First Steps

Your journey to discover your family history begins with you. Start by collecting records, documents, letters, photographs and other memorabilia about you and your immediate family. Look at the information they provide – names, dates and places – and begin organizing that data. Your analysis of that information will generate questions like what happened to Uncle Harry or is “Aunt” Sarah really our aunt. Use these questions to develop your own research goals. First you decide what you want to learn more about, then you develop a plan to discover that information. Your plan might include a list of people to talk to along with the questions you want to ask them. You may need to visit a local courthouse and look at property or probate records. And, as you collect information, it could answer your questions as well as generate new ones.

Genealogy 101 serves as a clearinghouse for resources that can help you in your research efforts. There’s an amazing amount of articles, lessons, presentations and other material available online that can help improve you research skills. The goal here is to collect and organize that material so you can easily find it. Genealogy 101 isn’t just for beginners, either. We support all family researchers with news from the archives, book and software reviews and other research resources.

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A great place to begin is The Family History Guide. It is a free, online learning center with something for everyone. You will find topics ranging from getting started in genealogy research, getting the most from the major archives, research resources in various countries and much more.


Rhonda McClure’s video presentation, Getting Started in Genealogy is another impressive source. It is only 10 minutes long, but Rhonda puts every second to good use in presenting an overview of the research process.

Roots MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)

North Carolina’s Government and Heritage Library has teamed up with Wake Forest University’s Z. Smith Reynolds Library to create an impressive online course for beginning genealogical research. Called RootsMOOC, this course provides a series of four modules – each containing a number of video lessons along with downloadable forms and other resources to help you get started with your research.

The four modules include:

  1. Getting Started with Genealogical Research
  2. Digging into the US Census
  3. Working with State and Local Resources
  4. Online Sources and Strategies
RootsMOOC screenshot

The RootsMOOC home page

Visit the RootsMOOC home page to get started.

Other Resources

Cyndi’s List

This is the most comprehensive directory of online resources related to genealogy. It is the effort of one person – Cyndi Ingle. Here you’ll find links to archives, software, organizations and just about any other thing that has something to do with genealogy.

5 Minute Genealogy

One good place to get a quick overview of the basic research principles is FamilySearch’s 5 Minute Genealogy lessons. It offers a number of video lessons – each lasting 5 minutes – covering the basics of genealogy research. Each lesson includes a video, a downloadable handout and a challenge. This series is focused on using the FamilySearch platform and online family tree – all of them free to use.


The FamilySearch platform is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons) and is available for all to use. It offers a number of useful services and programs to support your research efforts including a growing database of digitized historical records and catalog of available records that have not yet been digitized. Their new online Family Tree allows users to add individuals and connect with ancestors that have been added by others. Another collaborative effort is the Research Wiki – a fabulous research reference for all areas of genealogy research written and updated by FamilySearch users. These services are free to all. You will need to create an account to use them.

Subscription Databases

These online platforms offer access to huge collections of historical records – at a price. Many also offer additional services like learning centers and collaboration tools. You’ll find a complete list of both subscription and free database services at Cyndi’s List.

Your Local Library

Check with your local library to see what kind of genealogical resources they provide. Most public libraries offer free access to the subscription archives. You will need to use the library’s computers to access those archives, but it gives you an opportunity to “test drive” them and see which could be useful.

Genealogical Societies

Genealogical societies can offer a lot of support. Your local society presents interesting and informative speakers each month discussing all kinds of research topics. Look for societies in the areas where your ancestors lived. Today’s online technology make it easy to participate in societies far from where you live. The Federation of Genealogical Societies has a directory of societies in the United States so you can find one in your area of interest.