Beginner Genealogist

February 27, 2020 Deborah Wilbrink

The Beginner Genealogist


There are many software programs and websites to help the beginner genealogist organize and research. My own focus is story and narrative, and I have great respect for the genealogists and their work of tending the family tree. I was delighted to find an overview of the current science and art on The Family History Guide

Our mission is to greatly increase the number of people actively involved in family history worldwide, and to make everyone’s family history journey easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable.

— The Family History Guide

The Family History Guide is a free (nonprofit) learning, research and training center for the beginner genealogist, and it offers training in the popular web applications linked for your convenience, below:


Family Search




Tools for the Beginner Genealogist

The annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies always features the latest tools to aid beginner to advanced genealogists, with plenty of demonstrations, workshops, and staff available to answer questions. Juliana Szucs has worked for for over 18 years. She provided lots of basic information and specialized tips for Ancestry at the conference workshop I attended. Like many of us, Szucs became a beginner genealogist while helping someone in her family. Her childhood job was scrolling through and citing microfilm in her mother’s basement. Today, she is an expert genealogist with the Ancestry team.

Starting a search for your ancestors, there are many ways to look for them, including spellings, locations, and dates. Ancestry offers many options. With the well-known software one has access to a data base of over 10 billion ancestors and 175 million personal scanned images and documents. There is a global search of 32,000 databases available, too. Your information can be private, too, however, by creating “Stealth Trees”.

Gathering Story Details on Ancestry

With my focus and those of my clients being story, I found their feature, Lifestory, following of special interest. Lifestory uses your family history information that has been uploaded to Ancestry to generate an outline starter for narrative. Historical insights are offered as timeline options. (For more about timelines, see my post, Best Way to Start Your Life Story). Ancestry has thousands of local histories in its records. These are OCR (scanned text) documents and won’t show up on a database search. However, if you locate a place on a map, specific records may show up. Through this app, you can check for stories, memories and histories. Lifestory is not the only tool for preserving your family story online. There are also many living tools! Recruit help from family members, local clubs and societies, or hire one of the competent professional genealogists in your area or in the area where your quest is taking you.

The Personal Historian Alternative

If you are more interested in the stories you remember and can tell or write, look for a personal historian in your area. We like to work face to face and tailor every project to its own unique demands and goals. You don’t have to write or to research to preserve your family or personal story (memoir or autobiography). Many personal historians can work over the phone with audio only, or if you want a face to face experience, by digital conferencing, using a tool like Skype or FaceTime. The personal historian will gather your stories, photos, and memorabilia for a coherent, heritage family story. It could be a video, audio, or book. Perfect Memoirs has helped over 35 people preserve their stories for families since 1981. While my ghostwriting, editing, and book design skills have improved immeasurably, I humbly remain a beginner genealogist. With The Family History Guide, my path in genealogy has grown less rocky.

Deborah Wilbrink is a personal historian and ghostwriter who spoke at the 2019 Federation of Genealogical Societies about Writing Your Family History(Illustration is from Love to Know.)

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“The Best Book is Your Own Story.”
Deborah Wilbrink

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