Beginner's Guide to Family History Research, Chapter 1

Is Family History For You?

Why Explore Family History?

There are almost as many reasons to research your family history as there are genealogists. It's a fascinating hobby. Did you like to hear your grandmother's stories of the `old days'? Was history one of your favorite subjects in school? Do you like to read historical novels?

Are you curious about your ancestors? Did you always wonder where your red hair or your son's left-handedness came from, or which side of the family was tall or short, or just what kind of people your ancestors were? You may be interested in these questions, as well as those of a medical nature. It may be important to you to find out whether there is a history of heart disease or cancer in your family, which might affect your health care.

You may want to discover the truth about old family legends, stories or mysteries. Are there stories in your family about your grandfather riding with Jesse James, or your great grandmother having six sets of twins? Did one of your ancestors kill a man and flee the state? Are you related to General Robert E. Lee or President John Adams or some other famous person? You might want to join a lineage society, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, Colonial Dames, Sons of Confederate Veterans, or Mayflower Descendants. Joining requires proving your family link to an appropriate person--a Revolutionary War soldier, a person who resided in America in Colonial times, a Confederate veteran, or someone who arrived on the Mayflower.

Perhaps you want to research your family history to qualify for benefits, scholarships or grants through Indian tribal membership. Or maybe you want to prove your claim to an inheritance.

You may have a genuine interest in preserving the past, either for your children or grandchildren or simply for posterity. You may want to record the memories of older people in your community or your own recollections. All of these are valid reasons for beginning the wonderful hobby of family history research.

Who Can Do It?

You can explore your genealogy, no matter where you live! Many successful genealogists operate entirely from their homes, writing letters and using the telephone. If you can write or type a letter or use the telephone, you can research your family history.

Eventually you may want to travel in pursuit of your new hobby. You will want to go to libraries, archives, and courthouses, and to the actual places where your great grandparents and other family members lived. Perhaps you'll hire a professional to do all of your research, or maybe you will hire a professional occasionally to get at those records you need in other states or countries. Even if you hire a professional to do your entire family history, you should be familiar with the subjects in this book in order to communicate with the person you hire and to understand the material you receive.

Is Family History Research Expensive?

It can be as expensive as you let it be! Research can be done at little expense if you use common materials at hand, such as boxes for your files, and plain paper for recording information instead of pre-printed forms. To reduce costs, use your library's resources instead of buying expensive books. Photocopy the pages from books of interest to you. (Remember copyright restrictions!) Find out about book and microfilm rental programs and interlibrary loans.

Perhaps you won't need to hire professionals to search those out-of-state records if you're patient and order microfilms to view locally or you find people in other states or countries who are searching for the same families and can help your search.

Of course, research can be expensive, depending on your desires and circumstances. You may buy file cabinets, a computer, and many books. You can make special trips to every location of interest and travel to Europe to visit your family's ancestral home. But that's up to you.

So now that you know that you can trace your family, let's deal with the how of researching your family history.

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Copyright © 1997, Desmond Walls Allen and Carolyn Earle Billingsley
Published by Arkansas Research, PO Box 303, Conway, AR 72033