Genealogy Basics: Getting Started

A friend and I were talking the other day and she mentioned she might be interested in learning more about her family’s genealogy.  She asked me, “How would I get started?”  I gave her the same answer I’d heard every genealogist and genealogy class instructor give: “You start with yourself.”

“Well what does that mean?” she asked.

It never occurred to me that the sentence I’d heard over and over again wasn’t going to be enough information, maybe because I’d grown up being surrounded by genealogy-related talk and genealogy-related items.  And yet, I was a merit badge counselor for the Boy Scouts’ genealogy merit badge.  What kind of instructor did that make me?  Shouldn’t I have known to be more specific?  Of course I should have!  Lesson learned, so I started the explanation again, this time with more instruction.

The process of beginning genealogy is basically the same for each genealogist who instructs an interested party.  Start with yourself, fill out the forms as far back as you know and then start interviewing family members for more information.  I wanted to provide that same information but I also wanted to give my friend information about organization and documentation.  And I wanted to do it without overwhelming her.  It was information I desperately wish someone had given me when I started instead of having to learn organization and documentation later, after I had piles and stacks of stuff to go thru.  So here’s the instructions I gave to my friend:

Start with yourself.  That means getting a pedigree chart or family tree and completing as much information as you can about yourself and getting the documentation to go with that information.  My favorite place to get genealogy forms is through the Midwest Genealogy Center’s website.  They not only have the basic forms every genealogist needs but they also have a research checklist, census forms and forms for kids doing genealogy.  I highly recommend using the family unit charts because of the amount of information included on that form.

Pedigree Chart


Family Group Chart

I always like to suggest people get copies of the documentation for the information they need to fill out first (birth, marriage and death records).  The place you were told you were born may very well be different than what your birth certificate reads.  My dad always used to tell me if I was going to do something I might as well do it right the first time.  I think that advice is extremely applicable to genealogy.  Do it right the first time and you won’t have to re-do it.  Plus, a great deal of useful genealogical information can be extracted from vital records.  That’s another topic for another time.

Once you have the information recorded for yourself and the documentation copied, decide how you want to store your documentation.  Will you be storing it electronically only?  Will you keep your paper copies as well?  If you’re keeping your paper copies, decide if you’ll store them in binders or file cabinets.  I always recommend people keep both an electronic copy and hard copy of everything, just in case something happens to one of them.  For hard copies I recommend getting archival quality sheet protectors to store the paper in.  Now is also a good time to start thinking about organization.  How will you be organizing your data?  Both electronic and paper organization needs to be considered.  This may seem a little disjointed in the process but doing it early will allow you to build on the storage and organization systems and keep you from getting behind on organization and storage.  But even if you can’t decide on an organization system right now at least be looking at possible systems to see how they might work for you.

While deciding on organization and storage systems you’ll also want to consider whether you want a computer program to store your genealogy information.  There are many, many programs out there to choose from.  A good number of genealogists, blogs and websites have reviewed the genealogy programs out there.  Many programs have a trial version you can download and play with to see if you like it.  The best piece of advice I’ve ever heard: whatever program you decide to use, learn how to fully use its functions and stick with it for awhile until you know for sure whether you like or hate the program.

While you’re working on making all those big decisions, you can continue working on information gathering.  Ask your parents and grandparents for their information, see if they’ll give you copies of their vital records (birth, marriage and death).  Add that information to your forms and, if you have one, genealogy database.  If the timing is correct you can start looking at census records.  The latest census out there is 1940.  That will catch many grandparents.  We’ll look at census records a little more in-depth in a later post.

Once you’ve reached the point that you don’t have any living relatives to interview or request information from, that’s when you start document-only research.  We’ll talk about that in next week’s post.

How did you get started on your genealogy journey?  If you were instructing someone in how to begin their genealogy journey, what would you be sure to tell them?  What do you wish someone had told you?

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Follow Friday: A Sense of Family

Friday, hooray!  Let’s take a look at today’s edition of Follow Friday.  A Sense of Family is the blog I’ve chosen to spotlight today.

Shelly’s posts are easy and interesting reads.  She’s highlighted her family, conferences she’s attended, genealogical writing and tips and tricks that she uses.  Her post on Finding Daughters by Searching on Father’s Name: Tuesday Tip was especially interesting.  I hadn’t thought of using that technique before; I just love learning new things!

Shelly’s post on Visiting the American Cemetery at Normandy also struck a chord with me.  Having decided at the beginning of the year to start volunteering at the National World War I Museum here in KC, my interest in World War I has increased exponentially.  Normandy is a place I would love to see, just because of my interest in World War I.

So take a minute today and check out A Sense of Family, I bet you’ll find something that interests you there.

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Around the Town Thursday: The Seattle Space Needle

As promised, here’s the bonus Around the Town Thursday post!  Instead of flying into Canada directly for my work trip I opted to fly into Seattle, Washington and take a drive up the coast into Canada.  I’m so glad I did too.  First, because I got to see some fantastic sites.  Second, because I remembered (as the plane was touching down in Seattle) that my dad used to live somewhere near Seattle (Tacoma to be exact) and I decided to make the trip somewhat of a “pilgrimage” and see the city my dad spoke so highly of.  But that’s a story for another time.

While in Seattle I decided to stop in and see the famed Space Needle of Seattle.  A friend told me there was a restaurant in the Space Needle and that eating at that restaurant was the best way to experience the Needle.  So I made a reservation at SkyCity Restaurant and made a night of it at the Space Needle.

Seattle Space Needle at night

The food at SkyCity was good.  It’s an expensive place to eat but the view is absolutely awesome!  If you don’t want to pay the menu prices you can also pay to go to the observation deck.  If I hadn’t eaten there I definitely would have paid to go to the observation deck.  The view from the deck is almost as good as the view from the restaurant.

View of downtown Seattle from the Space Needle Observation Deck


View of the city and bay from the Observation Deck


I’m not the greatest night photographer, but the view from
the Observation Deck is gorgeous at night too!

This is definitely a must see sight if you go to Seattle.  Entree prices at the restaurant start at around $50 and go up from there.  There are appetizers and some fantastic desserts so you could just opt to have one of those items, which are somewhat cheaper.

The other option is to pay the fee to see just the observation deck.  Ticket prices were $19 when I went in September (ticket prices can be found here) so really a better option is to make a reservation at the restaurant and have appetizers or dessert and enjoy the observation deck along with your food (and the rotating restaurant as well).  Although, if you’re going to be in Seattle for a few days your best option is to buy a Seattle CityPASS, which gets you admission to six different popular Seattle attractions (the Space Needle among them).

I enjoyed my visit to the Space Needle and if you get a chance, you should definitely head for the top!

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Around the Town Thursday: St. Oswald’s Anglican Heritage Church

I started my Around the Town Thursday posts with the intention of highlighting all the wonderful things to see and do in Kansas City.  I knew eventually I’d like to expand from just the Kansas City area but I honestly didn’t expect it to be this soon.  Having been sent to Langley, BC (Canada) for a work meeting has given me the opportunity to jump into my Around the Town expansion now!  Unfortunately it also caused me to miss last week’s Around the Town Thursday post so I’m going to give you a double dose this week!

For those who don’t know where Langley, BC is located here’s a map:

View Larger Map

Langley is a city of approximately 25,000 people.  Their city website boasts: “With its rich history, wonderful sense of community, lush offerings of nature, and proximity to Vancouver, Langley is the best kept secret in the Lower Mainland.”  I had the opportunity to view a little of the city during my two days there and I can say that it is a very beautiful area.  When I travel for work, I always try to stop and see one or two places in the area I travel to.  One of the places I had the opportunity to stop in at was St. Oswald’s Anglican Heritage Church.  It’s a quaint little church on the corner of a partially industrial area that has been in existence since 1911.  The church’s history page says: “It is evocative of an English country church featuring late Mediaeval and Tudor elements.”  The church is strikingly painted in white with beautiful bright green trim and is surrounded by four Douglas fir trees at the front of the church and a small church cemetery along the side and back of the church.

Plaque outside of St. Oswald’s
Langley, British Columbia, Canada


Plaque about St. Oswald’s and its community
Langley, British Columbia, Canada


St. Oswald’s Anglican Church
Langley, British Columbia, Canada

The church wasn’t open for viewing (it’s still an active congregation), but I was able to walk around the outside and peek thru the windows.

Inside of St. Oswald’s Anglican Church
Langley, British Columbia, Canada

The church had both a surrounding cemetery and a memorial garden.  I took some time and walked through the cemetery and memorial garden.

St. Oswald’s Cemetery


St. Oswald’s Memorial Garden

While walking through it occurred to me that St. Oswald’s cemetery might not yet be on Find A Grave.  I was on a limited break from the meeting I was attending so I quickly started at the beginning of the memorial garden and worked my way thru the cemetery taking pictures of each grave.  I managed to get pictures of the entire cemetery before I had to go back to my meeting.  I didn’t have a chance to look up the cemetery on Find A Grave until I returned back home.  And I am so glad I was able to get pictures of the cemetery because when I looked it up on Find A Grave I found the cemetery internments had been submitted to Find A Grave, but there were no pictures.  In the next few weeks I plan to submit the pictures I took to the St. Oswald’s Find A Grave site.

If you ever have the opportunity to go to Langley, take a moment and stop by St. Oswald’s; sit in the memorial garden and relax for a bit and let the world pass you by.  It’s well worth the time spent.

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Tombstone Tuesday: Elsa Sophia Altman

Welcome to Tombstone Tuesday!  Today we’re looking at the tombstone of my paternal first cousin, twice removed, Elsa Sophia Altman located in Anselm Lutheran Cemetery.

Tombstone of Elsa S. Altman
Anselm Lutheran Cemetery, Anselm Ransom, North Dakota

Elsa Sophia was the ninth of seventeen children of Robert Altman and Albertina Amelie (Lange) Altman.  She had five brothers (three older and two younger) and eleven sisters (five older and six younger).

Elsa Sophia was born 13 November 1902 in Anselm, Ransom, North Dakota.  She died 26 August 1903 in Anselm, Ransom, North Dakota.  Her tombstone inscription reads “A little flower of love that blossomed but to die.”  She’s buried in Anselm Lutheran Cemetery in Anselm, Ransom, North Dakota.  The cemetery borders what used to be family farmland.

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