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Family History and Genealogy

The Duke University Libraries do not provide genealogy research services, but this research guide is useful in pursuing your own genealogical journey.

Getting Started -- This guide is intended to be a springboard to begin your genealogical adventure.  Included are resources introducing researchers to materials available in the Duke University Libraries, regional organizations, and beyond.  Please see the other tabs on this research guide for more in-depth information on specific genealogy topics and help in continuing your journey.

We invite Duke community members to join our informal Genealogy@Duke group on Microsoft Teams.

First steps in researching your ancestors:

1. Identify what you know about your family.

  • Gather information about family members by talking with family members, use family bibles, journals, letters, newspapers, online obituaries
  • Record what you know about your ancestors on a pedigree chart, online genealogy tool, genealogy software (i.e.:RootsMagic, etc.)
  • Think about any ways your family might have interacted with the federal government (military service, property and property ownership, naturalization, immigration, etc.)

2.  Choose an ancestor you want to research, and identify what you need to learn, documenting pertinent information as you find it.  Do you know when  and where your person was --

  • Born?  (date)
  • Married? (date)
  • Died? (date)

3. Select types of records to search.

  • There are two types of genealogical records.
    • Compiled Records: These records have already been researched by others, such as biographies, family histories.
    • Original Records: Records that were created at or near the time of an event, such as; birth, marriage, death or census records.

4.  Search for needed information.

  • Many local libraries have good genealogical materials, especially for the surrounding areas of the library's location. Check Family History Centers, they are an excellent place to view records.
  • Look at a broad time period. Check for spelling variations, write down your results, document your source, even if you come up empty-handed (it will keep you from checking the same source again).

5. Evaluate and document your research.

  • Evaluate what you've found.
    • Did you find the information that you were looking for?
    • Is that information complete?
    • Where did you leave off?
  • Record the information to family group sheets and pedigree charts (see Tools tab).
  • Organize the information. Use a system that works for you, i.e.: cards, notebooks, or computer.
  • Share your information with interested family members.