Your Family History – Getting Started

-A A +A


Have you wondered about your family history? Is there an ancestor you resemble, or whose character traits you share? Do you wish you knew more about your ancestors? This series will explore resources to help in your search. Learning more about your ancestors is a way to honor them – without you, your ancestors are history.

Begin with yourself–organize what you already have in your home. You may find photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, a family bible, Christmas cards, wedding and baby announcements, birth certificates, death announcements, diplomas, military discharge papers, employment records or school report cards. All provide clues to your ancestry.

Set up a filing system–you may use a divided binder; manila file folders in a box or drawer; a computer program – whatever works for you; a section for you and your family, a section for your parents, a section for each couple of your grandparents, etc. Plain paper is fine, or there are Ancestor Charts and Family Group charts that can be ordered from companies, or downloaded from several sites on the Internet.  (Note: the definition of “floor” is NOT where you store your precious records!)

There are three important elements: Names, Dates, Places. Write full names, not just nicknames; birth names of women, not married name. Write dates as, for example, 1 Oct 2000 or Sep. 19, 1994; don’t use just numbers, as 1/4/05, which can be confusing. It’s important to record the county name as well as the state – the county is where most events (birth, marriage, death) are recorded.

Interview your relatives – your cousins may have heard stories that you didn’t hear; they may have family records or heirlooms. Record the interview (video or audio), or take careful notes. If you’re sending a letter, including a self-address stamped envelope (SASE) may increase your chances for a reply. If you’re taking notes, use 8 1/2 x 11 paper (small papers are easy to lose). Use a separate sheet for each surname.

Many local libraries have genealogical sections. Look for how-to books, and for published records from areas in which your ancestors lived. Ask if they have family files, and internet access to family history databases. Check the internet. Search on your surname and family, e.g. Darnell family. Be careful! Much of the information has no documentation (proof); some information is not correct. Use what you find as clues. When you find something, record where you found it – name, author, publication date, name of library, or internet site.

Attend meetings of your local society – learn how-to tips and information on sources you may not have thought of. Your local library will have information on the local genealogical society. Visitors are always welcome at meetings. The Spencer County Historical and Genealogical Society meets on the 4th Monday of the month, at 6:30 p.m., at the Spencer County Public Library in Taylorsville. (No meeting in December.) Society information is on the Spencer County Library website, members.iglou.com/scpl. Visitors are always welcome.

Many resources are available on the internet. FamilySearch.org, a free site, hosts a growing collection of digitized records from all over the world. Signing in is not mandatory, but gives you access to even more collections. (They will not contact you.) The site also has databases of information submitted by researchers (may or may not be correct), and a WIKI of how-to information.

In future articles, we’ll explore available resources in detail. Please contact me with questions and suggestions for articles, at bettyd0150@att.net.

Betty Darnell was born in southeast Missouri, and has been a resident of Kentucky since 1988, first at Mt. Washington, and at Taylorsville since 2005. She began researching her family history in the 1960s as a student at Nazareth College near Bardstown. Betty has published abstracts of many records of Bullitt and Spencer counties, as well as several histories of her ancestral families.