South Carolina Genealogy Directory  |  South Carolina Genealogy Forum  |  South Carolina Genealogy Newsletter

How to Start out to Work on Your Family Genealogy

Sign up for our South Carolina Genealogy newsletter:

Family History, Genealogy, Ancestry… all of these terms usually bring to mind older retirees studiously working their way through library books. At least that’s the way it seemed back when I started around 1990. I was (at 18) the youngest person in the local Genealogy Society, usually the youngest in the libraries genealogy and history area. I think things have changed somewhat since then though that many younger people are getting into the hobby in the last 15 years or so. But, maybe a part of it is that we just don’t have the time to devote until we’re a little older and feel a need to have something else to pass on to our children and grandchildren. But how do you start out if you have absolute NO information but your name?

I think I had it easy in many ways. About 3-8 years before I got into researching the family history, my older brother had started a brief ancestry chart. In talking to older relatives he had managed to rough in approximately to our 2nd great-grandparents. Now, this was just names. There were a few siblings of direct ancestors and hardly any birth dates to speak of.

Here’s what to do if you have absolutely nothing to start with:

On a piece of paper, list your name, your birthdate and birthplace. Now, move on to your parents. What were their full names? Do you know their birthdates and birth places? How about their marriage date? You see, these dates are important for a number of reasons, one: it gives us an idea of the historical context of a persons life – what times they saw. But the second reason is much more vital to our research. That is a verification of identity. If the dates match, you have a pretty good guess that you’re looking at the right person.

Let me see if I can put it another way. Let’s say your father’s name was Douglas Howard Smith b. Dec. 21, 1942 Okay, when you look at birth records, just matching the name of the child might be a bit difficult as the county birth register could cover from 1880- the present, but knowing a date will help narrow down your search. By doing this you can find out the name of the parents.

So, the idea is that you take what you know and use THAT to research and find out what you DON’T yet know. But, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

After you exhaust your own knowledge of parents and grandparents names (and uncles/aunts as well.) Then, start calling your relatives and work them for information. Be a good reporter. Who, What, When, Where…. the Why can be interesting information as well, but at least cover the first 4 items.

Where possible when talking with your relatives don’t rely just on taking notes. It’s hard to write and take part in a conversation at the same time. So take a tape recorder, or digital recorder like the Zoom H4 recorder or something else in it’s category. These devices record directly to either WAV or MP3 files. WAV files are typically used to make CD’s, MP3 files are great for sharing online (smaller file size/minute of content.) The advantage to recording these is… you get to preserve the persons story firsthand, you can go back and transcribe/retranscribe later, you can share the recordings with your relatives. “This is granny Smith talking about her parents”.

So, like I say, go and try to get information from your relatives. Realistically speaking, let the library or online “bookwork” wait. Start by getting all the information you can from your living relatives. Once you’ve done that and are ready, take stock of the information and try to make a list of open questions. Are you missing birth, marriage or death dates for individuals. That information can be found at the county courthouse where the event happened. If you’re looking for parents of an individual that can be found on many birth/death and marriage records.

Obituaries can be good clues to parents/family members, but sometimes not exact dates as well. Try to figure out what kind of information you seem to be needing the most of and plan your first research trip accordingly. One thing to keep in mind, much information IS available online. Take some time to look online and see when records are available from. I know here it’s hit or miss getting public records from before 1913, but that varies by location. Many of our counties here in NC where I live are “burned record” counties where the turmoil of the Civil War and more recent activities have destroyed many such records.

Good luck and happy researching.

Sign up for our South Carolina Genealogy newsletter:

Amazon Logo

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.