Now What? Genealogy Without a Computer

By Sharon DeBartolo Carmack Premium

Q. I don’t have access to a computer. Can I still find my ancestors?

A. No computer? No problem. Honestly, we’ve gotten so spoiled by our computers that genealogy newcomers might not realize people have been tracing their ancestries for centuries, long before the electronic age. Although many techniques to find your forebears don’t require a computer, remember that free computer access is almost always available at public libraries and most Family History Centers across the country. To find a center near you, look in the phone book under Churches: Latter-day Saints or download our directory. If the local church doesn’t have a center, it will direct you to one that does.
You can take heart in the fact that everyone—from tech geeks to the literally wireless—has to start from the same place: Begin with yourself and work backward. Go through the papers you have and gather information about yourself, your children and your parents, and organize the information on forms and charts. You can draw your own charts, or look for Emily Anne Croom’s Unpuzzling Your Past Workbook (Betterway Books). Many libraries with genealogy collections offer blank pedigree charts and family group sheets. Or use a library computer to download our printable files.

Once you’ve recorded what you know, call or write to relatives to learn more about your family’s past. Interview them for more details to fill out your charts. With the help of the local librarian, find the addresses of where to write for birth, marriage and death records. Family Tree Magazine’s State Research Guides series is another helpful resource. You can buy a book of the entire series by calling (800) 258-0929 or visiting Family Tree Shop.


In the BC era (Before Computers), genealogists looked for censuses, land records, wills and other records on microfilm. And we still do—not every record has been put online yet. Many genealogical treasures are still hidden away in county courthouses. You can borrow microfilm at a Family History Center or visit local record repositories. You might burn more shoe leather tracing your family the old-fashioned way, but you’re at no disadvantage.

From the March 2009 Family Tree Magazine