How to start genealogy family tree

How to Begin Genealogical Research

As the depository of the Federal Government's records deemed of permanent value for historical purposes, the National Archives and Records Administration houses many records that can be helpful to persons who wish to trace their ancestry.  However, the search cannot be completed at NARA alone.  Many other sources and depositories should be consulted.  Here are suggestions about ways to go about finding your ancestors.

Start With Yourself

You are the beginning "twig" on your vast family tree.  Start with yourself, the known, and work toward the unknown.  Find out all the vital information you can about your parents and write it down. Then find out about your grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.

Look for Names, Dates, Places, and Relationships

You will be concerned with pulling four key items from the many and varied documents of recorded history: names, dates, places, and relationships.   These are the tools of the family searcher.  People can be identified in records by their names, the dates of events in their lives (birth, marriage, death), the places they lived, and by relationships to others, either stated or implied, in the records.

Begin at Home

The place to begin is at home.  Here you can find much information in family bibles, newspaper clippings, military certificates, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, naturalization certificates, diaries, letters, scrapbooks, photographs, backs of photographs, baby books, and many other documents.

Relatives as Sources

Visit, telephone, or write those in your family who may have information, particularly older relatives.  More often than not, others before you have gathered data about the families in which you are interested.  Write a letter, make a personal visit, or perform a telephone survey to find out about such persons and what information has already been collected. In addition to possessing vital information, family members may also know family stories that can be collected and preserved for future generations and may assist in your continuing research. 

Federal Records

The National Archives and Records Administration maintains records that are of great use to genealogical researchers.  The U.S. federal census which was taken every ten years since 1790 is a very important source and, thanks to partnerships between NARA and other organizations, all censuses taken more than 72 years ago have been made available to the public on-line.  The National Archives and Records Administration also holds records documenting military service, passenger arrival, naturalization, taxation, court actions, land ownership, and much more.  See NARA's Genealogy section

State Records

Every state also has their own Archives. State archives hold records of great value to genealogists. Some of these records include state censuses, military records, bounty land records, court records, prison records, and much more.

County Records

There are many records held by the individual counties in each state. Some of these include deed records, probate records, criminal and civil court records, tax records, and voting records. All of these records have the potential for being good sources of genealogical data.  Such records are normally in the county courthouses although some original documents have been filmed by different organizations and can be viewed elsewhere. Often, the earliest county records or copies of them are available in state archives.

Birth, Marriage, and Death Records

Some states began to keep records of births and deaths earlier, but for most of the United States, birth and death registration became a requirement between 1890 and 1915.  Before that time, these events will generally be found recorded only in church records and family bibles.  Most marriages will be found recorded in county records which sometimes date to the establishment of the county. Don’t overlook funeral home records, obituaries, cemetery records, and gravestone inscriptions.

Church Records

Investigate the possibility of finding genealogical data in the records of the church to which your ancestor belonged. A few churches have records of important events in the lives of members and provide valuable information for family historians.

Libraries, Societies, and Archives

Visit the state, regional, and local institutions in your area.  Libraries, family history centers, historical and genealogical societies and non-government archival repositories are all good sources for genealogical and family history data and may hold things such as newspapers, private papers of individuals, and records of private organizations.

Start Your Genealogy Research | National Archives

Introduction to NARA Resources

The records in our holdings that are most commonly used by genealogists include, Census, Military, Immigration (Ship Passenger Lists), Naturalization, and Land records.

To learn more about these records and how to access them, we recommend that you: 

Start by reviewing our Powerpoint presentation

The "Beginning your Genealogical Research at the National Archives and Records Administration"  presentation provides an excellent introduction to most popular genealogical records at NARA.

Powerpoint Tutorial


(Save to your computer and then open, or open directly.)

View our Introductory Videos on YouTube
  • View our video on "Introduction to Census Records"
  • View our videos on Military Records: Pension Records, Regular Service, and Volunteer Service
  • View our videos on "Introduction to Immigration Records" and "Immigrant Records: More than just Ship Passenger Arrival Lists"
  • View our video, "Early Naturalization Records at the National Archives"
  • View our video on "The Homestead Act: Land Records of your Ancestors"
Learn more on our Research Topics pages

On the Research Topics pages, you will learn about records available at NARA, and how to use them.  You will also find links to articles, finding aids, and links to digitized records in the Catalog, when available.  You may want to start with these records:

  • Census
  • Military
  • Immigration
  • Naturalization
View Additional Videos from our Family History Workshops

We have many genealogy presentations available online, where you can learn about additional records available at NARA for genealogy, and how to use them.    

  • Videos from our "Know Your Records" series
  • Videos and handouts from our annual Virtual Genealogy Fair
Learn more about NARA's online Genealogy Resources

Other Genealogy Resources for Getting Started

Online Tutorials and Guides

Genealogy Tool Kit

Getting Started page from National Genealogical Society

Beginning Your Genealogy Research - The Basics,  from the USGenWeb Project

How to get started in Genealogy, from the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS)

Palaeography: reading old handwriting 1500 - 1800: A practical online tutorial, from The National Archives of the U.K.

Finding Your Ancestors, online course (free, but requires registration)

Genealogy Learning Center from

Genealogy Classes, free online classes on beginning genealogy, internet genealogy, and tracing immigrant origins.

Legacy Family Tree webinars

FamilySearch Wikis


If your research seems to hit a dead-end or poses a tough problem, you can often find other paths by learning how others solved their research problems. Here are some online resources that may provide some ideas and answers. 

  • View NARA at Riverside's How to Begin Genealogical Research page
  • Ancestry's video on Brick Wall Busters
  • Links to beginners tips on Cyndi's List
  • Links from the Archives Library Information Center (ALIC)
Consult books and articles

Consult books and articles about what records are available, where they can be found, and steps in the genealogical research process. Here are the names of some books you may find in your local library or bookstore. (Please note: these are not endorsed by the National Archives. They are mentioned here as possibly helpful resources.)

  • Bentley, Elizabeth Petty. The Genealogist's Address Book, 4th edition. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1999.
  • Crandall, Ralph J. Shaking Your Family Tree. Dublin, NH: Yankee Publishing, 1986.
  • Croom, Emily A. Unpuzzling Your Past: A Basic Guide to Genealogy. Cincinnati, OH: Betterway Books, 1995.
  • Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1990.
  • Jacobus, Donald Lines. Genealogy as a Pastime and Profession. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1968. Reprint, 1991.
  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997.
  • Rubincam, Milton. Pitfalls in Genealogical Research. Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, 1987.
  • Stryker-Rodda, Harriet. How to Climb Your Family Tree. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1977. Reprint, 1993.
  • Szucs, Loretto D., and Sandra H. Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Revised edition. Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, 1997
Read Journal Articles

The following can be found in libraries with a large genealogical collection, or you may be able to purchase back issues from the societies that published them.  

  • NGS Quarterly 
  • New England Historical and Genealogical Register
  • NYG&B Record


Attend Workshops and Conferences

We provide workshops to help people learn how to use historical documents when conducting genealogical research. See our list of upcoming workshops and the annual Virtual Genealogy Fair.

National, regional, and local genealogical societies also often hold workshops and conferences geared towards beginning genealogists.

You can also listen to recordings of lectures from previous national and regional genealogy conferences, and attend ongoing webinars. These cover the vast array of genealogical research topics, and many are geared to the beginner.

Join Genealogical Societies

In addition to sponsoring workshops and webinars, other help is also available through genealogical societies. Most publish newsletters and other materials describing genealogical research and services in the area. Many also have libraries and other helpful resources. You may find it helpful to join both your local genealogical society as well as those where your ancestors lived.

To find a genealogical society in North America, you can search by state/province from the National Genealogical Society website.

Other web site that may assist you in locating local societies are:

U.S. Genealogy sites state by state

Directory of Genealogy Libraries in the U.S.


What are people asking on History Hub about Genealogy Records?

  • Re: Seeking Jacqueline Goff in 1950 Census for St Louis City, Missouri
  • Seeking Jacqueline Goff in 1950 Census for St Louis City, Missouri
  • Family Histories and Beyond: Investigations in 1950 U.S. Census Sheets on YouTube, Oct. 13, 2022, at 1 p.m. EDT
  • Seeking info on Modeste Garland and St Francis deSales Home for Girls
  • Seeking names of all passenger ships from Italy to Louisiana 1899

Family tree: where to start and how to compile

Family tree: where to start and how to compile

In this article you will find answers to the questions: where to start compiling your own family tree, what steps should be taken to productively study the genealogy of your family, why study a family archive and what are the ways of registering a family history.

How do you start compiling your own family tree?

Start by interviewing your immediate family. It is they who can provide the initial information on which you will build the foundation of future research. Name, place of residence, dates of birth and death - you can find out this and other important information within two or three generations without actually leaving your home and simply by asking your parents, grandparents. The value of such memories lies in the fact that often only your relatives can name facts that are not in official documents: habits, appearance and distinctive character traits of an ancestor.

However, in order to create an objective picture of the genealogy of one's family, it is not enough to confine oneself to the oral information of one's relatives. The next step is to analyze the family archive. It is necessary to find and study letters, diaries, old photographs, various certificates (of marriage, birth and death), work books and certificates. Particular attention should be paid to documents from registry offices. Often such family papers and testimonies of the past are boxed and sent to gather dust on a distant shelf - when, when carefully examined, they can reveal who your predecessors were and what kind of life they led.

Keep a dossier on each relative found during the study in order to save and systematize the data obtained

The third step is to apply to the regional and state archives, where a person can receive information about himself and his immediate family within 75 years (the period of protection for the protection of personal secrets). First, ask the archive staff to issue a birth and marriage certificate for your parents, then look for a similar certificate for your grandparents, etc. So, step by step you will move deep into the centuries. One request to the archive can be processed within 2-3 months, but they do not have the right to refuse you completely. In order to understand which archive of which region to apply for information search, you need to know the locality in which the ancestor of interest lived. It is also necessary to indicate a certain chronological framework for the requested information, since it is not practical to require that all bearers of your surname be found in the archive.

In addition to the personal history of a person, the official archives contain information that will help you better understand the history of the region where your ancestors lived. This is data on the history of cities and villages, on the composition of the population, on the activities and most famous representatives of the region. With special luck, rare photographs, documentaries, and audio recordings can be found in archival funds, which will only complement your genealogical research with colorful confirmations.

How to draw up a family history?

There are several ways to arrange information about your family obtained during the study, of which the following are the most common:

  1. Family tree
  2. Genealogical table
  3. Generation painting

You can create a genealogical tree of your family both on your own and by contacting professionals for help - depending on the scope of your research. According to their structure, there are 9 trees0008 ascending (from descendants to ancestors) and descending . Among Russian families, the first option is the most common: here the tree trunk indicates the person from whom it is built, his parents are depicted in the fork, and grandfathers, grandmothers, etc. are depicted on smaller branches. Thus, the ascending genealogical tree clearly demonstrates the connection between the current generation of the family and the previous ones. In a descending family tree, the opposite is true: the ancestor is located in the roots, and his descendants are in the crown. This option is especially convenient when it comes to building a pedigree of a famous person or there is a desire to prove your relationship with a famous person.

Family trees can also be divided into male and mixed. In male, as the name implies, only male ancestors are indicated with the mention of the name of their spouses, in mixed - all direct ancestors along both lines of kinship. It should be noted that historically in Russia kinship is considered to be direct exclusively through the male line: from father to son.

In medieval Europe, family trees were traditionally painted in certain distinctive colors. For example, the names of men without offspring were often written on a red background, and married women on purple.

For those who want to do without special decorative elements, there are other graphic ways of depicting pedigrees, one of which is genealogical table . In the table, as in the tree, each generation is located strictly on one horizontal line, and the seniority of persons in each goes from left to right.

There are three types of pedigree tables:

  • Ascending and descending
  • Horizontal : on the left is the ancestor, on the right are its descendants (also ranked by seniority)
  • Circular : in the center is a person who makes up the tree, and around him are the ancestors of the father and mother

Another way to design a family genealogy is to draw up a generational list . In it, in the form of a list of people broken into knees, information about descendants (descending list) or about ancestors (ascending list) is presented. Unlike genealogical tables and trees, in which kinship is displayed in a graphical form, a generation list is usually a numbered list of all members of the genus, where information about each of them begins on a new line. The advantage of this type of design is the free space to add biographical information about each name in the family: from place of birth to family rumors and legends.

However, it is not necessary to stop at just one of the options listed above. "Project Life" provides an opportunity to combine different ways of designing your genealogy in one product. When ordering a genealogical research from us, you receive not only a genealogical book, which presents a complete generation list, reveals the origin of the surname and describes the history of the native land, but also a family tree made in a unique author's style, which will take a special place in your home.

How to make a genealogical tree of family and clan

How to keep the memory of the past of your family? Collecting old photographs and yellowed letters in boxes on the mezzanine is not the best option: in a couple of generations, your descendants will hardly guess who these smiling people from black and white cards are. How about translating that memory into something meaningful, like a real family tree? Its creation will be an exciting quest for the whole family, and in the process of immersing yourself in your own story, incredible discoveries can await you all.

Building a family tree is not easy, but interesting. To do this, you will have to conduct a comprehensive study, collect all the data and photographs, and then try to create a family tree with your own hands from all this.

In our article you will find not only tips for finding information about ancestors, but also various tree design options. We have also prepared for you two templates for filling in the family tree - for children and for adults.

How to make a family tree with your own hands

Where to start

Before you begin, you must determine for yourself why all this is needed. Are you in the mood for deep exploration, or is your goal just to share stories about your parents and grandparents with your kids?

A well-defined goal will help you achieve the final result faster.

Think of a plan, break it down into small steps so you can easily track progress. And this will add to your motivation not to give up halfway through - believe me, you will need it.

Finding information about relatives

Once you've decided how far you want to go, the most interesting step is gathering information about relatives and distant ancestors. You will surely learn many funny and touching stories and find some distant relatives living on the other side of the world. Or maybe even reveal a family secret - who knows? To find as much information as possible and understand how to make a family tree of a family, use the following methods:

  • Questioning relatives

Start your search by interviewing your next of kin. Organize family tea gatherings with grandparents - they will be happy to share valuable memories. Arrange a video conference with those who live in other cities and countries, or just write to them on social networks.

  • Family archive analysis

Carefully study all documents, letters and diaries that have been preserved in your family. In birth, marriage and death certificates, passports, employment records and diplomas, you will find answers to key questions that are important for the pedigree. These records will help restore information that loved ones could not remember. Look through old photographs: perhaps the grandmother forgot to tell about her second cousin. Already at this stage, you can choose photo cards for your family tree.

  • Internet searches

Browse various genealogy websites and related resources for historical information. For example, the website "Feat of the People" provides open access to archival documents about the exploits and awards of all soldiers of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.

Register on several thematic forums. For example, on the All-Russian Genealogical Tree forum, it is possible to search for a specific person by last name, regions and countries.

Try to find distant relatives of your generation on Odnoklassniki or VKontakte. But do not forget that in a correct genealogical research, any information must be confirmed by archival certificates.

  • Collection of information in registry offices and archives

If you are looking for information about marriage, dates of birth or death, please contact the registry office. If a relative has something to do with the army - for example, is a veteran of the Second World War - make a request to the military registration and enlistment office at the place of residence, service or conscription. But keep in mind: in order to obtain documents of deceased relatives, you must prove your relationship with them, providing, among other things, your birth certificate.

Don't hope for a quick result when searching for genealogy in archives. The process can take months or even years. But the information you find can greatly advance your research.

  • Contacting specialists

If you do not want to spend time building a family tree, contact the professionals. Archives staff, designers, and specialty companies will help you find the information you need and create a family tree. In addition, with their help you can create a family tree book, a film presentation and even a family coat of arms.

What are the types of a family tree

There are several methods for compiling a tree.

  • Descending tree

The family scheme is formed from an ancestor to descendants. This design method allows you to visually trace the history of the family from distant times to the present day.

  • Pedigree

Compiled from a person to his ancestors. Such a structure will be especially convenient for those who have not yet completed the search for information and are consistently moving from the known to the unknown.

  • Round table

It is built in a circle, in the center of which one of the children is placed. The second, outer, circle is divided in half and the data of the mother and father are recorded in it. In the third circle, cut into four parts, grandparents are indicated. Then a fourth circle is added, which is divided into eight parts, and so on. This type of tree is quite rare. But this scheme is the most compact.

How to arrange a family tree

  • Family tree on computer

Programs for creating a family tree will help you save time and get guaranteed results. Use the MyHeritage online service or GenoPro, Family Tree Builder or Tree of Life software. Choose a template, enter your pedigree data and enjoy the result.

You can also find or draw an empty tree yourself in a graphics editor.

  • DIY family tree

Get creative with your family tree results. We have selected a few examples for you to inspire.

Family box

For each ancestor, a box is wound up or one cell is allocated, in which documents, photos, objects are placed. By opening such a box, you can touch the past and find out what kind of person your ancestor was.

Generic tree from local materials

This design option is perfect for a kindergarten or school project.

Family tree in album

Decorative stand with photo frames

How to work with the family tree template

We have prepared two templates that both children and adults will love.

Open Tree Template for Adults

Open Tree Template for Children

Templates can be used both electronically and in print.

  • Print out a blank template and include drawings or photos of yourself and your ancestors.
  • Use a photo editor and paste the scanned images into a template. Print the result.

Filling out a template in Picverse Photo Editor

In Picverse Photo Editor you can not only edit pictures and insert them into a template, but also restore old photos.

Check out our sample of filling out the template - it will be easier for you to figure out how to draw up a family tree correctly.

1) Launch Picverse Photo Editor.

2) If you want to restore photo that has lost its appearance due to old age, open the image in the program. In the tab Correction on the panel on the right, select the option Manual . Open block Smart Restoration . If you want to convert black and white photos to color, activate the switch Make color . Press button Restore . Photos will be automatically restored.

3) To adjust colors and sharpness , in the same tab Correction open the required block and change the necessary parameters. Save the result.

4) To add a picture to template , click File –> Open and select the downloaded template to fill.

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