How to Begin Family Tree Research

My first rule of research:  You don’t need to spend money to begin discovering! 

When I began, I knew very little about genealogy websites and had no extra money to pay for special websites or research.  I was excited to find great advice and tips for free online, and there are some basic guides to be found in genealogy magazines, bookstores, libraries and online.  Some websites are totally free; some use trial periods and then charge; and some offer graduated plans, by the month or year. 

Genealogy societies and libraries can be wonderful help, and exist in all 50 states.  Many are organized by counties.  They are independent, usually depend on volunteer staff and donations, and have different types of resources, records and cost of dues.  Some offer research time for free, some have hourly costs, and partial year plans.  I personally joined the genealogy society in my county because much of my family originated here and I live here as well.  I have joined and paid dues most years, unless I did not have time to research and access their resources.  There are volunteers available to help you decide how to research your family. 



Many new upgrades to this site, making it more user-friendly and easier for beginning research, many databases that can be searched….

This part of gives free access to online family trees, tips for getting started, search engines and databases, links to resources, and the extensive World Connect Project….search but verify what you find, since trees may have mistakes or not be “sourced” well….

National Genealogy Society, with resources and training, dates for conferences….

Great place to find graves of loved ones, search through grave records, search for cemeteries, and some listings have additional family information and links to more people…..

Old Buncombe County Genealogy Society – Local group that covers most of the western part of North Carolina, with extensive library of resources and great volunteers to help guide your research, bookstore, and several great speakers to present genealogy information during the year….

Volunteers working to keep research free, with links to each state genealogy project, which link to more local websites and resources…Click on your state, then to your county for more local resources….

National Archives and Records Administration – resources for genealogists, tips, tools, free databases….This is where national records are housed, information on site for obtaining specific records (at a fee for locating and printing)….

Cyndi’s List, just what it says, lists under categories of aids for genealogy, supplies, forms, magazines and journals, websites for all things related to genealogy…


GENEALOGY MAGAZINES:  Some on store shelves, some online

Family Tree Magazine       

Family Chronicle                

Internet Genealogy            

More magazines and journals are listed on Cyndi’s List, especially if you are interested in research in countries outside the US.


There are several more websites that provide varying amounts of helpful guides on how to research.  They have examples of forms you can start with.  Although you can record a lot of details on your computer software, you still want to have some initial worksheets to start from.  This gives you a back-up in case of computer problems.


  1. I found a simple family tree chart and started with my own details – my name, my dates and places of birth, school, marriage and children.
  2. I added my own parents information, along with their brothers and sisters. 
  3. Work backwards one family at a time with as much personal information as you already think you know.
  4. As you work on your close family, gather copies of birth certificates, school diplomas, marriage and death certificates. It may seem unnecessary, but sometimes you find mistakes or differences in dates or spellings of names. And you may know the info, but others won’t when you’re gone.
  5. Record sources of documents, when and where you found them or who has possession of them.  (Who has the family Bible or copy of the grandparents marriage certificate?)  This is a good way to check back if other sources don’t agree.
  6. When talking with family and asking questions, I found some who did not want to share for emotional reasons, and sometimes that has to be okay!  If someone experienced childhood trauma of some kind, it is not always welcome to bring it up.  For example, one relative didn’t want to share the name of his birth father who abandoned him and his mother. Out of respect, his name is not in our family tree.
  7. Any information on a living relative should never be made public without their permission.  Many websites offer to help you build a family tree online, but details on living relatives should be off-limits.  I use my family tree software on my computer, but I have not published it. I have only made personal copies for our parents and siblings and other family members that want a copy.


For more on how to create a gift for your family, see my post Family Tree Binder.



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