Genealogy / Family History Research can be a daunting task to begin no matter how much knowledge you already have but when you really don't have any it's even more difficult. I know. That's how I started. I had my dad's name. I didn't have a birth date or a death date. I was told he had drowned when I was 6 months old. I was actually two years old. So where to start?
Let me back up a bit first and say that when I decided to start this journey I was living far away from my home state. I hadn't lived there in many years. I couldn't just pick up and go back either. Money was a bit scarce for luxuries like that. I married into the military and as a military wife I enjoyed many privileges but money wasn't really one of them. I had to enlist the aid of someone who didn't mind doing research for free. Luckily one of my many siblings didn't mind the task. I was very blessed by that dear brother!
When I advise people now about where to start I always tell them to start with what they know. Don't rely on family oral history. Too often it proves just off the mark - or WAY off the mark. Don't try to jump to the end. If you start out trying to prove your Native American ancestry and you attempt to jump straight into membership in a tribe - you're most likely going to be disappointed. That's the number one thing I've seen people try to do. Being Native American is a wonderful thing. I believe I am and someday I'll save up some change and get a DNA test. My point is that if you start with what you know and work from there you'll find whatever it is you find. You'll enjoy the journey more even if it takes longer. If you check and double check your work you'll know you got it as correct as you could and who knows what wonderful things you'll discover along the way that you might have missed? Don't rely on published books or online family trees! Just don't do it! Most of us who have been doing genealogy for a long time will have made that mistake. People often put together trees not checking for facts - just adding for the sake of having a lot of numbers in their trees. They often merge trees with families that aren't part of their own. They publish books with this misinformation and people come along and read it and copy it and justify as "it was in a book". Ugh! That doesn't make it correct.
What did I start out knowing? My dad's name. I couldn't get a death certificate based on that. I needed the date of death. My dear brother went to the library in that town and looked through microfilm and got the date of death. I was already way ahead of where I'd been!
With that death date I was able to pay a fairly small amount of money and obtain his death certificate. I didn't realize what a wealth of information it would be! I was learning on my own as I went. That death certificate gave me his date and place of birth. It gave me his parents' names and ages. It gave me the cemetery where he was buried. I learned that he wasn't born in Oregon. He was born in Idaho. I learned his mom was born in Montana. (I had lived there during two separate military assignments and not known I had any connections to the state.) I also learned one of the most important things to me because it ties me to my dad & his family in a way I can't even put into words. I learned that his dad was born in IRELAND. Wow! I had known my dad had chosen my name. Now I knew why my middle name is Colleen. When you have nothing to start with that's a lot of information from one simple document!
What did I do next? Read the next entry to find out. :)