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Where to Begin

"Begin at the beginning," the King said gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop." - Stage 1

Lewis Carroll (1832 - 1898) (Carroll, Quotations)

(Please note all the forms discussed on this page can be found in the complete listing on the Forms link at the left.)

Before we start this section let me make one very important statement.
Take the time to make complete notes.

There are several areas to search at the beginning of your genealogical adventure, most of which are close to home. I realize this sounds trivial, however, remember LIVING relatives can tell you a great deal more than those in antiquity can. History will be there when you get to it Great Grandma may not. While this is a discussion on where to start, it is as much about how to fill out the forms. The searching is easy; the paperwork can be a bit confusing. I will give you places to start, but this section really is more about how to write the information you find in the right places.

Now, on to the places to start your search.

Stage 1
  • Yourself
  • Family
  • Around the house
  • Reunions

There is no right or wrong order to the list above, opportunity is probably a good indication of order. If a family reunion is soon, then do that first. If no significant even is coming up then the best place to start is with yourself and your home. Start by noting all of your information on a Personal Timeline and Home Checklist. (Ancestors Charts, PBS.org) Once you start finding information remember not only take note of what you find, but also where you found it.

Some places to look for information may include: (Ancestors Teachers, PBS.org)
  • Baby book
  • Wedding Announcement
  • Awards
  • Account Books
  • Newspaper Articles
  • Written Personal Histories
  • Samplers
  • Yearbooks
  • Christening
  • Records
  • Social Security Card
  • Newspapers
  • Bar/Bat Mitzvah Records
  • Journal
  • Family Bible
  • Union Records
  • Land Grant
  • Letters
  • Engraved Dishes
  • Hunting/Fishing License
  • Passport
  • Photographs
  • Naturalization Papers

When talking to family a good idea is to use a tape recorder or video camera, try to keep this unobtrusive, being recorded can fluster people. When conduction interviews be sure to note the date of the interview, and the person interviewed. Reunions are a great place for family history, but do not take dates, places, or people given for rock solid evidence! The information gathered is a great starting place and helps narrow down the period of a search, however this information must be confirmed.

Questions you might ask while interviewing a relative are: (Ancestors Teachers, PBS.org)

  1. What is your birthdate?
  2. Where were you born?
  3. Tell me about the home you were raised in.
  4. Tell me about the kind of work did your parents did.
  5. Tell me about your school days.
  6. Tell me what you did for entertainment when you were young.
  7. Tell me about family vacations when you were long.
  8. When you were young, what was transportation like?
  9. What were your ambitions when you were young?
  10. How much schooling did you complete?
  11. Tell me about dating your husband/wife.
  12. Where you married?
  13. What was the date of your marriage?
  14. Tell me about changes you’ve seen because of technology.

Once you have started your research take a moment to note the things you know and place this information on the Family Group Sheets and Pedigree Charts. The standard for this form is that you place yourself as number one on the pedigree chart and as a child on the family group sheet. (You may want to print out these forms to follow along as we discuss them.) Your parents will become #2 (father) and #3 (mother) on the pedigree chart, and husband and wife on the family group sheet. Page two of the family group sheet allows for more children if needed. Depending on the family group sheet you use there may be a section for "LDS Ordinance Dates" these dates are special to the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and are not a requirement, unless of course you are Mormon and have this information.

There is one problem with the standard placement I spoke of earlier. If you are a grandparent, this will obviously start the charts off two generations short. You may wish to start your paperwork with your first child's eldest child, in other words, the oldest grandchild of your firstborn child and work back to you and beyond. This is a personal decision and depends on how much detail you want to go into.

The family group sheet and the pedigree chart are rather self-explanatory, there is one area, however, that can cause a little confusion, and that is the numbering system. Let's start with the pedigree chart.

Pedigree Charts

(Note - When filling in forms remember to use maiden names for females)

The pedigree chart starts is numbering with one and works its way backwards. The pedigree chart only covers the heads of household, for the family information you must go to the family group sheet. Now this is where the numbering comes in. Look at the top right corner of the pedigree sheet and you will notice "Chart no.___", this refers to each chart in the order you fill them out. For your first pedigree chart you number it 1. Now look down the right hand side of the chart and you will notice beside each person on the right there is a "Cont. on chart no. ____" This number is how you keep track of your charts. On your first chart you are number one, your great grandfather will be #8. To the right of #8 you will number the "Cont. on chart no." as #2, person #9 (your great grandmother) will be "Cont. on chart #3", person #10 will become # 4, and so on until you get to person 15 who will become Cont. on chart #8. For an example please view this pedigree chart (pdf). After the image loads click to enlarge.

The next area of the pedigree chart to take notice of is the top left. Here you will notice "No. 1 on this chart is the same as no. ___on chart no. ___." This is a reference to person #1 on this chart and which chart this person originated. The example for this will continue from the above description. Remember great grandpa #8 from above? Remember how we gave "Cont. on chart #2"? Now say that you find his father, your great great grandfather, where do you put him? Get another pedigree chart and number it at the top right as "Chart no. 2" and place great grandpa #8 as person #1 on this chart 2. Now you fill out the top left like this "No. 1 on this chart is the same as no. 8 on chart no. 1." For an example please view this pedigree chart(pdf). After the image loads click to enlarge.

Family Group Sheet

The family group sheet is, as it states, a way to keep track of each family. This is a great place to keep notes on each family even if you add blank pages as you go. Remember all of this will eventually be input into a genealogy software program, do not write notes you think you will remember later, take in depth notes, and be sure to write down the source of the information in complete detail.

As you look at the family group sheet, you will notice there is no place to put each person's pedigree chart number. This is not necessary, however I recommend that you place each persons pedigree chart number to help easily find that person, this is good when you have more than one pedigree chart.

Now on to stage 2.


Remember, undocumented genealogy is mythology.

The public ceremony in which your distinguished ancestor participated and at which the platform collapsed under him, turned out to be a hanging.

Theory of relativity: If you go back far enough, we're all related.

The cheapest way to have your family tree traced is to run for a public office.

An Infectious Disease

Notepapers stuffed in pockets and files

heart palpitations at the sight of gravestones and old trunks filled with letters

bloodshot eyes from excessive microfilm exposure

erratic speech patterns punctuated with pilgrims and princes

cold sweat upon the arrival of the daily mail


My husband has started calling cemeteries "Ancestor Farms"

Ima Bickerson married R.U. Crabby years ago
Their children -
Discontented Devan
Erritable Ella
Grouchy Gerta
Unhappy Ulam
Patience and Respect (twins) died off early

You have finally found the information you searched 2 years for and your elderly aunt says, "I could have told you that!"

A pack rat is hard to live with, but makes a fine ancestor.


Many many years ago when I was twenty three,
I got married to a widow who was pretty as could be.

This widow had a grown-up daughter
Who had hair of red.

My father fell in love with her,
And soon the two were wed.

This made my dad my son-in-law
And changed my very life.

My daughter was my mother,
For she was my father's wife.

To complicate the matters worse,
Although it brought me joy.

I soon became the father
Of a bouncing baby boy.

My little baby then became
A brother-in-law to dad.

And so became my uncle,
Though it made me very sad.

For if he was my uncle,
Then that also made him brother
To the widow's grown-up daughter
Who, of course, was my step-mother.

Father's wife then had a son,
Who kept them on the run.

And he became my grandson,
For he was my daughter's son.

My wife is now my mother's mother
And it makes me blue.

Because, although she is my wife,
She's my grandma too.

If my wife is my grandmother,
Then I am her grandchild.

And every time I think of it,
It simply drives me wild.

For now I have become
The strangest case you ever saw.

As the husband of my grandmother,
I am my own grandpa!!