Well, as the title says "you have to start somewhere." I thought I would give a brief introduction on starting to research one's family history. I know that there is so much out there already on this subject, but I figure it is best to discuss it as a teaching tool for those who may not know, and it seems like a good place to start.
Really the first thing to do when first starting to look into one's family history is to start with yourself and work backwards in time. It is certainly a more difficult of a task if you start with someone else. By doing this, it means you should try to locate any birth, marriage, and records and other documents that there may be about your family and yourself. Also, ask questions about your family with your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. This should open up the floodgates to more information to help get you started. Be sure to write down or tape all information you gather and where you got it from (i.e. your sources). If you happen to borrow any documents or photos from family members, please make sure you give them back (make a copy of it for yourself).
Make good use of your local archives, registry office, or public library, as they will be able to help in locating more information for you. Since this is a blog about Scottish genealogy/family history, a trip to your local registrar's office or the GRO in Edinburgh is a great place to start to find vital certificates (birth, marriage, death). There are also several sources on the internet that are good too. Birth, marriage, and death records are a goldmine of information to help get you back further in time in who your ancestors are. There are other record types as well, but I will not go into them at this time. I just want to give a very basic starting point for new budding family historians. I will discuss the other available sources more fully later as we go along.
The vital records will give you a basic skeleton of your family tree. By delving into the other available resources such as the censuses, wills, sasines, etc. these will help in finding more information about a person or family, as well as helping to move a family line back a generation or more. It all depends on the sources available for a family - there are many instances where the documents needed are no longer available due to damage or being lost through time. There are also instances where a family or individual just didn't leave much of a papertrail to begin with.
There is so much more that can be discussed regarding sources, research techniques, analytical skills, etc., but really what it all boils down to in the very, very beginning stages of researching one's family history is just starting with yourself, asking questions of living relatives, and finding/gathering family documents that your family already have - this is what gets your foot in the door. Everything else will fall into place as you go along and get more experience in researching.
Until next time -
Carolyn of MGS