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Coming to America - Migration and Transnational Identity: Getting Started

Migration Map Assignment

How to Start

The basic steps of genealogy

  • Start with living relatives - collect stories and documents
  • Go back in time generation by generation
  • Seek evidence (official documents, materials, etc.)
  • Be critical of all information sources (including relatives and the Internet)
  • Keep good notes and organized files


  • Start with we're related to someone famous
  • Start with we immigrated from a specific country
  • Believe everything you find on the Internet

Basic Questions to Ask

Decide what you need to learn.

  • Born?
  • Place?
  • Married?
  • Place?
  • Died?
  • Place?

Pick one of a "person of interest" and try to identify needed information (document pertinent information on other relatives/historical figures as you find it).

Connecting the past

Select records to search.

  • There are two types of genealogical records.
    • Compiled Records: These records have already been researched by others, such as biographies, family histories.
    • Original Records: Records that were created at or near the time of an event, such as; birth, marriage, death or census records.
  • Be sure to check computer resources that are available.

Obtain & search records

  • Many local libraries have good genealogical materials, especially for the surrounding areas of the library's location. Check Family History Centers, they are an excellent place to obtain records.
  • Look at a broad time period. Check for spelling variations, write down your results, document your source, even if you come up empty-handed (it will keep you from checking the same source again).

Use your information.

  • Evaluate what you've found. Did you find the information that you were looking for? Is that information complete?
  • Copy the information to family group sheets and pedigree charts.
  • Organize the information. Use a system that works for you, i.e.: cards, notebooks, or computer.

Can I look up an individual in the census?

Access to individual census records is available from 1790-1940. There is a 72-year restriction on access to individual census records, so records from 1950 will become available in 2022.

Government information and genealogy research

Government documents, whether housed in the collections of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) or available through free or subscription databases, can be valuable sources for genealogists. These resources might also be used by researchers exploring demographic trends or tracking down biographical details about individuals.