Very important! Talk to your living relatives while they’re still living. Once they’re passed on, they’re a little harder to contact.
Can’t emphasize this one enough — talk to your living relatives! The information they can provide (even though some of it may occasionally be faulty) will give you important clues and direction in your family history research. Remember to take notes or, better yet, use a recorder to keep track of what they share with you.
The process here is actually pretty simple: you start with yourself, then your parents, then your grandparents — then you quit and start teaching family history classes.
Start With Yourself
The first step in family history is to identify what you already know. Start with yourself and work backwards in time to your parents’ and grandparents’ families by filling in as much information as you can, by memory, on a Pedigree Chart.
Here’s the information you’re trying to find for each person:
- Full name — including maiden names for the women.
- Approximate dates for events — birth, death, marriage, residence, etc.
- Locations for events — location is the key element in family history, since it indicates where vital records are today.
Gather Your Immediate Family Information
Now that you’ve identified what you already know, you’re ready to gather information about the missing pieces.
- Search your home papers and resources.
- Interview immediate family members; brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Focus on your oldest living family members to mine their memories for family history information. Each relative is likely to remember parts of the family story that others have forgotten, so be thorough!
- Ask where things happened — remember, location is key to your research.
- Ask if there are any distant cousins, great-aunts they’re aware of.
- Take detailed notes of the information you get from these interviews — or use a tape or video recorder and transcribe it immediately.
- Fill in a Family Group Sheet for each set of ancestors (husband/wife) on your Pedigree Chart.
Sample Questions To Ask Your Relatives:
- Are there any old family photo albums?
- Are there old letters sitting in a trunk somewhere?
- Are there any family papers of any kind?
- Who ended up with Grandma’s old Bible?
- Has the family ever been mentioned in a book?
- Is there a famous person to whom we’re supposed to be related?
Here’s a great tip: One of the best things you can do is scan or xerox the old photo albums, put a number by each picture, then sit down with the tape recorder going in the background, and ask them about each picture (who’s in it, what’s going on, any stories that go along with it…).
Contact Your Distant Relatives
Your relatives (distant cousins, a great-aunt you haven’t met yet, etc.) can be untapped gold mines of family history information. Call, write or visit them to gather new information about your ancestors. Don’t procrastinate on this one. Once an older relative is gone, all those stories and lots of family information are gone with them! And lost forever, at least until you get to the spirit world.
As you move back through each generation, you’ll hopefully uncover more and more relatives who can lead you to new information about your family history.
Here’s a nice little video on Talking To Your Relatives from FamilySearch.
Go to this video and click “Learn From Family”
Step 4b. Search The Internet