Just Starting Your Family Tree?

Step 1.... Read a good “How To” book
Step 2.... Be organized
Step 3.... Network with other researchers
Step 4.... Ask yourself plenty of questions about your family
Step 5.... Identify your gaps
Step 6.... Read local history books
Step 7.... Keep track of your research
Step 8.... Research online
Step 9.... Consult records from other archives around the world
Step 10.. Attend local meetings and public lectures


Step 1..... Read a good “How To” book

Before heading down to your local archive or searching online, it is important to learn how to start researching your family’s history. “How To” books will identify the most common records used in genealogical research, and give you tips on how to organize your family tree. You may find “How To” books based on geographic region, ethnicity, or shared cultural heritage. There are also books on how to research at specific institutions, or by using Internet sources.

Find the latest “How To” books by either consulting our “Beginner Guides to Genealogy” resource list or by searching our online catalogue using the subject heading “Genealogy-Handbooks, Manuals, etc”


Step 2..... Be organized

Start collecting information about yourself and work backwards, but pick only one ancestral line at a time. Look for information found around the house, such as old photographs, newspaper obituaries, diaries and bibles, birth, marriage and death certificates, wills and land records. By going back one ancestor at a time, you will pick up clues which can help identify older generations. Keep track of the information you gather in a portable binder, but keep original records stored separately.

Organize your findings using these free templates:


Step 3..... Network with other Researchers

Interview your oldest relatives and friends to collect important clues about your family’s history. Use a tape recorder or notepad to collect memories and family legends.

Someone may already be researching parts of your family. Check with local genealogical and historical societies for “Surname Interest” lists. Network with other researchers for advice and important leads in your search using these electronic discussion groups.

The Genealogical Association of Nova Scotia has a database of its member’s research interests.

The Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management has a collection of donated family histories. Search their online catalogue, BookWorm, using your surname of interest in a keyword search.


Step 4..... Ask yourself plenty of questions about your family

Don’t be afraid to ask yourself all kinds of questions about your ancestors. In what time period did they live and work? Where did they live? Does the surname spelling have any variations? What type of house did they rent? Did they participate in any wars? Did they arrive in Nova Scotia with a particular migrant group? Let your imagination run wild. The more questions you ask, the more you learn about your ancestors.


Step 5..... Identify your gaps

As you research your family, generation by generation, note which ancestors have missing pieces of information. These gaps will be your starting point when researching original records. Have a look at our Collections overview to see what types of resources are available for research at the Halifax Public Libraries.

Consult a Records Selection Table to identify which records might provide you with the missing information.

Still need advice on where to turn? Call the Spring Garden Road Reference Department at 490-5710 or use “Ask a Librarian”.

Remember to keep your query limited to one ancestor at a time.


Step 6..... Read local history books

While researching, be sure to also consult with local history resources to flush out the details of your ancestor's life. What historical events influenced the community and its inhabitants? Are there any pictures of the churches, schools, local clubs, or events that can help illustrate your family tree?

Consult our HRM’s Historic Communities resource list for suggested titles.


Step 7..... Keep track of your research

Researching your family tree can be overwhelming. Keep track by using a Research Log like this one.

Be sure to document all the sources you have consulted. You may need to return to them to verify conflicting information or to look up new information.


Step 8..... Research online

Visit your local branch to use one of our many public computers to search genealogy Websites, or consult our list of Helpful Links.


Step 9..... Consult records from other archives around the world

If you need research materials held in other institutions across Canada, inquire about the Halifax Public Libraries Interlibrary Loan Request Service. Many newspapers, city directories, and other archival material can be brought in to the Alderney Gate or Spring Garden Road Reference Departments for in-house consultations.

If you need international resources, many of the local Latter-day Saints’ Family History Centers can bring in microfilm for a small fee. To search their catalogue or to find the nearest Center near you, Visit FamilySearch.org.


Step 10..... Attend local meetings and public lectures

Local meetings of historical or genealogical societies provide many opportunities to network with other researchers . Learn about new sources of information and technology and listen to expert historians speak about their work on the history of Nova Scotia and its people.