If we are very lucky, we may discover an ancestor has recorded a large family tree, or we have a famous relative and someone has already written the definitive family history book.
Everyone else starts at the beginning.
I knew virtually nothing about my family when I began, but I hungered for more details: Who were my ancestors? Where did they come from? When and why did they immigrate?
You likely have the same questions and the same desire to know more, so here are some tips to getting started:
1. Begin with what you know. Start with yourself; add your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Record maiden names of the women, and as much information as you can on other members, including places and dates of birth, marriage, death. Capitalize the SURNAME and write all dates in a clear format, such as the recommended 1 December 1920, which cannot be mistaken for a different month or year.
2. Preserve your family stories and traditions. Such stories may have changed over the years, but the kernel of truth is somewhere. Write down all family stories no matter how fanciful they may seem to you or other family members.
3. Interview family members and share information to spur recollection of memories. An African proverb says when an old person dies, it is as if a library has burned down. Talk to senior family members, as they are the keepers of family facts. As you share information, you may discover a kindred spirit among your cousins and become research partners.
4. Collect family photos and documents. Gather documents for births, marriages, deaths; locate photographs, letters, diaries, newspaper articles and religious articles, such as family bibles. Label the photographs you find or ask senior relatives about the people in them.
5. Join a genealogy society. Your local society has a library of reference materials, offers meetings with interesting speakers, and its members range from beginners through professional genealogists.
6. Keep a journal of your quest. It might become part of your family's story in a generation or two.
7. Begin your family tree. Enter the information you've gathered into family tree software, such as the user-friendly Family Tree Builder here on MyHeritage.com.
8. Expand your search. With the information you've gathered, you're ready to hunt for more and begin to travel the information highway in your quest.
Future articles will address many of these topics.