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Lorena Smalley

The Library and Archives Canada website has a wealth of information on Genealogy and writing your family history.  We recently found some great articles on how to write your family history.  We thought we would pull together all the information you need to get you started!


Part One – What To Do First – Names, Places, Dates and Events

Knowing where to begin can be confusing and intimidating. By following a few key steps, you will begin your research in a beneficial way.

  • Start with yourself, and work backwards. Record your own details first and then the details of your parents and siblings. Next, record the details of your grandparents and all their children. Continue to work back, one generation at a time, based on the facts you have found.
  • Talk to everyone around you. Gather names, places, dates, and events. Encourage your family members to tell their stories. Record what you hear (see Organize information) but consider what you are told to be hearsay until you can verify the information, usually through archival sources. Treat every statement as a clue to your ancestral story. More information about names, places, dates and events.
  • Gather your family’s documents and record the details. Gather marriage records, old letters and photos, birth, naturalization, citizenship, and death certificates, etc. Obtain copies of those documents and photos, or take digital pictures of them and retain those for viewing again later. Looking at a document or photo again, even months or years later, can sometimes reveal things you overlooked or did not understand earlier.
  • Choose the approach you want to use for your research. Although most people research both sides of the family, some choose to focus on one branch only. Others record the members of extended families and build very large family trees. Others choose to undertake a One-Name Study (See Choose a strategy).
  • Don’t expect to find your complete family history on the Internet, or in the library, or through some other researcher. Finding a complete family tree is very rare, although in the course of research you may discover that others have recorded some branches of your family.
  • Expect to discover family “secrets”. All families have skeletons in the closet, and your family will not be an exception. This raises issues of privacy and confidentiality. Use discretion and tact in deciding how and whether to make such information available to others in any form. Consider suppressing or hiding potentially damaging information from public view.
  • Don’t expect someone to do your research for you. However, you may rely on librarians and archivists to help you discover resources that will be useful. The thrill of genealogy comes in discovering new facts about your ancestors, yourself.
  • Give credit where credit is due. Give other researchers credit for any substantive information they provide. Research is work, although it is enjoyable work; and we all appreciate recognition for good work that we have done. Cite your sources, including your fellow genealogists (See Organize information).
  • Visit local libraries and archives. Many libraries and archives have both genealogy resources and local history collections. Remember that libraries, archives and research centres apply rules for the consultation of their material. Also, be careful when handling old books and original archival documents (See Find information).
  • Join a local genealogy society. Many local societies have collections that include resources specific to where you live and may have created finding aids and indexes. Consider joining a genealogical society


Although we rarely question the names given to us at birth, in genealogy, you can never assume that the names used today are the same as those used in the past. Changes in surnames and given names range from small variants to totally “new” names. These changes may be attributed to:

  • spelling practices over time;
  • errors in transcribing or interpreting names from handwritten records;
  • names written as they were heard by the recorder;
  • choice of a more “localized” forms (e.g., anglicized name);
  • adoption of “new” names thought to be more desirable;
  • names imposed by authority or law.

When recording names, document exactly what the source contains and not what you may know the name to be. Record all the spellings of the names and the transcription errors with the source along with your thoughts or suppositions in accompanying notes.

Be cautious of drawing conclusions about the ethnic origins of particular names. Names that “sound” English or Scottish may belong to ancestors who were of other ethnic groups. If your ancestors belonged to a distinct group (Scottish, Jewish, Spanish, Huguenot, etc.), get to know the naming patterns associated with these groups. Consult Ethnic Groups to learn more about them.


CLICK HERE to visit the Library and Archives website to read more to get tips on Dates & Events!

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