Getting Started


Begin with the present. Jot down what you know about your immediate family-such as, full names, dates and places of birth, marriage and death. Ask family members to help fill-in the blanks. Don't trust your memory-take the time to write everything down. Make a note of who gave you each piece of information, so you'll know who to call back if necessary. Use complete sentences when taking notes so that anyone who reads them will understand the content. Every name, date, place and relationship that you write down will have to be substantiated by a document. Try to get copies of original records from family members to verify what they tell you-such as, birth certificates, marriage records, and death certificates. If they don't have the originals, you can order them (for a fee) later; so getting a copy from relatives will save some money. Interview Relatives before It's too Late has some good tips on what questions to ask family members.

Organize Your Notes

Organized notes might look like this, beginning with your parents (all names, dates and relationships shown below are fictional):

Generation 1

Richard David Wilson
son of David Otis Wilson and Arletta Mae Stone
born 15 June 1950 in Atlanta, Georgia
married 12 December 1973 in Atlanta, Georgia

Joleen Bradshaw
daughter of John Thomas Bradshaw and Bernice Ellen Porter
born 27 August 1951 in Marietta, Georgia

Their Children:

  1. Jamal Richard Wilson, born 9 September 1975; married Rachel Marie Boatwright on 25 June 2001 in Los Angeles, California
  2. Latoya Arletta Wilson, born 17 April 1978; married Arlo Gentry.
  3. Jadi Ellen Wilson, born 29 June 1980; married Garrett Pointer.

Notes: I called Mom and she gave me all of these dates and places. She'll be photocopying the certificates belonging to her and Dad. I have to contact Latoya and Jadi for their birth and marriage certificates.

Generation 2

David Otis Wilson
son of Clyde Wilson and [unknown]
born 1 June 1924 in Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia
died 12 February 2003 in Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia
married: [Dad is their oldest child; he thinks they married a year or two before he was born.]

Arletta Mae Stone
daughter of [call Granny Arletta for information about her family]
born 8 May 1929 in Georgia

Their Children:

  1. Richard David Wilson, born 15 June 1950 in Atlanta, Georgia
  2. Davida Mae Wilson, born 1 November 1953 in Atlanta, Georgia
  3. Stone Wilson, born 27 March 1955 in Atlanta, Georgia

Notes: Grandpa David worked for the railroad as a porter in the sleeping cars. He enlisted in the Army during World War II and got his old job back in 1946. He had great genes-nothing more than a bad cold and some aches and pains before he died in his sleep nearly three years ago. He loved to sing in the A.M.E. church choir, the shower and on the front porch for passers-by. Everyone in the family will be taping their favorite story about the "old days" as told by Pop Wilson. Granny Arletta will dig out her papers on the Stone and Wilson families and call me next week.

Last Revision: 1/9/2006

As you talk to more people and collect new documents, you'll be revising your notes. Computerizing your notes will make revisions easier.

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