Family history is very important to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, mostly because Family is important to members of the Church. It is interesting to note that there has been a slight change in terminology in the Church. We used to refer to the term Genealogy, but recently it is referred to almost exclusively as Family History.
What is the difference? Well, the term Genealogy refers to “the study and tracing of lines of descent”, or in other words, the names and dates of your direct ancestors, just the facts, ma’am. But Family History is so much more than facts, it is the history of families, the stories of people.
And Family History is one more thing: It is really fun! It is extremely interesting. And it’s amazing what you can find when you start looking. I like the recent Ancestry.com television ads, “You don’t have to know what you’re looking for, you just have to start looking.”
Family History research is really a lot easier than everyone thinks it is, and it’s something that anyone who has a few minutes of free time can get started doing. There are even incredible free resources for those who are on a tight budget.
First: Know what you know
The best first step is to figure out exactly what you already know. Write it down, save it somewhere, keep it organized. Just go through and write down everything you know, start with yourself, then your immediate family and work out from there. There are many Pedigree Charts and Family Group Sheets that you can find online to help you get all of the information you need.
Second: Figure out what you want to know.
Once you know what you know, figure out what you want to know. Are you missing a death date or place? A marriage? Children? This now becomes your goal. Set specific goals, and make an educated guess as to what that information should be. If you know the birth date of an individual, but are looking for a marriage date, look about 25 years after his birth. And you should be looking in the same county, or the surrounding counties. This will definitely help narrow your search.
Third: What records should you search?
Based on what you want to find, you may search different types of records. If you are looking for a birth date, you can look at either government records or church records. Often the best first step is Census records, as they help establish where a family is living in a certain year, and they give estimates of birth years, greatly helping to narrow the search.
Fourth: Search the records
Once you have determined what you want to find, and where you are going to look, you actually need to find those records. Ancestry.com can get you access to a lot of digital images of records, like Censuses and Marriage records, but it can be quite pricey. Did you know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operates thousands of Family History Libraries, and each one of them can order microfilms from the depository at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City? And for only a few dollars shipping. Then you can search that microfilm as free as you like. And there is a large collection of books and compiled family histories at the Library in Salt Lake City that they do not check out, so I would highly advise a visit, if at all possible.
Fifth: Record what you have found
After searching the records, write down what you have found. Even if you found nothing. Write down what records you have searched, so that you do not go searching those records again at a later date, hoping to find what you couldn’t find before. And, of course, write down everything you do find, and CITE your SOURCES!
Family History work is a great deal of fun, and it doesn’t really take all that much work or knowledge to get started. “You just have to start looking”, and once you do find something, you’ll be amazed at how great you feel. It really is enjoyable, once you start.
Further Resources: Ancestry.com
Familysearch.org -Which has a few additional resources, like the TechTips with information and technology tips for doing Family History and Research Courses which consist of videos and training about Family History.