How To Start Your Research

If you are new to internet research and don't know how to begin your search this page should help you get started.  If you need further assistance, please visit the Country Project and email the coordinator for specific help!

Getting Started

Before you begin your world research you should have solid information leading back to the oldest known ancestor in your home country (where you live now).  Example:  before I begin researching my Irish ancestor, I need to trace his line back to when he actually came from Ireland to America (Pennsylvania to be exact).  Many researchers skip this step completely and assume that they can begin searching in the country of origin with just a surname (last name).  This process is like searching for a needle in a haystack - difficult at best, almost impossible in most cases.

Information you must have to begin your search in a foreign country:

  • Full name of your ancestor (given, middle and surname)

  • Place of birth (country and county - parish, town, prefect, etc. preferred)

  • Religion of your ancestor (important in many instances to access local records)

  • Date of birth (date range is ok, example 1790's)

  • Names of spouse and children (helpful)

Once armed with this information, you will want to visit the country project page and see what resources are available online to assist you.  Please note that in many countries, records research is not available online.  You will have to obtain addresses of records offices and write formally to the office clerks requesting:   the proper procedure and fees for requesting genealogical information.  Do not write asking for information on your ancestor directly as it will waste your time and postage as well as the clerks.  Usually, the registrar or clerk will respond and will direct you to the appropriate department or office.  Also note that fees are often quite high and you must have exact information (such as name, date of birth, place of birth) before you can receive record information back.

What if my ancestor lived in a country where they speak a different language?

In many countries English is spoken and written in governmental agencies.  For information at the parish or town level, you may wish to engage a researcher for hire who lives in the country or local town where you are researching.  You may also try to find someone who can write in the foreign language and who can assist you in preparing your letter.

It is always a good idea to write and join local societies.  Often this is the best method for securing family information in another country.  The fee for joining a society (called Family History Societies or Federation sometimes) is usually very small and the benefits usually include some look up services, a newsletter, and reduced searching fees (actual searches on your family name).  Please check the country website for addresses for these societies.

Online Records

Some of our country websites do have records online.  Many have links to other records that have been transcribed by researchers with similar interests.  These records may NOT be accurate so please keep in mind that you should always note the source and then verify the record yourself by obtaining a second or third source.  Also, many of our project websites rely on user submitted information, so while you are searching you may transcribe records for your own use.  Please consider donating this information to the county or country coordinator so that other researchers will be able to use it.

Several countries maintain online archives.  The United Kingdom is a good example.  You can actually search Scottish records online.  You can print off records and your credit card is charged for the copies.  Many countries are following the same system -- some may have a portion of records available for searching while others may provide basic information and will send the actual records to you.  Please note that there will be associated fees for each of these systems and usually a credit card is required before you can download recorded information.

Email Lists and Query Boards

All WorldGenWeb Project websites provide access to internet mail lists and message boards.  Please make sure to seek out the country of interest and post your surnames to the message board.  You will also want to join one or more of the county (local) or country specific mail lists.  These provide the best opportunity for help and often researchers will look up information for you.  You must join the list before you can post to it -- so please follow the instructions on the website.

Other Resources Found on WGW Project Websites

Besides query boards and mail lists, each project website will provide a listing of governmental addresses such as libraries and archives.  You will also find maps, history of the area, and links to local information (sometimes tourist/travel information).  Some sites will have links to online records.  Not all sites will have a lot of information - it depends on how much is available to the coordinator.  Please remember that all websites are a "work in progress".  Our coordinators volunteer their time and as such the amount of information will vary from one site to another.