Genealogy: Five steps to finding ancestors

By Barry Ewell

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, July 6 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Barry Ewell has five steps to help beginners compile a family history.


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As a new genealogist, I felt like a bee jumping from one flower to the next, searching for nectar. However, my mentor introduced me to a simple five-step process to discover my ancestors.

Step 1: Write down what you know.

What do you know about the person or family group? This step can take from a few hours to several weeks, depending on how thorough you are. I find that the more complete my understanding of the person or family I am going to research, the easier and more productive my research will become.

Information can come from firsthand experience or documents you have. Look for copies of birth, marriage and death certificates; journals; scrapbooks; old letters; family bibles; photographs; school records; military records; obituaries; deeds and wills. Check your genealogy software program, read through your genealogy notes, and review files you have kept on the family to see what you know and what you want to learn about your ancestors. Make a record of each piece of information you learn about your ancestor. I found it valuable to learn all I could about my ancestor and the events, circumstances, relationships and background that pertained to their lives.

If this is your first time doing genealogy, create a pedigree chart – a list of direct ancestors – starting with yourself and working backward in time. Go back as far as you can from memory. Pedigree charts graphically outline relationships across generations. Each person is identified by full name, birthdate and place, marriage date and place, and death date and place. Start by completing a pedigree chart with yourself on the far left and then information about your parents and grandparents on the right, writing as much information as you already know. Answer questions from the following list that apply to your specific family members (if needed, estimate dates and places as a starting point):

What do you know about yourself?

State your full birth name.

When were you born? Include exact date and place.

When were you married? Include exact date and place.

Who are your parents?

State the full birth name of each parent.

When was each parent born? Include exact date and place.

When were your parents married? Include exact date and place.

When did your parents die? Include exact date and place.

Who are your grandparents? Start with your mother's parents, followed by your father's parents.

State the full birth name of each grandparent.

When was each grandparent born? Include exact date and place.

When were your grandparents married? Include exact date and place.

When did each grandparent die? Include exact date and place.

If needed, estimate dates and places as a starting point.

This exercise will expose missing information. Don't worry if you're unable to fill in all the information. You will gather this information during the research process. Evidence of a person's life events is usually found in historical documents stored in a repository near the place where a person lived. You will want to record what you know on printed or electronic forms, such as pedigree charts and family group sheets.

Family group records show information about a single family. Each family group record includes information about the father, the mother and their children, identifying each person by name.

If the birth dates are known, children are listed in order of birth. If you have the names of children's spouses, you can list that. There is often space on the family group sheet to record birth, marriage, and death information and other notes about the family, as needed. This can include censuses, joining or leaving churches, christenings, confirmations, burials, acquisition or sale of land, migrations, citizenship changes, jury duty, lawsuits, probated wills, paid taxes, obituaries, mentions in newspaper articles, new jobs, draft registration, military service, working on the county road crew, jail, serving as a witness, bondsman or godparent and more.

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