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Getting Started With Your Family Tree

  1. Start with yourself, gathering family information in your own home and from relatives. Look for names, dates, and locations of your ancestors, including birth, marriage, and death records, photographs, obituaries, family bibles, diaries, school records, and any other available sources.
  2. Organize family information on Pedigree/Ancestry Charts. Indicate first, middle and last names. Record individual family information on Family Group Sheets.
  3. Many twentieth century vital records (birth, marriage, death, divorce) are available through Department of Vital Records offices in each individual state. Earlier records are sometimes found at local county courthouses. Church records may also be valuable resources.
  4. The U.S. census is an essential resource for genealogists. The federal government took the census every 10 years, beginning in 1790, and the census is available online through databases at the Johnson County Library, and on microfilm at other institutions as well. The 1930 census is the most recently released. There are also some state censuses available. Kansas conducted a census every 10 years, 1855-1925.

    Use detecting skills when looking at census records. Subtract the ages given for each member of the household from the year of the census to determine the approximate year they were born. Is the wife too young to be the mother of the oldest child? She could be a second wife. If there is an older adult in the household, who is he? He could be employed by the family or an older relative.

    Remember that census takers made mistakes. Names were misspelled and some had such poor handwriting that the films of the original records are hard to read. Also, if an adult was not present when the census taker visited, an older child or a neighbor may have been asked for the information. So, compare information you get from different sources and try to determine which is correct.

  5. Local, county and regional genealogical and historical societies, as well as libraries and the National Archives Regional Office, are additional resources in the Kansas City metro area. Local Family History Centers operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are valuable resources as well.
  6. The Johnson County Library Genealogy Department has numerous helpful handouts available on wall racks in the department. Staff and volunteers are available at the Genealogy Desk on weekdays to give assistance to researchers. Reference Desk staff can also give some assistance on weekends.
  7. Use the Genealogy Department Web site at to find numerous databases, Web sites and other helpful resources for genealogical research. A current library card and PIN are required to access the databases.

Questions about getting started? Contact us.

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