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AAGP: Getting Started

Genealogy as a hobby can be very rewarding, but, like any other hobby, to do it well you must devote quality time and money to it.

The skills you must acquire in using historical materials may include many techniques that are new to you. The following steps will help you, the beginning researcher, get off to a good start.

Step One

1. What do you know?
Always start with yourself -- with family names, dates, and places -- details that you might know to help yourself begin the search.

2. Read genealogy books!
This is the best way to get prepared for the long haul. You'll be armed with a wealth of information to begin your search. Many books exists in various forms from How-To guides to family records. A list is provided under Reference Tools.

3. Take a course in genealogy.
This will prepare you and provide hands-on experience with instructions for doing your search. Since African-American searches can be more of a challenge, a class instructor can direct you to Web sites, books, and other resources (such as slave records when you have reached slavery), or when your search extends beyond the 1870 Census Records.

Step Two

1. Begin asking questions of your family and relatives.
They should (or might) know who's who. Let them know that you're interested in tracing the family roots. They may be thrilled to tell all, but don't expect them to give you answers right away. If this happens, don't get upset. You'll have to go about getting the answers a different way.

2. Make note especially of names; relationships; dates of birth, death and marriage; places of residence; church affiliations; and nationalities.
Gather data from family bibles, letters, diaries, account books, samplers, photos, obituaries, tombstones and other family records. Note any variations in names.

Step Three

After you have gathered all the data you can from steps one and two:

1. You should begin browsing the Reference ToolsVital Records, and other links located above to see what is there for you to use to expedite your search.

2. Chart the information to clarify relationships and to fill in the omitted information that was left blank in step two. This will require you to have notebook paper and folders to store your documents and to write down pertinent information.

3. You can use these charts from  or click on Additional Resources for more options. 

Step Four

It's Vital Records and Census time!

1. You should now try to fill in the gaps in your chart by using official birth, death, marriage, etc records.

2. Visit the appropriate state's vital records department to obtain the document(s) you need. You will have to contact the state's vital records department of whichever state in which your ancestor was born to obtain forms and information.

3. Go to your local library or Family History Center to request the U.S. Federal Census microfilm reels of the city, county, and state of your ancestor(s).