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Getting Started—Building Blocks of Family History Research

So you've always wanted to start tracing your family history… but where do you start?The commercials make it look so easy, click a leaf here, click a leaf there, and you're done, right? Well…

Tracing your family can be that easy—but it rarely is. A leaf-click can send you entirely in the wrong direction, you can get stumped by people who can't be found anywhere, and you almost certainly will want to pause and spend more time with some of the fascinating ancestors you meet along the way. That's all par for the course.

Below are some of our favorite videos to help you get started. You'll find videos about popular online platforms, how to get started with what you have in hour house, how to get your family involved, and much more. Enjoy these videos and share them with your friends and family!

And, when you're ready for some next-level content, resources, help, and camaraderie, we hope you will join us. The GSBC is a non-profit educational organization who provides amazing array of educational experiences for just $20 per year! Join us and discover more about your family!

About the GSBC Family History Day

Find Your Family!—about the GSBC Family History Discovery Day

On Saturday, 30 March 2019, GSBC volunteers set up special tables at the Ridgewood Public Library (RPL); gave out handouts, worksheets, brochures, (and quite a few snacks); fired-up the Bolger computers; and the projector in the auditorium, and welcomed the general public and library patrons to discover their family history!

GSBC Members receive access to presentations sponsored by the GSBC through a private Membership page. Join us to unlock access to more than 20 videos on a wide range of genealogical topics.

The first-ever “open house genealogy day” by the GSBC welcomed those who came from afar specifically for the event as well as those just passing by, and encouraged everyone to discover family history research.

A three-ring genealogy event, GSBC volunteers knocked it out of the park, offering:

  • Presentations in the RPL Auditorium which included 30-minute family history talks by:
    • Lauren Maehrlein, MA, “Beginning Your Genealogical Journey—Don’t Start with Ancestry!” and “Heirloom Genealogy—Family Treasures can Tell a Story”
    • Fred Voss, “DNA Testing—What’s It All About?” and “So, Grandma Came through Ellis Island—What Does That Mean?”
    • Barbara Ellman, “Family History is Family Fun—There’s an App for That!”
  • Cookies, snacks, beverages, and coffee arranged by Dr. Don Casey
  • A welcome was table set up in the library entrance. Volunteers JoAnn Berkenbush, Mary Beth Craven, Carol deWitte, Barbara Ellman, Lea Schwarzwalder, Barbara von dem Hagen, and Allison Wallin (who also bought decorations and balloons), welcomed attendees and passers-by, answered questions, and provided information and family history worksheets.
  • Diane Winters provided numerous different handouts for kids, including coloring sheets and questions to ask your grandparents, among other fun family worksheets.
  • All hands on deck at the Bolger Heritage Center which saw a steady flow of researchers looking for help and advice with their family research. The traffic kept Genealogy Consultants JoAnn Berkenbush, Lucille Bertram, Ree Hopper, Peggy Norris, Joe Suplicki,and Barbara von dem Hagen busy throughout the day with a full schedule of patrons.
  • And at end the day Peggy Norris and Joe Suplicki gave a guided tour of the Bolger Heritage Center and archives to attendees in two groups.

As the first event of its kind by the GSBC, we tried a lot of different ideas for the day to see what resonated best with attendees and what intrigued passers-by at the library. All the events proved popular and attendees raved about the day.

But what was most satisfying for me was to see so many fresh faces at the last auditorium presentation of the day: Fred Voss’ talk on Ellis Island. The talk drew a steady stream of RPL patrons who, at first, passed by and peeked into the room, were immediately hooked by the subject, and then had a seat—including quite a number of children! It’s always wonderful to see new faces drawn in by an interesting talk and the general buzz and spirit of the audience. I also overheard attendees talking about breakthroughs they made with Genealogy Consultants at the Bolger, and many enjoying all the fun and free handouts and welcoming atmosphere.

After the event, volunteers contributed notes to a shared Google Sheet about what went well and what could work better—learning we will use for future events. If you were able to join us, we would love to know what you thought of the day. Email us at contact@njgsbc.org.

—Michelle D. Novak, event organizer

Free Resources to Help You Start Your Family History

Not sure where to start or want to get your family involved in your passion for researching their history? Explore the assets below, download, and share them!

The first step in tracing your family history is starting with what you know.

To help you get you started, we've created a fillable PDF to download and use. Just click on the image to download the ZIPPED PDF file to your computer.

Capturing a personal history—whether your own or someone else's—is a vital step in documenting your family's story. You can interview someone, or start writing your own story. It doesn't take expensive technology, or even any technology, to start—a pen and paper is as effective (and even mores as it will be in your hand) as a Word document. And, you may find that the memories of long-ago people, places, and events are even clearer as you age!

So, how do you start?


Visit FamilySearch for Some Great Tips

FamilySearch has a wonderful page filled with tips on interviewing family members or writing up your own history:
The Art of Remembering: 9 Tips for Capturing Personal and Family Stories >


Compile Questions to React to

Copy and paste questions into a Word document, jot the answers down on paper, or interview a family member by phone or FaceTime! You don't have to answer them all, it's OK to pick and choose the ones that are the best for you and your family or ones that have a great story as an answer!

50 Questions to Ask Relatives About Family History >
By Kimbery Powell, for ThoughtCo

    1. What is your full name? Why did your parents select this name for you? Did you have a nickname?
    2. When and where were you born?
    3. How did your family come to live there?
    4. Were there other family members in the area? Who?
    5. What was the house (apartment, farm, etc.) like? How many rooms? Bathrooms? Did it have electricity? Indoor plumbing? Telephones?
    6. Were there any special items in the house that you remember?
    7. What is your earliest childhood memory?
    8. Describe the personalities of your family members.
    9. What kind of games did you play growing up?
    10. What was your favorite toy and why?

See the next 40 questions to choose from at thoughtco.com/fifty-questions-for-family-history-interviews-1420705.

Or, if you're up for 100 questions, check out this post at Family History Daily!

100 Questions Every Family Historian Should Ask Their Relatives + a Free Printable List! >


Gather Family to Talk about Family Photos—and Record It!

Photos are shared memories—but all too often pictures go into shoeboxes, albums, and hard drives without any of the details being recorded. Bring the past alive by inviting your family to look at pictures together—whether in-person, on the phone, or virtually—and record their reactions.

And, if you are perplexed about how to record a meeting, find the teenager in your family—they'll know how to do it! 🙂

Share your love of family history with your family—and get them involved, too! Following are some links and articles to help you get started!

FamilySearch—Family-Friendly Activities for Children (3–11) >
FamilySearch—Family History Activities for Youth: 12-? >
Links to worksheets, coloring books, activities for discovering history, videos, and much more!

FamliyTree Magazine—“6 Family-Friendly Genealogy Activities” >
(Subscription site with limited article preview.)