Getting Started

5 Things Every Genealogists Should Know How to Do

5 Things Every Genealogists Should Know How to Do

Are you just beginning your genealogical journey? Or have you been doing it for a while, but feel that you could improve your skills to get better results from your research? If either of these situations applies to you, then you will benefit from knowing the basic things every genealogist should know how to do.  Once you know these skills, you will find a whole new world of research opportunities opens up to you, and learning new skills comes more naturally and easy to you as you encounter situations that call for specialized research techniques. Here’s what you need to know.

1. How to Cite Sources

Sources are an extremely important part of genealogy. They let you know where you found a certain piece of information, which helps you keep track of where you have searched. They also let other genealogists use your research on their own family trees with the confidence that the research is accurate. Learning how to properly cite sources and making sure you do it for every fact you record is a basic genealogical skill you should use from the beginning. – read more

2. How to Use Microfilm and Microfiche Machines

While you may be doing a lot of your research on your computer, thanks to the digitization of millions of genealogical records from around the world, you will occasionally need to use an actual archives building or genealogy library. Most of the records at these places are kept on microfilm or microfiche. Have an attendant at one of these places teach you what you need to know the first time. Then, you can always come in and do your research like a pro anytime afterward.

3. How to Use a Basic Family Tree Software Program

There are many different family tree software programs out there for recording your genealogical research. Look at a few of them before deciding on the one that best fits your needs. It will most likely be the program you always use throughout your genealogical research career, and you will likely keep updating it as software updates are released. This is a much better and organized way to keep your research, as the software will allow you to easily find any person you need when you’re working on them and their family. – read more

4. How to Use the U.S. Census

The census was taken every 10 years from 1790 and continues to the present. New censuses are released to the public 72 years after the census is taken for privacy reasons. Currently, census records up to 1940 are available to research (with the exception of the 1890 census, which was mostly destroyed in an archives fire in the 1930’s). The census is a basic tool every genealogist with American genealogy uses, and will probably be one of your first research sources. It is available online at Ancestry.com, and in genealogy libraries on microfilm. – read more

5. How to Label and Store Photos

Photos are genealogical treasures whether they are ancient or modern (as even modern photos will be ancient one day). Make sure you and future generations know the important details of each photo by labeling them on the back with an archival safe pen, recording the names, ages, places, and any other important information you believe to be genealogically important. Then, protect the photos by storing them in acid-free, archival safe albums. If they’re digital photos, include the important information in the file name and make appropriate file folders for each type of photo to keep them organized. – read more


Will Moneymaker

Will founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. Ask him about permission to republish his articles.

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  • Margaret Lane

    The statement that “new censuses are released to the public every 72 years” is an error (how would we currently have access to both 1930 and 1940?) They are released to the public 72 years AFTER the census date.

  • Margaret Lane

    Yes, you’re welcome!

  • Hi Margaret, I’m sorry that I didn’t get back to you sooner…. I’ve been on vacation. You’re exactly right and I made the change with in the article a few days ago. I hope you have a wonderful week and happy searching. Thanks again! Will

  • Margaret Lane

    Thank you. Hope you had a great vacation.