How and where to start your research

Genealogy is a project that we start, normally, when it's too late. Had we sat down with our grandparents and asked them or listened to them, we would have the answers to most of those questions that we now find almost impossible to answer, but we were probably too young then, and hadn't yet been bitten by the genealogy bug.

So where do we start?

Let's start at the very beginning, a very good, and really the only place to start for the budding "Genealogist" or "Family Historian". Always start with what you know to be fact, and work back from there, towards the unknown.

  1. Start with yourself; name, date of birth, place of birth, your siblings, their names, dates of birth in chronological order, your parents' names, dates of birth, date of marriage. Most of us have this information at our fingertips or it is readily available by just asking, so get it down on paper. Did your parents have brothers and/or sisters, your aunts and uncles? If you don't know their dates of birth, marriage or death, leave a blank. What was your father and mother's parents' names, your grandparents? When and where were they born? When did they get married? When did they die? Where are they buried? Don't know? Leave a blank. Guess what! You have just started your very own "Family Tree". You are a budding "Genealogist", a "Family Historian", and your relatives will be impressed and want to help you fill in those "Blanks". So pen and paper in hand, ask your father, mother, uncle, aunt, grandparents. Do any of them have the family Bible? Did aunt Mary keep a diary? Did she keep those letters from uncle Michael who stayed in Ireland? Does Grandma still have the kids' baptismal lines and maybe her own marriage certificates? Does she have Grandpa's death certificate, memory card, Will ? What about school records, deeds, photographs, newspaper clippings?

  2. Write everything down, including the source, who gave you the information, the date, even if it is personal knowledge, make a note of it. Remember, information without a source, is "Hearsay", and it doesn't hold up under scrutiny. If any of the older members of your family have documents or photographs, ask them if you can have them copied. Make sure that you don't damage them and return them the same day. If you get yourself a reputation for not returning things, then no one will lend you anything.

  3. Older members of your family will have memories and stories to tell about relatives who are dead and gone, maybe long before you were born. Aunt Ellen will tell you stories about what your Dad did when he was a little boy, and Granda might be able to tell you stories that his grandfather told him about the "hard time in Ireland", and  about "the ship that brought them to the New Country". A small tape recorder is invaluable for this kind of research. Ask questions, especially; " Where in Ireland did they come from"? What county? What parish? What townland? Remember to label the tape, "A conversation with Grandpa Donnelly, recorded on such and such a date, in Philadelphia, when Grandpa was 82.

  4. Verify and document as much information as you can in Church records, Civil birth, marriage, and death records, gravestone inscriptions, obituaries, censuses, passenger lists, immigration papers, naturalization papers, military records and anything else that you can get your hands on. This is all foliage for your family tree.

  5. Learn about the geography, political and economic history of the country of your forbears. Read history books about the "Old Country", they will give you a better grip on your background and therefore, a better grip on just who you are. Get on the internet and read the travel books. Familiarize yourself with the culture, traditions and customs of Ireland. After all, you will want to come here and walk the roads and look at the very same fields, rivers, valleys and mountains that your ancestors walked and knew so well. The countryside was every bit as much a part of them, as the blood in your veins.


Getting Started  

Information Needed  

Province of Ulster



Genealogical Services


Contact Us

Link to the main page.


Bob Murray 2003