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How to Research

Where do I start my genealogy?

This may seem obvious, but the best place to start is with you. Find a software program such as PAF (see software section below) to begin entering information. Starting with yourself, enter your parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. Try to input as much information as possible. This is your starting point.


Usually, legal documents are the most accurate for information. List the source of your information (See Sources below). Talk to the older generation of relatives. They are usually a wealth of information. Best advice I can give you is: Bring a tape recorder.


Sometimes a family member will rattle off all sorts of relations. If you record the conversation, you can just let them talk. If you are trying to write everything down as they are talking, you will find that you are unable to keep up, or if you stop them to ask question, you start to confuse their train of thought. Once you have your recording, take it home and play it over and over again to be sure you accurately enter all the information that you just heard. Afterwards if you find holes in the information and have questions regarding some of the relationships, you can be prepared with your questions written out. Again, bring your tape recorder. You may jog a memory of something that did not come up during your first visit. These tape recordings become very useful later on in life after an elder relative has passed on.


Always list the source of your information. Sooner or later, someone is going to question the information you have. "Where did you get grandpa's birth date from?" If you list your sources for each event, you will know that Aunt Georgia told you, or you found it on grandpa's death certificate, etc.


Always try to list a birth date. There is nothing harder then having 15 John O'Keeffe's and wondering which one you are looking for. Work from the information you have. If you know your great-grandmother was born in 1851, and you know of no other siblings, use what I call my "Rule of 20". Use the designated ABT (about) BEF (before) and AFT (after) to clarify dates as you start to fill out your information.

Rule of 20:

Since I would like to have some reference point (year) for each person's birth, I have developed what I call the Rule of 20. I take the oldest child's birth year and subtract 20 years for the parent. If you know the year of birth for one parent, assume the other parent was born about the same time. Although there could be 20 years difference in the parent's ages, it still gives you a place to start until you find accurate information.

Multiple Children:

When you know that a family had 10 children but you are missing the year they were born, place each child 2 years apart. Again, this will give you a reference point.


In the cases where you don't have dates, make a logical assumption. Generally speaking, the earliest age people get married at is ABOUT 20. The first child is born ABOUT 1 year later (generally in large families). So I use this as a reference point. 
PAF allows AFT, BEF, ABT added to the date to help clarify the time frame.

Here is a fictional example; 
Grandma was born in 1883. She was the oldest of 7 children and this is the ONLY date you have. Here is how I would enter that information:

Grandma's Father (born-abt 1860)

Grandma's Mother (born-abt 1860)

Married abt 1880

Child 1, Grandma (born-1883)

Child 2, (born-abt 1885)

Child 3, (born-abt 1887)

Child 4, (born-abt 1889)

Child 5, (born-abt 1891)

Child 6, (born-abt 1893)

Child 7, (born-abt 1895)

Notice that I have assumed that the parents are about the same age. I like to use even numbers such as 1860, 1880, to let me know that this is an assumption on my part. This really helps to place dates into perspective and narrows the range for searching. This is only a suggestion, but it has helped me to find birth records. When you add the corrected information, it starts to change other information and you start adjusting all the dates for a new perspective.

Additional Information:

See O'Keeffe name variations: Surname & Spellings

Getting Started in Genealogy and Family History

RootsWeb Guide to Tracing Family Trees indexes