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Tips and Advice

Start small, focusing on just one side of your family – perhaps the side about which you have the most information. The success you have with this line can help you build your skills before tackling other, more challenging lines.

Talk to your living family members, especially those who can help you confirm the details of where, when, and how your ancestors lived. Ask both factual questions and open-ended questions that encourage storytelling. Take advantage of MGC’s Oral History Program to explore various ways to preserve your family stories.

Use family history forms to keep your work organized. Be consistent with how you record information for dates and locations. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference, but many genealogists accomplish this by recording information in the following formats:

  • Names: first, middle, last (sometimes capitalized), with nicknames included in quotation marks and using maiden names for married women – e.g. Jacqueline “Jackie” Lee BOUVIER is a way to record the maiden name of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
  • Dates: day, month, year order – e.g. 4 Dec 1943
  • Locations: in order of smallest land jurisdiction to largest, including the country for locations outside the United States – e.g. Independence, Jackson County, Missouri; Munich, Bavaria, Germany

Cite your sources as you find them to keep track of what information you’ve found and where you found it. Nothing is more frustrating than finding a game-changing piece of evidence, forgetting to document which database, record collection, or book it came from, and later not being able to retrace your steps to find it again. Good, sound genealogical research can always be retraced or replicated.

Embrace the challenges. Expect to find your ancestors’ names spelled many different ways. Accept that even official documents can offer conflicting dates and places for an ancestor’s life events. Be open to the chance you might discover family secrets, surprises, and a debunked “family story” or two. When you hit a dead end or “brick wall,” consider taking a break and shifting your focus to a different challenge. Be flexible, not frustrated.

Continue to educate yourself about new research methods, resources, and skills. MGC offers a variety of classes multiple times a week for both in-person and online attendance for researchers of all experience levels. A selection of our beginner-friendly classes are available to view online at your convenience. 

Visit the Midwest Genealogy Center to speak with one of our genealogy reference assistants, no appointment required, or use one of our research assistance services.

Topical Guides

Beginning Genealogy

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Additional Learning

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