Where Do I Begin?

One of the questions we receive most often in the Genealogy Room is:

“How do I start researching my family history?”

It’s possible that somebody has already done the job for you. You can go here to see if somebody has already written a book history of your family.

If that doesn’t pan out (and it most likely won’t), the next best way to begin is to fill out a pedigree chart (we provide them free of charge to our patrons).  Always start with yourself and work your way backwards. If you don’t know a particular date or place, just leave that part blank. Of special interest in your initial research are important events that might have been recorded in family Bibles or government offices, like births, marriages, land purchases, military service, and deaths. Ask older persons in your family for information that may prove useful in your search.

Pedigree (four generation) chart

Now that you’ve filled out that pedigree chart, your next job is to start filling in the blanks. We suggest that our patrons start with the federal census (available every ten years from 1790-1940, depending on when a state actually achieved statehood). The census for 1850 to 1940 lists every member of a household by name, so it can be a great way to gather a lot of info quickly.  We suggest that our patrons begin research in our Ancestry.com reference database (available at Central Library and our branches), because it indexes every federal census. Patrons may also use our HeritageQuest Online reference database, which has the additional advantage of being searchable from home by valid library cardholders (Ancestry.com must be used at Central Library or one of our branch libraries).

List of available reference databases

Once you’ve checked the census thoroughly, your next step should be to contact us (by phone at 314-539-0385 or email at webref@slpl.org). We can then suggest sources most likely to answer your remaining questions!

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