By Rafael Guber
1. Realize that you don't know what you know!
Unlocking the doors, which hold the secrets of your families' past, becomes so much easier when you realize that you already possess many of the keys. Follow the techniques and disciplines you are about to learn. That being said, don't lose sight of your ability to think critically and creatively. You are about to learn that you forgot just how well your mind actually works.
2. Now... start with what you know.
Like the old expression goes, "clarity is power." Ask yourself and others well focused questions. Where and when were your ancestors born? Married? Where are they buried? When did they come to America? What port did enter? Once here, where did they first live?
3. Interview relatives (start filling in the gaps).
Interview parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. Focus on specific dates (see number 2). Family stories also provide clues for further research and general family knowledge.
4. Organize your information.
Start by using a pedigree chart (a type of family tree). Get permission to copy documents and photographs. File them in an orderly way. Software helps, but pencil and paper will do.
5. Identify and pay attention to surnames (last names).
Each generation back in time will give you ancestors with different surnames. These names come mostly from women's maiden names. These are you ancestors, too. You are just as related to these names you have never heard before as you are to the names you have known all your life.
6. Visit Archives and attend genealogical society meetings.
For hands on help and information, visit government archives, Family History Centers, and research libraries. Genealogical society meetings also offer direction and advice.
7. When visiting a research facility, explore your ancestors' records.
Explore birth, marriage and death records, city directories, census documents, land records, manifests, naturalization and military records, etc. What type of records did your ancestors generate? Which documents will lead you to other documents? Make and file copies and fill in the blanks in your pedigree chart.
8. Explore the internet.
Your family tree may already be on line, but even if it isn't, documents, photos, maps, etc. are waiting to be discovered. You may even find a relative who has done a lot of the work for you. Use a search engine and your imagination.
9. Visit the place(s) where you family lived.
Houses of worship, cemeteries, courthouses, and former homes, can provide unusual and important facts as well as a visual record of your families' past. Bring a camera.
10. When you think you have gone as far as you can go...
Review your data for facts you may have missed. Are there documents still available? Is there a new family branch to be explored? Are potential relatives out there on the Internet? Develop a strategy to fill in the gaps. Start the process again.