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Basics of Research: Step 1 - Genealogy Can Be a Cheap Hobby

The first step in family history research requires acquisition of a few really excellent materials, but only the ones you need, of course.


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The first step in family history research requires acquisition of a few really excellent materials, but only the ones you need, of course. So, what will get you started? Computer and Internet access, a genealogy computer program, a few forms, a few office supplies, some file boxes, a good book, maybe a magazine or two and information about a library. Some of this you can get free, including the Internet access. Here's how:

You can, of course, do genealogical research without a computer and without Internet. But computer time is easy to get and often free. All you have to do is call your local public and university libraries. Ask what it takes for you to reserve time on their computers. Ask the same for Internet access. Voila! You've got both computer and Internet. Be sure to ask whether they have Macintosh or PC computers, so you will know what kind of program to acquire.

At least to start with, I suggest you use the same genealogy database program I use, Personal Ancestral File (PAF). Why? It's free if you can download it, or only $6-$15 if you need to order the CD. And all other genealogy database programs are compatible with PAF. So if, down the road, you decide you want a program with all the bells and whistles, you won't have to modify your database to make the changeover.

The computer genealogy database (in this case, PAF) does for you what stacks of family group records (forms which include information on one set of parents and their children) and pedigree charts (forms listing parents, grandparents, etc.) do for you on paper: they keep track of families, relationships and sources.

So how do you get PAF? To download or buy the program from the Internet, go to Click on "Order/Download Products" and follow the prompts. Or order by telephone at 1-800-537-5971 option 4. This generous offer is from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an ardent supporter of everything genealogical.

If you want to use paper forms, there are several Internet sources where they can be downloaded. has an extensive list of forms, many of which are free. Go to FamilySearch home page, click on "View maps, forms, guides and other research helps." You will also find printable forms at Forms are available from genealogy supply houses or call 1-800-537-5971 option 4 to order small bundles of them.

Office supplies helpful to genealogists include manila folders, one for each name and location you will be working with, and, of course, one for this column.

Two very wide three-ring-binders with dividers and plastic sleeves will be helpful. One is for historical materials, the other for pedigrees. Then you need a file box or drawer of some kind to store the manila folders.

Purchase a basic genealogy address guide such as The Genealogist's Address Book by Elizabeth Petty Bentley (Genealogical Publishing Co, Baltimore, MD) or The Handybook for Genealogists ($) (The Everton Publishers, Logan, UT). How-to-do genealogy information is free from many websites. Just type "how-to-do-genealogy" into your search engine. Thousands of sites will come up.

Four general magazines cover the hobby of genealogy. They are Family Tree, Ancestry and Family Chronicle and are available at bigger bookstores and in Internet formats. Many other, more specialized magazines relating to research, history, reunions, scrap booking and biography are also available.

Of course, a research library is essential. To find the ones nearest you, look under libraries, historical societies and museums in the yellow pages of the phone book. Also there are Family History Branch libraries in every community. They are free, and anyone can visit them.

The branch libraries make most of the information in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City available to their patrons by microfilm. Plus they usually have collections of local information even the library in Salt Lake City does not have. How do you locate the one nearest you? Look in the white or yellow pages of the phone book under Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then under Genealogy Library or Family History Center. Or go into and click on "Find a Family History Center near you."

These tools, many of them free, the others very inexpensive, are all you need to get started.

Other Articles in the Series:

Step 2: Documentation Saves Pedigrees
Step 3: Family Records Are the Best!
Step 4: Survey Sets Up Research
Step 5: How Many Marys Did David Merry Marry?
Step 6: Genealogy Detecting
Step 7: Publish Or All Your Research May Perish
Step 8: Evaluate and Decide

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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