Getting Started with Family History
If you’re interested in learning more about genealogy as a hobby, here are some simple instructions to help you get started. If your focus area is Kentucky, we have some suggestions to get you started as well!
It might seem like a daunting task at first, but you'll be pleasantly surprised at the genealogy research that can be done for free and without even leaving your home.
The Kentucky Genealogical Society is here to help with every step of the way!
Step 1 Your Family History Research Starts with You
When starting your family history research, start with yourself. List as many names and dates as you know about your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents.
At this stage, you just need to capture the dates and places of their life's events. Some families have this information captured in a family record book or a family bible. Don't worry if you don't have all the details. There are many online family databases that are likely to have it recorded.
When doing family history research, start by completing a family tree template (also called a pedigree chart). Our free Family Tree form lists three generations and allows space for the basic vital record information, such as birth, marriage, and death.
We have two fillable family tree charts available: Traditional Family Tree and Gender Identified Family Tree. You can download the one that best works for your research.
Click to download the Traditional Family Chart
Click the artwork to download the Gender Identified Family Tree Chart
Many people choose to collect photos for their family trees as well; if you’re lucky enough to have a photo of your Kentucky ancestors, adding those might spark fond memories or help you identify who certain individuals are more quickly.
This step is the beginning of your genealogical journey.
Step 2 Talk to your Family and Friends about Your Kentucky Ancestors
Now is the time to call and email all of your relatives. If you have limited family members, don’t forget to talk to others who knew your family members. It could be neighbors, friends, or others who lived in the same area. Family history research is more than reviewing online records!
Use our Family Group Worksheet to help you organize the information you are collecting. A Family Group worksheet lists the parents and their children. It has a place for vital records information.
When talking to your family, ask about the stories around other family members. You can ask about jobs, education, funny observations, or participation in historic events. Ask leading questions to help the interviewee recall information.
“There is lots of data out there and it won’t go away. Memories can. Find all of your oldest relatives. Right down things that sound insignificant. Everything can be a clue!”
-- Said a clever genealogist
This step is the fun part! You may get to speak to relatives you have not contacted in years. Consider recording the conversations for reference and as a method of family record keeping.
Step 3 Focus Your Family History Search
Now you are free to move any direction you like. Select the area of your tree that interests you the most. Perhaps your grandfather’s military career makes you curious or your grandmother’s family is a mystery. Any of these paths is a valid direction for your family history research.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Collect the birth, death, and marriage dates for your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents
- Write a short bio for each set of your great grandparents
- Explore how your family members migrated to Kentucky
You'll be surprised what you learn!
Step 4 Learn Kentucky History
History and genealogy seem to go hand-in-hand. You’ll need a basic understanding of when events happened in Kentucky. This knowledge helps you understand what records might be available.
As early as 1769, Daniel Boone scouted the area that is now Kentucky. Judge Richard Henderson, of the Transylvania Company, hired Boone to create a migration path into the central Kentucky area, which he did. Today you can still travel this southeastern Kentucky route.
In June 1792, Kentucky became the 15th state to join the Union. Since 1790, the US has collected census data every ten years. The US included Kentucky in the 1790 census records. There are few records available prior then - mostly it was early Kentucky tax lists or the Littell Statues of Kentucky.
For your Kentucky ancestors, it is important to know when and how the counties formed. This knowledge helps you understand where to look for records. It is possible a county line changed and your granddad's birth certificate is in a different county than his siblings!
Keep historical dates in mind while researching. Even though Kentucky was a neutral state, the Civil War (1861-1865) was a significant point in Kentucky history. Many families were divided on the issue.
Step 5 Identifying and Finding Sources for Ancestors
Genealogists research to find genealogical records about past generations, like birth and death dates, marriage information, name changes, and more. They want to verify the information they collect about each individual. Birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage records are valid genealogical evidence.
US Census is a Go To Resource
Many family researchers consider the US Census records the go-to resource for when gathering genealogical data. When you are starting, see if you can find your ancestors with their siblings, spouses, or parents in the 1940 or earlier Kentucky census records. You can access these records for free at the Family Search site.
Try to learn more details about them, such as their occupation or addresses. For men, look at military records, which usually always include a family member as their contact. There are many records of who served in the American Revolution, US Civil War, and more recent conflicts such as the Korean War.
Consider Other Free Resources
Another way to learn about your ancestor is to find their obituary. Obituaries are important tools for family history research. While the content can vary widely, an obituary provides clues to identifying information, such as living and deceased family members, employment, hobbies, religious affiliation, and even key Kentucky locations.
There are many free books and other resources available to help you get started.
A local genealogical society or library are also good sources of area information. These research centers also contain records for African American genealogy and some even have Native American genealogy records.
If you live in Kentucky, one of your easiest research options is to visit Kentucky’s archives. They have an impressive collection of historical documents for family history research that you can view in person or order copies online.
Many online sites have early KY vital records available at no charge. These records can be ordered from the Office of Vital Statistics.
When researching genealogy information about a specific event, try finding local Kentucky newspapers that were published. The University of Kentucky hosts a collection of Kentucky newspapers that you can search to find your ancestors for free.
There are other free resources that you can use to find your relatives.
Step 6 Publishing Your Kentucky Family History
After you have collected all the information for your Kentucky roots, you can share the results with friends and family.
You can decide if you want to publish only your pedigree charts or if you want to include narratives. Some people publish books or booklets, while others use websites where they invite others to help.
There is no wrong way to do it. Now get started!