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Karen Hamilton Rager is a freelance writer and memorist. She became interested in genealogy in 1988, when she discovered that she, a white woman, was descended from slavery. Fascinated, she began her quest for the truth behind her family history.

Karen lives with her husband of 20 years and three teenage sons in Jupiter, FL and teaches classes on life writing and journaling.


Why document your family history? Because we are the "carriers of history", what we document today will become an invaluable resource for future generations! Imagine finding documents written by your great great grandmother! This is your chance to become a part of history, and find out a little about yourself in the process.

How do I get started?, you say. Start with yourself and choose either your paternal (father) or maternal (mother) side. Work slowly, one generation at a time. Gather all the information on that one person you can find before moving on to the next. As you uncover information on the one person you will uncover information on other family members. Resist the temptation to get off track! File away anything that does not pertain to the individual that you are currently working on - you can come back to them later!

It is very important to note where you found each and every piece of information that you uncover. Do this directly on the item or keep a notebook.

Send family members a questionnaire and ask them to fill out as much as they can. Relatives can be one of your best sources of information and the older ones have fabulous stories to tell!

I suggest keeping a folder on every ancestor. The Church of Latter Day Saints once gave me the idea of using small, round, colored stickers on my folders. Red denotes a direct ancestor, yellow denotes a family member who is blood related yet not my direct ancestor (example: my uncle), green denotes ancestors not blood related but an in-law (example: my grandmotherís second husband). This system of filing is invaluable when you are searching for something!

Keep a separate box of research notes. Files included are the original documents given to me or found such as: Marriage, death, birth certificates, newspaper articles, census records (file by year), military records, etc. I make copies of each document and place these copies in the individuals file.

Overwhelmed? Donít be. Remember, work slowly and start with yourself! Your first assignment to get your files in order and start working on YOUR family chart.

Happy Hunting!



The American Society for Genealogy and Family History

Requires no membership fees, just access to great information, publications and support!

National Genealogical Society

Offers membership, news & events, library, education (online course) and a bookstore.

Cyndiís Complete List of Societies and Groups Index

An incredibly large list of associations and groups in alphabetical order. Search your state for organizations in your area!

Federation of East European Family History Societies

Find information on your central and east European ancestors. Go through the WebPortal and search for specific surnames. Get news on lectures and current projects the society is conducting.

Federation of Genealogical Societies

How to become a member, conferences currently offered, offers a magazine and current publications, gain access to FGSís extensive knowledge in records preservation and access.

Titanic Historical Society

Have an ancestor who was on the Titanic?? Join the society and receive The Titanic Commutator, a quarterly journal. Browse the Titanic Museum and see actual artifacts brought up from the Titanic.

Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society

Membership includes a journal, newsletters and information on upcoming conferences regarding your African-American roots.

American Association for State and Local History

Includes membership information, continuing education workshops, History News magazine, resource information, video lending library, online workshops and annual meeting information.

Americaís First Families

Check out their surname registry to see if your family belonged to one of those first brave people to immigrate to America! If your family was one of these first families you may be able to join the society!

Association of Personal Historians

Join the association for more information on recording your life history. Site includes a listserv option so that you can coorespond via e-mail with other personal historians.


Beginners Guide to genealogy

A comprehensive site based on the webmasters book, Beginnerís Guide to Family History Research. Includes Home & Family Sources, Organizing your records, Using libraries and archives, how to find censusí, military records, etc.


Beginners Guide to Genealogy in Seven Basic Steps

Seven easy steps to beginning your search! A must for beginners.

How-to get started on your Family History

Useful tips on beginning your search, including how to search census, vital records, etc.

DearMYRTLE's Genealogy for Beginners


Myrt/Pat was trained at the Washington Temple LDS Family History Center, and has completed extensive research at the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the LDS Family History Library and the LDS Church Historian's Office. In addition to her various online responsibilities, she volunteers weekly at her local LDS Family History Center, where she takes delight in helping others learn to trace their roots.

She offers 34 individual lessons for you to choose from!


Home Sources

Find your family history within your own home! Use this handy checklist to get started finding your roots right in your own home!

Gengateway to the Web,

Over 60,000 resources, online obituary, military searches, 150 query forum pages, vital statistics, newsgroups and mailing lists, historical maps and much, much more! I highly recommend The Gateway as a "springboard" into your searching and research! Family Surname/Homepage search - over 15,000!

Cyndiís List of Sites

Cyndi has been at this for some time! She has amassed pages and pages of helpful links, all cross referenced and catalogued for ease of use.

Roots Web

Searchable databases, ships passenger lists, mailing list, and more!

Ancestors Attic

A very large and comprehensive site! It takes a minute to load because of its sheer size but the wait is well worth it! Search many different databases, check out newspaper clippings, maps and land info, how to tips and so much more!



A very large and comprehensive site, offering searchable databases, book recommendations, message boards, software updates, timely articles and their own print magazine. Most everything is free but with membership you receive books, a subscription to the magazine and access to additional databases.

Gensource Links

Provides free acess to onlinegenealogy databases. Feel free to add your own information to sharewith outher researchers.

Gensource Main Page

Common Threads: find other genealogists researching your family name.

I Found It!: Locate pages on surnames, ship passenger lists, societies and associations, researchers, software, books, family mailing lists, online church records, census data, cemetaries and more!

I Found It! Archives: Actual historical records posted.

LDS main web site

Ingeneas - Canadian site

Over 108,000 searchable passenger and immigration lists for those searching for Canadian ancestors!

Kindred Konnections

Search surnames, social security index, and the ancestor database. You can also add links to your ancestors here! A very useful site!

Everton Publishers

Searchable databases, on-line magazine, supply store, reference materials. I have been using Everton for over a dozen years and, believe me, they have it all!


Over 558,200+ different surnames on-line. For $12 a year you can access their full database. Adding your own family history is required.

US Genweb Project

People around the United States have adopted a county in their state. They set up and maintain websites for the county that they adopt and provide you with all the information you could ever hope to find on that county! If what you are looking for isnít on the site, you can e-mail the person and ask them to find what you are seeking. You can also adopt a county if it is available!

Roots Web

Searchable databases, ships passenger lists, mailing list, and more!

Ancestors Attic

A very large and comprehensive site! It takes a minute to load because of its sheer size but the wait is well worth it! Search many different databases, check out newspaper clippings, maps and land info, how to tips and so much more!



Everton Family Publishers

Download a free pedigree and family chart!

Free Genealogy Forms!

Print out the forms posted there (no downloading!). Includes pedigree chart, family group chart, census extraction forms, and more.

Charts and Records to Print out

Just what it says! Lots of various genealogical charts and forms to print!

Census Forms to download

Download cenus forms from here. You will occassionally find that the information on different census records changes on a certain ancestor. You will want to keep separate records for each census you find and compare the information from other censusí.


Free downloadable charts



Social Security Death Index

Search over 60 million names by Social Security Number or by name. A useful site for gathering information on your ancestors!

National Archives and Records Administration

The Main Site for the National Archives. Search here for what the National Archives has to offer you. Includes the Research Room, The Federal Register, Online Exhibit Hall, and access to records.

National Archives Research Room

Explains how to search the National Archives and details the many different documents and research materials they have available.



Family Chronicle

Get a free issue of the Family Chronicle when you visit their site. "Family Chronicle magazine is specially written for family researchers by people who share their interest in genealogy and family history."

The Genealogy Bookshop

A great place to find books on any topic of genealogy!


Reading Early American Handwriting by Kip Sperry,Guides_and_Manuals/5513.html



Life Tales

A wonderful place to visit to receive inspiration and writing exercises while writing your family or personal memoirs! Memory Sparkers will light a fire under you and get you writing! Hire a professonial memorist here if you need help!

Life Stories Preservation

This network gives you tips on getting started writing your memoirs, memory triggers, how to organize a reunion, vet links, and historical events. All you need to complete your autobiography or a biography on your ancestors.

Life History Services

Donít want to do the work yourself? Hire these professionals to get your life story written!


Lost Leaves

Lost Leaves is a database of photographs found at antique stores, flea markets and donated by readers. The purpose of the site is to find out who the people are in the photographs. Go there to look over the photos and see if you can help the folks of Lost Leaves identify the folks in the photos. You can also donate photos for the database that you need identified!

GENTREK: Genealogy for the Next Generation, for kids and teens

Get your kids involved and provide them with a chance to get in touch with their heritage as well as offering them a fabulous new hobby! Projects, how to and help for kids.

Online course: Online Pioneers

Take a course online and learn how to research your pioneer ancestors!


Offered by, you receive a wonderful website that can be accessed and added to by other family members! Itís like having your own family newsletter on-line! Family members can add news, photos, birthdays, events and documents that they would like to share. You can even upload your family tree! It is all FREE and user friendly! I highly recommend it!

Building a Genealogy Home Page

Cyndi lists practical advice to building your own genealogy home page, including where to find free sites and what you should include.

dMarieís Time Capsule

Plug in any date from 1900 to 1997 and find out what was happening on that day - including the price of a house!

This Day in History

Find out who was born, who died, who was listed missing in action, what holidayís were begun and more on this day in history!



How to read the US Federal Census

Catalouges each of the federal censusí and tells you what information you can expect to get from each one.

American Life Histories

Manuscripts from the Federal Writersí Project, 1936-1940. These manuscripts are a fascinating peek into the depression era.

Genealogy Abbreviations

Do you know what "b." means? How about "bpl."? This site offers you an entire alphabetized list of commonly used genealogical terms and their abbreviations. A must for all people documenting their family history!

Deciphering Old Handwriting

Once you start gathering together those old documents you will need to know how to read them! Trust me, it can be very confusing! This site gives actual examples of handwriting of old and tells you how to read it!

A List of Occupations

Have you ever wondered where your name came from? In "the old days" many people got their names from the occupation that they practiced. Even if you didnít get your name that way, this list of "old-time" occupations will fascinate and amuse you!

Dating Old Photographs

A wonderful site by a photographer who tells us the history of photographs. Very comprehensive site that explains the difference between different types of photographs over the years. Excellent reference point to find the date of your photograph!

Roots for Kids: A Genealogy Guide for Young People,Guides_and_Manuals/422.html

Help your children or students discover their roots! This book will get you started!




Family Tree Maker

This site not only offers you the software but searchable databases, message boards, and articles on getting started in your search.

The Master Genealogist

The complete family tree project manager. Download a demo copy to see if you like it!

Cumberland Family Tree Software

This is the software that I personally use. I have tried many others but this one is easy to use and provides you with many different reports that you can print out. It even prepares the information that you enter into a story that you can print!

Genealogical Cemetary Database

A complete program for indexing cemeteries in individual counties or states.

Census Records on CDís

Census records are the number one tool for researching your ancestors! Find out their address, spouse, children, date of birth, place of birth, whether they could read or write, how much land they owned, etc. Searching databases for census records takes time, with this software you have the information right on hand to peruse at your leisure!

Family Marriage Research

Use this software to record and organize the marriage records of individual counties or states.

Forms & Charts Software

420 genealogical charts and forms that you can print out. A handy piece of software to have around - you can print out blank charts and forms to carry with you on your research forays!

MyStory Software

This software offers prompts for you to get your own life story written! A very good program, I have it!


Indian Captives

Post queries regarding your American Pioneer ancestors who were taken captive by the Indians. Learn more about these fascinating pioneers!

Cherokee Nation Indian Territory Research

All you ever wanted to know about the Cherokee nation, including a wonderful description of the Cherokee seal. Post and view queries.

Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Official Home Page

This is the official page of the present day Choctaw Nation. Get news and events happening today, view articles that tell the legends and customs of the Choctaw people.

Cheyenne - Arapaho Lands

The Choctaw Nation of Indian Territory

Cherokee Cousins

The author will search the Miller Rolls for you for only $4! Check this site out if you are searching for Cherokee ancestors!

Seminole Indian Research

Find out more about the Seminole Indians, their history, their customs, their folklore. Subscribe and receive a copy of the 68 page booklet, So You Think Thereís A Seminole in Your Family Tree?

Researching Civil war people

UK and Ireland genealogy

Ingeneas - Canadian site

Scots Orgins

Get help with Scottish history, search databases, and connect with your Scottish roots!

Over 108,000 searchable passenger and immigration lists for those searching for Canadian ancestors!



The Orphan Trains

An article written about the orphan trains. Many families were torn apart and relationship patterns disrupted as thousands of orphans were shipped across country to be placed in new homes.

Orphan Train Heritage Society of America, Inc.

Search among the names and stories of orphans and learn more about this forgotten era of American History.

Reunion Registry

Search the considerable databases for adoptees, birth parents or just someone that you are searching for! Very helpful site.

Big Hugs

This is the place that all the talk show hosts use. Write them a letter and ask for help in finding someone and you may just find yourself on television! After sending them a letter myself, I received a phone call from them asking my permission to give my name to any T.V. producers who may call!! Also, search their database for your loved ones or pay a small fee and have their professional researchers do it for you.