Not sure where to begin your genealogy search? Follow this sure-fire checklist.
1. Gather what you already know about your family.Search your basement, attic and closets (and those of your family members) and collect family records, old photos, letters, diaries, photocopies from family Bibles, even newspaper clippings. E-mail far-flung relatives to ask whether they have records that may be of help for your genealogy quest.
2. Talk to your relatives.Ask your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles about their memories. Don't ask just about facts and dates—get the stories of their growing up and of the ancestors they remember. Try to phrase questions with "why," "how" and "what."
3. Put it on paper.Write down what you know so you can decide what you don't know yet. Start with the five-generation "pedigree" chart.
4. Focus your search.What are the blanks in your family tree? Don't try to fill them in all at once—focus on someone from the most recent generation where your chart is missing information. Try to answer that "mystery" first, then work backward in time.
5. Search the Internet.The Internet is a terrific place to find leads and share information—but don't expect to "find your whole family tree" online. You can search records on the FamilySearch.org website for free. Ancestry.com subscribers can search that site from home, or use it for free here at your local library as we offer Ancestry Library Edition on our public computers.
6. Explore specific Web sites.Once you've searched for the last names in your family, try websites specifically about your ethnic heritage or parts of the country where your relatives lived. You may even find websites about your family created by distant relatives researching the same family tree.
7. Discover your local FamilySearch Center.The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more than 4,000 FamilySearch Centers where anyone can tap the world's largest collection of genealogical information. Using your local center, you can borrow microfilm of records such as the birth, marriage or death certificates of your ancestors. More than 2 million rolls of microfilmed records from all over the world are available. Compare the information in these sources with what you already know, fill in the blanks in your family tree, and look for clues to more answers to the puzzles of your past.
9. Organize your new information.Enter your findings in family tree software programs or on paper charts (make sure you note your sources). File photocopies and notes by family, geography or source so you can refer to them again. Decide what you want to focus on next.
10. Plan your next step.
Once you've exhausted your family sources, the internet and the FamilySearch Center, you may want to travel to places your ancestors lived, to visit courthouses, churches, cemeteries and other places where old records are kept. This is also a rewarding way to walk in the footsteps of your ancestors and bring your heritage to life. You'll find that the quest to discover where you came from is fun, as exciting as a detective story, and never-ending.