From the Editor: Roots for Rookies

By Allison Dolan Premium

So you want to trace your roots. Well, you’re not alone. These days, family history is experiencing unprecedented popularity, a craze Time magazine has dubbed “Roots Mania.” And if you’ve already begun dabbling in genealogy, you know this hobby really is an obsession.

It’s kind of like the enthusiasm die-hard sports fans exhibit at playoff time. Finally finding that ship manifest of Great-great-grandpa’s journey from Hamburg to Philadelphia feels like winning the Super Bowl. True, genealogists (usually) don’t don their ancestral countries’ flags before they hit the library stacks. But the congratulations you’ll get from your fellow researchers is akin to the high fives passed around the football stands after the game-winning touchdown.

And just as with sports, to explore your past successfully, you need a game plan, That’s why the editors of Family Tree Magazine, America’s most popular family history magazine, have put together this special issue: Think of it as your “playbook” for mastering the basics of genealogy research.

Our lineup leads off with guidance for taking the First Steps, including gathering the clues stashed around the house, analyzing those letters, souvenirs and mysterious photos, and filling in family tree charts with what you already know. At first, that might not seem like much — but don’t let your tree’s empty limbs discourage you. As our weekend genealogy blitz proves, you can make significant genealogical progress in just a couple of days.

Then you’ll be ready to dig up ancestral documents, and our Primary Sources section will guide you through such fundamental sources as census records (page 24), as well as answer common beginner questions. We’ll also introduce you to the mecca of genealogical research: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City. Fortunately, you don’t have to trek to Utah to tap its millions of records. Our guide (page 18) shows you how to access the FHL’s resources from your hometown and your home computer.

Your computer might have been the starting line for your ancestor hunt. In our Computer Basics section, you’ll learn how to zoom onto the family history information superhighway: Start with our genealogy-technology tutorial, then visit the 12 free family history Web sites outlined in this issue. Of the zillions of genealogy destinations in cyberspace, these are the best launchpads for beginners. The Internet also can help you prepare for a journey to your ancestors’ old stomping grounds once the other trails run cold — see our Research Trips section.

A key element of any game plan is knowing what you’re up against. In genealogy, that means familiarizing yourself with the lingo you’ll find in records, as well as suiting up with books, software and worksheets to organize your research. With an assist from the genealogy glossary, family tree forms, research cheat sheets and product roundups in our Beginner’s Toolkit, you’ll be ready to kick off your research.

We hope this issue gives you a running start on finding your family history. But your game plan doesn’t have to end here: You’ll find guidance to take the next steps in our regular bimonthly issues of Family Tree Magazine. In fact, we’ve covered many of these topics in previous issues. To see what’s available, browse our back issues list at <>; you can order online or by calling (800) 258-0929.

Once you start making family history discoveries, your desire to uncover more answers will assume a sports-fanlike fervor, You probably won’t traipse around the library shouting and slapping other patrons’ hands, but trust us — you’ll be hooked.

From Family Tree Magazine‘s November 2003 Trace Your Family History.