Why does anyone research their family history? In the past it may have been to prove lineage, to make a connection with a noble or glorious past, or to prove kinship, in order to claim property, or an aristocratic title. Since the 1970s, with the explosion of interest in family history research that followed the publication of Alex Haley's Roots, and the subsequent hit television drama of the same name, genealogy has become a democratic exercise, something we can all do, that places our ancestors in the context of local, national, and international historical events. Genealogy is the most popular kind of research done by people in the United States. Genealogy research is different things to different people. It's detective work, it's a quest, it's open ended, and often highly personal. You might ask yourself
Who am I?
Who are my people?
Where do I come from?
How do I feel connected to the past?
How do I learn more about family stories, legends, and mysteries?
Before you begin your research, you might ask yourself the question
You will learn more about genealogy research as you go along. Talk to librarians, genealogists, and other researchers to discover more. Consult genealogy manuals, how to books, and take classes to further your knowledge.
The Family Search article Principles of Family History Research provides a thorough grounding in beginning your family history research.
Before you start, think about why you are researching your family history. What is it that you want to discover? Defining goals from the outset helps you decide what direction your research will go in. Being aware of your research goal helps you develop specific research questions that will eventually lead you to the records you need. Research goals are usually quite broad: for instance,"I want to research my family history back as far as I can go." Or a goal can be quite specific, "I want to learn about my 3rd great grandfather's military service."
FamilySearch breaks research into three stages.
A pedigree chart (sometimes called an ancestral chart) is a great way to start organizing your research. You can download pedigree charts from the internet, from genealogy websites like Ancestry Library Edition, and from the National Archives.
Start with yourself, and work backwards
Spell out family names in CAPITALS.
Number every individual and every pedigree chart page
Write out dates (e.g. 1 September 1940) to avoid confusion.
Fill in all the information you can.
Use a pencil, revisit, and make corrections and additions as you collect more information.
The Milstein Division has the latest how-to books and guides to genealogical research. Ask about them in Room 121, or search the Classic Catalog at catalog.nypl.org. See our blog post Genealogy How-To Books: How a Little Reading Can Save You A Lot Of Time (https://www.nypl.org/blog/2019/03/25/genealogy-guide-books).
FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org) has a free online guide to starting genealogy research called Family History for Beginners that is full of tips and suggestions. (www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Family_History_for_Beginners) and a research overview, Principles of Family History Research.
NYPL has in its collections hundreds of handbooks and manuals to help you research your family history, from guides to getting started, through specialized guides to getting organized, finding specific record groups, research in different ethnic groups and communities, and genetic DNA.
Some useful general subject terms include:
For help finding genealogy handbooks and manuals, or online guides to genealogy research, email firstname.lastname@example.org.