Genealogy Research Tips for Newbies

The tips I’ve provided below apply to whatever system you choose to use for storing your data. I use for my tree. is a highly rated resource for genealogy research. It is a fee based service and well worth the money in my opinion. However if you don’t have the money, remember that still has many free sources and you can still maintain your tree for no cost. There are several other online genealogy sites, mostly fee based you may want to consider such as: MyHeritage, Find My Past, Genes Reunited and Legacy Tree to just name a few. Another good source is, which is a free service and they have a family trees and really good resources. Some researchers prefer using a family tree software they install on their computer (and some use both). I use Family Tree Maker, but there are others available. syncs with Family Tree Maker and that makes it easier.  If on a budget and just starting out, using may be a good starting point, it’s free and I  prefer their source documentation over 

Tips for Newbies:

  • Review all records carefully before adding them to your tree. If unsure, add them to the shoebox for further research. (or whatever system you use for pending data). I advise you not to add it to your tree until you are sure it’s correct, especially if you are using a public tree.
  • Don’t trust other trees. By all means use them as leads, but do your own research and validate sources. Adding from other trees can lead you in a completely wrong direction and can be rather difficult to correct. If you want to do this to see where it goes, create a private tree and mark it clearly that it is an unsourced tree.
  • Be sure to document your sources. It doesn’t matter what system you use, but be sure to document where you obtained the information (whether it was from another tree, a vital record, a family member, a book, or where ever). This will save you hours of work in the future and allow you to determine the quality of the information when you find a conflict of information. (See my post on Citing Sources Correctly.)
  • Talk to all of your living relatives and ask them to remember anything they can think of that will help you with family “stories”, dates, places, etc. Even if you don’t plan to “work” your tree, gather as much information as possible from living relatives and document them for future use.  Family stories so often get lost.
  • Gather all the family documents and pictures you can get your hands on. Don’t worry if you don’t have time to work on your tree, but at least gather as much information as you can so you have it when you’re ready.
  • Be consistent in your formatting and be aware of formatting pitfalls.

    • For most Genealogy programs, they request you use the date format of dd mmm yyyy. You don’t need comma’s or slashes. Never use numerics for month because the date 11/12/1949 could be November 12th, 1949 (common for the United States) or December 11, 1949 (Common in other areas of the world). 12 Nov 1949 would be the correct format. Abbreviating the month is okay.
    • Some Genealogists capitalize the whole surname.  This is an old standard and not necessarily used by all genealogists because it can compromise some names, for example the name “von Dohlen”.  There are many other examples where part of the last name should remain lower case. In any event, whatever you do, be consistent. Whenever adding data from other trees to your tree, make sure you change it to meet your standard.
    • Review your software or online system for formatting recommendations.  Some suggest you use (parentheses) for nicknames, others suggest you use “quote marks”, some have seperate fields for first and last names, others have one. How to format varies by each system. Again, be consistent.

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