Although it is assumed that most readers of this genealogy column already started researching a family tree, there are, hopefully, others who would like to start but wish further instructions. Let me begin by saying that such a quest will probably take a lifetime — but it's worth every minute, for the personal satisfaction that results from such a search.
To make the record keeping easier, there are many printed forms that have been made available for recording family data. Most of them are free, although local genealogical libraries (such as Danville's Illiana Genealogical & Historical Society, 215 W. North St.) might charge a nominal fee for forms to cover printing costs. The basic forms to start recording family information are a pedigree chart and a family group chart.
FamilySearch has a helpful website at bit.ly/1hPDiFF that provides links to a variety of research forms including the two mentioned above. For example, Family Tree Magazine's five-generation ancestor chart explains how to record data on a family pedigree form. Bailey's Free Genealogy Forms has a family record sheet that "features references for each piece of information."
Make it a practice to ALWAYS note where specific information was obtained, whether orally from a relative or written in a bible, book or personal correspondence.
It is suggested that data on these charts be written in pencil. Write names as: first name, middle name(s), last name/surname, with last name printed in block letters. Dates should be written as day, month (two- or three-letter abbreviation) and year (entire year number); e.g., 22 Jan 2014.
Once a specific format is chosen, stay with it; be consistent. Under no circumstances should a year be written as only two digits; as research progresses, the date should specify whether it is 2014, 1914, 1814, etc.
A helpful website created by Dae Powell and DarlaJo Vader called Shoestring Genealogy can be found at shoestringgenealogy.com. Click on the link to "forms" and be taken to a page that provides links to 22 forms, charts and checklists.
The Family Worksheet provides lines for names, dates and places but also has a handy checklist to remind the researcher where more data can be found. Also, the Pedigree Chart provides a place for citations, thus a reminder of the importance of documentation. The chart called Citation Reminder includes "all the needed properties of a citation. Often we're so excited to find something, we forget the details of documentation."
Where to begin
It's wise to become familiar with a variety of how-to-do-genealogy books at a local library. For example, Emily Anne Croom's "Unpuzzling Your Past, 4th edition" is intended for beginners with little or no prior research experience.
The text used by the National Genealogical Society's home study course is Val D. Greenwood's "The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd edition." For an Internet option, check out genealogy.about.com. Click on "learn how" and then read Kimberly Powell's article which provides related links to such articles as The Basics: Begin Tracing Your Family Tree; 10 First Steps for Finding Your Roots; and Location, Location — How To Begin Your Research & Find What You Need.
Visit society and/or library
At the website of the Illinois State Genealogical Society at ilgensoc.org click on "links" and then under Genealogical Societies, click on "Illinois Genealogical, Historical, and Lineage Societies" to access a lengthy list from which to choose a local Illinois society.
For example, the Champaign County Genealogical Society and Danville's Illiana Genealogical & Historical Society are always eager to welcome new members and aid in personal research.
It is not necessary to have a computer to do genealogical research. Familiarity with online databases can always be learned as one's research progresses. Many genealogists also use computers to record and store family data, but it is not essential to begin there.
Just remember we all started simply by recording some basics and documenting that data. Learning to use a computer at a local library can be an early "next step." Genealogical research is a continuing, learning experience. And the more we learn, the more we want to learn. There is an almost unlimited amount of resources available and the quantity and quality of such resources are continually increasing.
Accept the challenge, and begin your search!
Queries, genealogical questions from researchers and genealogical materials readers would like to share will be printed in this column free. Joan Griffis may be reached via email at email@example.com or by sending a letter to Illinois Ancestors, c/o The News-Gazette, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677.