Genealogical research has become easier, more prevalent, and increasingly popular in the past several years, since the advent of internet access. Tracing your family tree from leaves to roots is a fun, addictive, and rewarding experience. In order to join most hereditary societies, you need to document your direct lineage from a given ancestor. Although it may take some time to complete this task, your search is aided by a myriad of resources, and the foundation laid by those who searched before you.
For the beginner, we recommend you start with the living. Interviews with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family members may provide the facts and clues you need. The four most recent generations in your family's history can probably be documented by collecting records in the family archives. They may be in a relative's attic. They may be in your father's basement. Or, they may be in the possession of some family member who showed vague signs of genealogical interest before you came along; and thereby collected valuable records which were never reviewed. Lay your hands on these items first and document all the names, dates and places of your life, up to the lives of your great-grandparents. With this you will have laid an important foundation. Do this before you concentrate too heavily on one line.
When you have the foundational data for your research, you will probably want to begin record your research in a genealogical software program. There are research programs which are available both “online” and “offline”. Those which are available online have the advantage of opening up a vast array of hints, records and resources to researchers, including the connection to others researching similar lines. A significant disadvantage to online software programs, is that all of the “online” records and photographs being tied to your research and family tree cannot be easily relocated to another software system, although the family lines themselves can be downloaded as GEDCOM files. Online research services include Ancestry.com, Genealogy.com, and others. Talk to fellow genealogists, and study your options to determine what will best suit your needs.
Alternately, offline genealogy search software allows the user to create a free-standing data set that is tied to documents and photographs which are stored in the user’s hard drive. This is attractive to many researchers, because it does not encumber them to permanently commit to one, single online research service. Offline software often has much more flexibility and ease in tagging, vetting, honing and refining ancestors within each line, as well.
If you are collecting physical copies of your research (always wise), be sure to make photocopies of everything. The word of your relatives is many times inaccurate, and true hereditary research is validated only in actual, primary sources. This would include birth, death and marriage certificates, as well as vital records, church records, family bibles, probate records and town records. Most hereditary societies accept only primary documented sources.
When you have your primary lines (you should have eight established if possible), then choose the line you want to track and begin your work. By now you will have an idea what part of the country from whence these people came. Generally, the next two or three lines back can be more difficult than those which are even older. The late nineteenth century saw much travel, and poor record-keeping in some areas. If your family stayed in the east, you should have very little problem obtaining the documents you seek. Write to the vital records departments at the city, county and state levels for about five to ten specific documents you would like to obtain. Be as specific as possible and include the correct payment. At this point, it is also wise to search the census records between the years of 1850 and 1900. Before 1850, national census records included only heads of households. The latter half of that century included all family members.
Plan a trip to a large library in your region and spend a few days acquiring documentation when you have as much as you are able to secure from writing to various vital records departments. You may need to continue writing, but it is wise to check a variety of sources. There will be a librarian at the library who probably knows how to educate you in genealogical library research. Listen carefully to them. In addition, locate the LDS research center in your area. The Mormon Church is a wonderful resource for ordering all sorts of records.
Remember, what you are looking for is an actual record or photocopy of an original record. This is your proof of the line. An old story handed down verbally is family lore. Notes jotted down by a relative may simply be very, very old family lore. The records probably exist...it is your mission to find them. There is no greater reward in genealogical research than to find the missing link in a family line, and to have the documentation in-hand.
Online resources are good because they are easy to use in the comfort of your home, and they may give you some direction when you actually track down the true records. Remember though, printing off genealogical records from the internet is little more than printing off clues for your mission. The person who put the information there may be reciting family lore of their own.
Once you have established documented lineages, you will begin to notice more precisely the deeds and lives of specific ancestors. The hereditary society community is a means of preserving the record of your ancestor's history, as well as providing you a satisfying end to your hard work. In addition, many books have been printed by hereditary societies which may assist you in your efforts to identify which ancestors may qualify you for future or present memberships.
In summary, the key to genealogical research is perseverance. The road to locating lost lines and elusive ancestors is strewn with roadblocks. Over time, the keys to removing these obstacles become available as more resources are uncovered, and as you network with other genealogists.