Bay Area Genealogical Society

Getting Started

The journey to finding your family’s history is an exciting and fascinating trip. Tracing your family tree and ‘meeting’ the generations who came before you can be rewarding experience. Below are some basic steps and tips gather from many sources as a getting started point.

Remember to start working from the known to the unknown, and documenting all your sources – you will soon be on your way to climbing your family tree. Get ready for the view!!

Start with what you know.
Using a pedigree chart start or family group sheet, and start with yourself. Write down your information: listing your parents, grandparents and so on, filling in as much information as you know. Find all the charts and groups sheets on the Forms page.

Ask Questions.
As family members what they know. Check for information in the family bibles, scrape-books and look for old photos. Old photographs can give you that personal look into the lives of your ancestors and can yield clues to their occupation or trade, place of origin and other details.

Check on-line for information.
On-line resources can be very helpful to name a few: Cyndi’s List: Beginners » Beginners Guides, National Archives: Resources for Genealogists and Family Search: Learning Center or check out our page of on-line resources to find useful websites in getting started and continuing your search. Remember to document where you find the information so it will be easy to go back to if you have questions.

Check out the local libraries.
Many local libraries have a collection of historical information about the people who have lived there. While there check for old newspapers, within the pages of newspapers lies not only a glimpse into the lives and times of your ancestors but articles like birth notices, engagements, marriages, deaths and obituaries along with any major historical events happening at the time.

Visit your Register of Deeds Office.
Not everything can be found on-line, look for birth, marriage and death records – often called vital records at your local Register of Deeds office. These are key documents when searching for relatives. Many states started keeping these records starting in the mid 1800’s.

Other Important Records to look for:
Census Records, these are essential records for anyone looking for family history. Information on these records include the names of all household members, including ages, birthplaces and other important information. Besides the Federal census many States also took censuses, including these censuses in your search can uncover other valuable information about your family.
Military Records, which can list birth date, birth places along with any service information.
Church Records, many churches keep their own records about births, confirmations, burials.
Passenger Lists, tracing your ancestor to the United States is an important step in your search. Many European countries keep very comprehensive records of travelers.
City Directories, the directories can give you a wide variety of information besides address, sometimes occupations were includes along with religious and political affiliations and martial statuses.
Court and Prison Records, these records can give a wide variety of information including adoption, guardianship, name changes, divorces. Criminal records for crimes both large and small are recorded and can add interesting details to your family tree. Don’t forget to look for wills and probate records too. Will can offer a significant amount of information into your ancestors and family members.
Immigration and Naturalization Records, while the records information can vary, many times it will include the year the individual came to the United States, birthdates, place of birth, town and country of origin and sometimes names of relatives.
Tax Records, most often tax records were taken each year and your relatives paid real and personal property taxes, as they were taxed for any land they owned (real property) as well their livestock, equipment and others (personal property).
Workhouse and Union Records, these records included daily activities of an individuals and can be helpful identifying missing dates in our discovery of our ancestors. The records can include records from businesses, union records, poorhouses and workhouse organizations.
Cemetery and Gravesite Records, tombstones can offer more than just birth and death dates, some include spouses, children, countries of origins, military service religious affiliations and other personal information.
Check our Gravesite Search page for local cemetery information.

Check out the Hints and Tips page for more useful information.