A Brief Intro to Family History


This post has been a long time in coming. I've been fortunate to have taught a few family history classes in my church over the past several years. There hasn't been a fixed curriculum that has suited our needs, so each time I and those I was working with improvised course materials roughly along the lines of what's presented here. My original intent was to write this series of blog posts as a way to make family history more approachable for people during the lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It's been a crazy year and although time at home abounds, time for side projects has been at a minimum. Still, with vaccines arriving soon, I suspect that there will continue to be a need for this material both in the immediate future as the pandemic roars to a close and as we all try to pick up life afterward.

What I present here I learned mostly from my parents. I went on my mission and came back to find them embroiled in family history work. This was surprising since noone in my immediate family had been involved much in family history work, but it was not unwelcome. In our church we're tought that families are an eternal organization and that, as a part of that, the duty of each of us is to search out our ancestors. Up to that point, I had understood that this was a "thing", but had never really understood the practical details of what it involved. Fortunately my parents figured out some of the not-so-hard details and shared them with me. I'm not an expert by any means, but I know there's a need for simple introductory material on the practical side of family history work. This is my attempt to fill that need.

These posts will be mostly geared towards members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who are interested in getting started on their family history. That said, I'll do my best to make the writing approachable so that the material is easy for anyone to follow.


These posts will follow roughly the following outline:

  • Intro (this post)
  • What does "family history" even mean?
    • What role does it play in Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?
    • What does FamilySearch have to do with this?
  • How does someone "find" a family member?
    • What searching services are freely available?
  • How do I connect to deceased relatives already recorded in FamilySearch?
  • How do I find new names if my tree isn't filled in?
  • How do I find new names if my tree has already been researched to death?
  • What about sources?
  • What constitutes a reputable source?
  • What about duplicates?
  • What if I make mistakes?
  • What about indexing?
  • How do I avoid getting stuck?
  • How do I better utilize search tools?
  • How do I help others get started with family history?

I'll try to come back and link the individual posts here and update this outline as the series of posts progresses. The material in these first posts should be relatively universal, but there will still be some bias from the fact that most of the work I've done has involved finding people who lived in England in the 1800's. It turns out that you can get pretty far with that in my family.

Provided I make it this far, I hope to follow on with some additional region-specific posts covering tricks for searching records in specific areas. Specialized topics I'm currently aware of include: - Navigating English records - Finding maiden names from English christening records - Inferring family connections based off of naming patterns - Navigating Swedish and Danish records

Recommended Activity

If you haven't already, get a log-in set up for familysearch.org. Accounts are free for everyone. If you're a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, you should associate your account there with your church membership record. If you already have an account at churchofjesuschrist.org, that same account should work. If you need your membership record number, you can get it by contacting the ward clerk of the congregation that corresponds to where you currently live. You don't need to be a member to use FamilySearch though.