In this lesson, I'll go through a recommended research process for your genealogy.

One question I get frequently is: how long should my research take? The answer: it's entirely up to you! You may dedicate an hour each week to your genealogy research, or spend time every day. Regardless of the time you invest, following an established process will ensure that your time is spent productively.


Pick a specific person or place to research each session

It’s tempting to start looking up every person on your tree all at once, and hopping around if you’re not finding what you want. But if you pick one specific person or place at a time to research, you’ll get much further. When you focus your research topic to one thing, you can go into great detail and learn quite a lot about one member of your family, which can open doors to other avenues you want to explore. 


Document your search terms and sources

Many beginning genealogists just start typing in names and places into a search engine. But if there’s no rhyme or reason to your methods, you won’t be able to track what yields results. So pull out your notebook, and quickly write down these things every time you research. 


Read thoroughly through records or documents

We’re going to cover popular historical documents and records in the next lesson, but as you’re researching, be sure to look thoroughly through the records you uncover. Read through a whole section of a census, for instance, because this is where you can find out names, ages and locations of other members of your family.


Save all documents you find

If you’re using a tool like, you may be tempted to disregard tips and records they provide because they don’t seem to match the people you’re researching. While tools like Ancestry have powerful algorithms, they’re not always correct. Instead of tossing out records that don’t immediately look helpful or relevant, keep a folder of anything you uncover. Revisiting these records at a later stage may reveal information you wouldn’t have initially considered.


Carefully label all records and documents

Organization is imperative to genealogy; otherwise, it’s very easy to get frustrated and discouraged! As you’re starting out, come up with a document labeling system that works for you. I personally save all digital documents using this format:

Person’s First and Last Name — Type of Document — Year of Document

For example:


(Using underscores is optional, but it makes it easy to read file extensions.)

If you’re compiling print documents, you can use manila envelopes categorized via person or type of document.


Identify roadblocks when you get stuck

You may find yourself going in circles: finding the same records over and over again, or finding no results when you exhaust all of your terms. It’s important that you document where you’re getting stuck. Later in this course I’ll give you some ways to work around these, but as you learn how to research, knowing what’s not working is just as helpful as knowing what succeeds.



Print out or save this checklist to your computer; it has space on it to take notes. You may choose to modify your process later on, but this will help you establish your methodology. Use this as a checklist for each of your research sessions. You may consider printing out multiple copies to use for each of your research sessions. 


In this worksheet, write down everything you know about your parents and grandparents. (If you can't fill out every field, that's OK! This is just to help you get started.) If you're not pursuing that kind of information, you can use the worksheet as a guideline for whoever you're researching. Having this information easily available will help you form search tools.