Tips & Tricks for the Beginner - Genealogy 101

By: Charles F. Kerchner, Jr.
WebPage Created: 7 Jan 1997
Last Updated: 28 Jul 2020

I have been doing genealogical research as a hobby for over 36 years. Along the way I have acquired a lot of knowledge about do and don'ts, usually the hard way. In this page I will attempt to pass along to the beginner some tips and tricks I have learned along the way via hands-on learning, reading, seminars, etc., such that some of you newcomers will not have to make the same mistakes I did. I intend to add to this page from time-to-time. Please feel free to send me your ideas and suggestions for tips & time saving tricks to add to and improve this page. By posting this page I am trying to help beginners in a general sense. For more specific help with Lehigh Co PA research, please visit the site of the Lehigh County Historical Society website for research assistance, usually for a fee. Queries can be posted in the Lehigh County GenWeb queries page for Lehigh County PA questions. Scroll down the page and see the free help pages and tips available to the beginner including the step by step procedures of how to get started and organized near the bottom.

Get organized right from the start by using a modern,
easy to use, genealogy computer software package.

I personally use and highly recommend Ancestral Quest.

Download and print out Standard Genealogy Research Forms to help organize
your research and use the convenient, standard, and understandable way
to share your family groups data with other genealogy researchers.
The two key forms are the Family Group Sheet/Record and the Ancestry/Pedigree Chart.
Family Tree Magazine Genealogy Forms Download Page
Family Tree Templates from

Free online genealogy research guides and lessons courtesy of

Learn how to get started at the website.
Getting Started

Review, and order on-line if desired, a beginner's genealogy book
in association with
Here are a couple of suggestions for beginners.
How to Trace Your Family Tree: A Complete .. Guide .. for the Beginner
Genealogy Via the Internet: Tracing Your Family Roots...
Netting Your Ancestors: Genealogical Research on the Internet

Order Some How to Do It Books from the Genealogical Publishing Company of Baltimore MD.
Genealogical Publishing Company

Relationship Calculator Charts and Tools

Visit and/or join the Lehigh County Historical Society.
They are located in Allentown PA.
If you live nearby, they provide introductory courses to genealogical research.
They have an excellent regional genealogical library:
Lehigh County Historical Society

Visit and/or join the Berks County Genealogical Society.
They are located in Kutztown PA.
They have an excellent regional genealogical library:
Berks County Genealogical Society

Visit and Search the CLDS On-Line Genealogical Database.
CLDS Family Search home page.

Visit Cyndi's List of 'How To' Get Started list of websites to help beginners.
There are numerous links to web pages offering guidance for beginners.

Visit the Genealogical Resource Pages.
Many useful free online databases such as the
Social Security Deaths Index and much more.

Visit and search the online catalog of the Library of Congress:
Library of Congress

For a free packet of beginner's genealogy information contact:

National Archives and Records Administration
Publications Distribution, Room G9, Dept. P
Seventh Street and Pennslvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington DC 20408
Tel No: 800-234-8861

Or visit the National Archives Web Site.

Where and how to write for a copy of a birth or death certificate:
Vital Records State Addresses

Learn all about the latest high-tech tool of Genetic Genealogy and DNA testing to solve genealogy puzzles
when the paper trails runs into a dead end:
Kerchner's Genetic Genealogy Information Resources and Help Page

Join the Genetic Genealogy Revolution

Search for your surname in the largest DNA surname project database of its kind!

Find Your Surname

Informative & helpful pages for researchers of PA German names:

18th Century PA German Naming Customs
18th Century PA German Nicknames
PA Dutch Are Of German Heritage, Not Dutch
18th Century PA German Spelling Idiosyncrasies
Kerchner Genetic Genealogy DNA Testing Info & Resource Page
Search for Free the multi-million Social Security Death Index database

The following tip sheet I picked up at some lecture somewhere way, way back in my learning curve. I don't know who wrote it. Lesson Number 1: Always date and annotate your sources as to where and when you got them. There is no author's name or copyright notice on it, and since it is helpful to all, I am posting it herein to help those new to genealogical research. If anyone knows who wrote this, let me know so I can give them proper credit.


1. START FROM THE KNOWN AND PROCEED TO THE UNKNOWN. Documented facts are the solid foundation on which to build research strategy, not family traditions, theories, or hopes.

2. TAKE COMPLETE, DOCUMENTED NOTES. Take notes in as permanent a form as possible. Every time information is copied there is an additional chance for error.

3. ANALYZE WHAT YOU KNOW. Write out a research plan for each new generation, including names, places, known and probable dates, and sources likely to provide the missing data.

4. KEEP AN ACCURATE, UP-TO-DATE RESEARCH LOG. List all records searched, the date of the search, names of ancestors investigated, and a notation on the usefulness of the source. {Did you find surnames you were looking for, what time period did these records cover, were new family connections found?}

5. PROVE THAT EACH ANCESTOR YOU CLAIM IS YOURS, TRULY YOUR OWN. Use either direct information or prove indirectly by eliminating the possibility of his or her being anyone else of the same name.

6. DO NOT USE SECONDARY SOURCES TO THE EXCLUSION OF PRIMARY, OR VICE-VERSA. Both have their place in genealogical research, and must be used in accordance with their own nature and limitations.

7. NEVER ATTEMPT TO ABSTRACT A DOCUMENT YOU DO NOT FULLY UNDERSTAND. Have it photocopied or hand copy it exactly, taking care to include spelling and punctuation as given in the original document. Use a law dictionary or the advice of more experienced genealogists to unravel the mystery at your leisure.

8. DO NOT TRANSLATE NAMES OR DATES FROM ORIGINAL OR SECONDARY MATERIAL INTO CONTEMPORARY USAGE. Failure to copy the data exactly as given in the record can cause distortions which will lead you astray. When dates are given numerically {3- 2-29} as is common in Quaker and German records, before leaving the record, check other dates in it to determine if the first digit is the month or the day. {Since there are only 12 months, 13-2-29 = day-month-year, and 3-13-29 = month-day-year.} If your research is prior to 1752, be sure you understand the distinction between the Julian & Gregorian calendars.

9. WHERE TO BEGIN, START WITH YOURSELF. Progress to your parents, and then your grandparents and so on until your home sources are exhausted.


1. Research notes must be simple enough so that anyone can understand them.

2. They must be complete enough to reflect adequately the research done.

3. They must not be so time-consuming that they detract from your research.

4. They must be neat, orderly, and on the same uniform-size, good quality paper as the rest of your notes.

5. They should be done well enough the first time that it is unnecessary to have to re-copy them.

6. Keep a research calendar, in footnote from, using a #3 pencil {or ink, if possible} to list all sources searched.

7. The research calendar will list sources in which nothing is found as well as those that contain useful information.

8. Notes should include the date of the search when you make it.

9. References to sources searched must be sufficiently adequate that anyone else who should use them will be able to locate those sources.

10. Research notes should indicate the purpose of every search made.

11. Limit your research calendar in some way. Do not use one calendar for everything. A DIVISION BY LOCALITY IS RECOMMENDED.

12. The research calendar will make direct reference to the notes that you take, and serve as a table of contents to those notes.

13. Notes should be kept in either file folders or loose-leaf binders in preference to spiral or solid bound notebooks.


15. File your notes systematically. A good system is to file them alphabetically, first, by surname and, under each surname, chronologically by locality. {Myers, Berks Co., 1779, 1785, 1796}.

16. Cross-reference research calendars to each other when you have more than one surname in a locality, rather than making identical calendars for each surname. If you are researching two or more surnames in a given locality, make a new research calendar for each name other than the first name on your research calendar, and have the first entry say SEE-BLACK, HENRICO CO. VA. {Black being the first name on the research calendar of combined names}.

17. Keep a copy of the appropriate portion of your pedigree in every research file.

18. Notes must indicate the condition of the records being searched and the condition of the search itself. Perhaps the reader you were using had a poor lighting condition or you couldn't get a clear focus.

19. Research calendars could also be used for area searches for all people of a certain name in eastern Pennsylvania, for example, all counties might be searched for Meyers who held deeds, or filed wills.

20. Notes will be tabulated in some form suitable to you, such as family group sheet or individual summary sheets or genealogical information sheets, and evaluated periodically to determine if your objectives are being reached.

21. Notes should be easy as to analyze and evaluate as possible.

22. One of the most important parts of the note file is a detailed periodic report of the searches you have made and the results of those searches.

23. Use reminder slips during your research, but do not make them a part of your research files. A small note pad is excellent for this.

24. Never throw away any of your research notes.

25. Have a correspondence calendar to keep track of all the letters that you write, to whom you wrote, and the responses that you received.


27. Your correspondence should be kept brief and courteous but specific, with the request stated exactly. A good practice is to indicate your willingness to remit for copywork, the required fee. Also always include a self addressed stamped envelope (SASE) with appropriate postage for the convenient reply of the addressee.

28. Genealogy forms are available from: Ancestry, Inc., P.O. Box 476, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84110 or from Everton Publishers, Inc., P.O. Box 368, Logan, Utah, 84321.

29. Buy a modern specialized genealogical software for you computer such as Ancestral Quest and get your records automated as early in your new hobby as possible. Don't attempt to keep your records in general purpose software packages such as Word, Excel, or Access database software. Get a specialized software made especially for genealogy purposes. In fact you should consider buying the software and start with the automated process from the beginning. It is so much easier in the long run. It will save a lot of erasing and make updates simple and easy. Reports are automated. Even complete family history books can be generated automatically with these modern genealogical software packages. And sharing is easy with computerized records. Files and data can be easily sorted and searched and exchanged via email attachment. You can even have a collaborative family research project with the data online and two or more researchers in your family, no matter where they live, can input, edit, correct, and access the data. Simply click on the Ancestral Quest name for more information.

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Copyright ©1997-2020
Charles F. Kerchner, Jr.
All Rights Reserved
Created - 07 Jan 1997
Revised - 28 Jul 2020