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Family History and Genealogy: Getting Started

What do you need to learn?

Try starting with just one "person of interest" and identify what information you already know and what you still need to find out.

  • Birthdate?
  • Birthplace?
  • Marriage?  Who, when & where?
  • Parents?
  • Date of death?

Identify what you know about your family. Ask living relatives what they know.

  • Find information about ancestors using family Bibles, journals, letters, newspapers, & obituaries.
  • Document findings on a pedigree chart.
  • List dates in this format (09 Aug 1961) instead of 8/9/1961
  • Write places in this order: City/Township/County/State
  • Identify what type of government information may be available on your family members (military service, property ownership, immigration, etc)

Exploring the Past

Starting family history research can be overwhelming! This guide is intended to help you get started with genealogical research. Some resources are freely available online and others available to the MSU Billings community.


Types of Records

There are two types of genealogical records:

  1. Compiled Records:  Information that was researched by other people and compiled into a record. These could include biographies and family histories.
  2. Original Records:  Primary source material that was created at or near the time of an event. Examples include birth, death, marriage or census records.


  • Local public librarians can have good genealogy materials. Also check with Family History Centers.
  • Watch for spelling variations
  • Document sources (even if you were unsuccessful - this will help you save time from searching the same place again)
  • Organize information using a system that works for you: notebooks, notecards, computers
  • Evaluate your findings.  Does the information seem accurate and complete? What is your evidence?
  • Update the pedigree chart