Research Assessment & Planning

Start With Yourself

The first step in genealogy is to identify what you already know. Start with yourself and work backward in time by filling in as much information as you can on a pedigree chart. When you are done, you will know who is missing from your family tree.

Here is the information you will need for each missing person:

  1. Full name (including maiden names for women)
  2. Approximate dates of vital events (birth, death, marriage, residence, etc.)
  3. Locations of vital events. Location is the key element in genealogy, since it indicates where vital records are today
Genealogist’s Glossary

Pedigree chart: A pedigree is an identification of the direct ancestors of one person, such as yourself. To include yourself and you spouse on the same pedigree, make the first person one of your children. Use ID numbers to identify the names on the chart.

  • The first person on the first chart should be number 1.
  • A man’s ID number is always double the ID number of his child.
  • Males are always in the upper position.
  • Males have an even number.
  • Females have an odd number.
  • A wife’s number is always one higher than that of her husband.

To download a PDF version of a Pedigree Chart, click here.

Gather Family Information

Once you have identified what you know about your family tree, you are ready to gather information about the missing pieces.

  1. Gather your home resources.
  2. Interview immediate family members. Compare your memories with those of your siblings, parents, cousins, grandparents, etc. Varying recollections of the same event are surprising.
  3. Ask where things happened to get an understanding of “place.” Remember, location is key in genealogical research.
  4. Record the information from these interviews. A tape or video recorder may be useful. For easy storage use three-­ring binders and standard 8.5″ x 11″ paper.
  5. Fill in a Family Group Sheet (FGS) to organize your ancestors, on FGS for each marriage.

To download a PDF version of a Family Group Sheet, click here.

Sample Questions for You and Your Relatives
  • Are there family photo albums?
  • Are there old letters stored in a trunk somewhere?
  • Are there family papers of any kind? Insurance papers?
  • Think of things that are in your home that may give Dad’s name or Grandma’s recipes. Perhaps there is an old journal from the family farm business. Who ended up with Grandma’s Bible?
  • Has the family ever been mentioned in a book?
  • Is there a famous person to whom you are supposed to be related?
Genealogist’s Glossary

Family Group Sheet: a form used to record information about each married couple listed on a pedigree chart, including vital events (births, marriages, deaths) and locations of vital events for the couple and all their children.

Contact Your Relatives

If you have gathered the information suggested in the previous step, you have probably learned about other relatives—distant cousins, a great-aunt you don’t remember—who are untapped gold mines of genealogical information. Contact them to share and gather new information about your ancestors, plan a family reunion, or schedule a visit.

As you move back through each generation, you will uncover more and more relatives who can lead you to new information about your heritage.

Is there an unusual surname? Using phone books or city directories—found in most libraries—you can create a letter to copy and send out to those with the same surname. Provide information about your ancestors and ask if they know of a connection. Or look in a large name database on the Web, such as RootsWeb or Cyndi’s List. You may be surprised at what you discover.

Genealogist’s Glossary

Third Cousin Once Removed: If you have trouble with the complicate family relationship terms, you are not alone. The Stenzel’s Cousin Finder will help you determine who is “removed” or simply “grand.”