In the Beginning… A Checklist for Genealogical Neophytes

By Pamela Smith

Genealogical research is a profession for some and a hobby for many. With the advent of TV shows such as Who Do You Think You Are? and the multitude of resources available online, there are some interested novices entering the field who need a little help knowing where to start. The following brief overview is for these beginners.

First Step: Tools

Before starting genealogical research, you may want to read a book or have a book about genealogy basics on hand for reference. These can be found at your local public library in the non-fiction section around the call number 929.1. A staff member will be happy to help you locate these, or feel free to browse for them online. Reserve the titles you like best for pick up at your nearest branch. A nice selection may also be found as eBooks through the library catalog.

In order to keep your information organized, it is important to have a notebook dedicated specifically to your search. A notebook with pockets is even better so that you don’t lose slips of paper with referrals, references, or new ideas.

There are two types of worksheets that are essential for keeping track of family history research. The first is a record of all the information you collect on each individual. Many examples can be found online by browsing—use the search terms “family group sheet” or “family record sheet” (some can be downloaded for free). Make sure there is room to document the resources you use because you never know when you will have to refer back to them. The second worksheet needed is the actual family tree, often referred to as a pedigree chart (these can also be found online for free). This is the sheet that most people think of when doing genealogy research. It starts with you and branches out with the names and dates of each preceding generation.

How To Start

Write down all of the basic facts that you know about each member of your family and fill in the family record sheet.      

  • Name (include full name and any possible variations of the name)
  • Date and place of birth
  • Date and place of marriage and person married
  • Date of death and cemetery where the person is buried
  • Locations where the person lived, worked, or went to school
  • Occupations and places of employment
  • Religious affiliation
  • Immigration (locations, dates)
  • Professional organizations, social clubs, political groups, etc. that the person belonged to

Fill in the pedigree chart with the names and vital statistics from your family record sheet, starting with yourself and going back through time with each previous generation. This will show you where there are gaps, and you can decide which path you want to take first, filling in a branch with a few gaps or tackling one with more holes. Don’t forget to talk with older family members as they often know the facts or can offer clues for finding your missing information. Hopefully, some of the information you wrote down about your family will give you clues for starting research to fill in the missing information.

Where To Look For Information

  • There are some good beginning databases that include many invaluable records, such as birth, death, marriage, census, court, military, etc.                  
  • Some helpful local resources can be found at various historical sites, in local history collections, through digitization projects, or library databases.                  
    • The Virginiana Room at the Fredericksburg Branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library has a non-circulating collection of numerous books, indexes, military records, maps, newspapers dating to the 1780s on microfiche, and more.
    • AncestryLibrary is a popular genealogy research database offering access to obituaries, census records, vital records, city directories, and much more. You can access AncestryLibrary through CRRL’s wifi through your own device while at any CRRL location.
    • The Library of Virginia houses numerous print resources, in addition to a considerable amount of digitized information that is pertinent to the state. Every Virginia resident can sign up for a free account, using a valid Virginia I.D. on their Library Card Registration page.
  • Federal government websites provide an additional source of information about vital statistics, military records, immigration, the U.S. census, and more.                  
    • The Library of Congress has many digital collections available online, with their Chronicling America project providing over five million pages of historic U.S. newspapers.
    • The National Archives provides important information online through indexes or digitized documents, including military, immigration, and census records.

Where To Find Additional Help

    • All branches of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library provide “Training on Demand.”  These one-on-one classes match you with a librarian or volunteer specializing in the area of instruction you are interested in mastering.  Each class is about 30 minutes in length, and, if you need more assistance after one class, feel free to sign up for another session.  This is a great way to find out how to use any of the resources you may be having trouble searching. 
    • The Fredericksburg Regional Genealogical Society meets monthly at the library and sponsors programs which may be of interest to beginners. They are always eager to welcome budding genealogists and help each other by sharing tips and resources for family history research.

Good luck with your genealogical research and don’t hesitate to call, email, or come to the library in person if you need help using any of our resources!