the interviews, if they are comfortable with that.

  • Verify names and dates – was Aunt Betty’s birth name Betsy, Elizabeth, or Bettie-Lou? Was she born in 1944 or 1934?

  • Look for family photos, Bibles, letters, and other documents that contain family history.

  • These are records you should ask all family members about:

    • Family Bibles

    • Birth, marriage, and death certificates

    • Divorce records

    • Deeds to property

    • Wills

    • Old letters

    • Photographs

    • Plaques, awards, honors, and other memorabilia

    • School certificates

    • Insurance papers

    • Funeral programs

    • Obituaries

    • Membership cards

    • Anniversary programs for organizations and churches

    • School and college yearbooks

    • Military discharge papers

    • Any other sources with names and dates

Record your information:

  • Record the information you already know on family group sheets, a pedigree chart, or in a computerized genealogy database.

  • Include as much information as you can to assist in future searches.

  • Record where you obtained the information. 

  • Keep copies of photographs, letters, etc., with your family charts.

Decide what you want to know:

  • Choose an individual for whom you have incomplete information and work on finding his/her records and information.

  • Always work backward from known information to unknown information – work back in time.

Choose useful records:

  • Vital records are kept by state and local governments:

    • Birth certificates

    • Death certificates

    • Marriage licenses

    • Divorce records

  • Census records track people and households through the Federal Census administered every 10 years.

    • Searchable census records are available online through several sources.

    • Microfilm rolls of census records are held by libraries.

    • Some census years are indexed – index books and microfilms are in libraries with the census records.

  • Published family genealogies are kept in many local libraries.

  • Other records:

    • Deeds

    • Wills and estates

    • Court minutes

    • Social Security Death Index

    • City directories

    • Church records

    • Cemetery records

    • Newspapers

    • Tax records

(Excerpted from the Durham County Library North Carolina Collection website.)

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