Genealogy boot camp

*Plan created with contributions from Thomas MacEntee, Christy–The Modern Genealogist  and Megan–Modern Genealogy.

Not sure if a family story is fact or fable? With this plan explore that family story while learning some basic research principles. We’ve broken it down into bite size pieces to make it fun, easy and enjoyable for you to sleuth your family stories.

Use our Genealogy Boot Camp Workbook to enhance your experience while you work through this 21-day plan, exploring the facts of your story and also learning some basic research principles. We’ve broken it down into bite size pieces to make it fun, easy and enjoyable for you to prove your family stories.

Jump ahead to the day you’d like to see.

Be sure to take the pre-experiment survey before you start and come back and complete the post experiment survey when you are done.

Day 1

Family Story, Fact or Fable?

Every family has a story that it tells itself, that it passes on to the children and grandchildren. The story grows over the years, mutates, some parts dropped, and there is often debate about what really happened.” – A. M. Homes

Choose a family story that you’d like to verify and write it down. When picking your story, keep in mind that some stories are harder to verify than others. Think about stories that have facts that would have been written down somewhere. It’s also helpful (especially if you are a beginner) to pick a story that happened in the golden age of records: 1880s-1940s. If you can’t think of a story, pick a family member you’d like to learn more about or a fact you’d like to verify (If you pick one of these, just know that we will call it a story for the rest of the plan).

Tip: You may not be able to verify your story in this 21-day experiment, but that’s okay, you are learning how to research, know that it’s an on going process.

We’ve created supplemental worksheets to go along with today, get your free copy HERE.

Day 2

Start With What You Know

“If you don’t know your history, then  you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” – Michael Crichton

Fill out a pedigree chart with as much information as you know about your relative. Once filled out, highlight facts that you need to verify and any holes that need to be filled. A pedigree chart is a diagram that shows how your family is connected to each other. This chart usually lists the parents going back in generations, listing basic facts for each person (date and place of birth, marriage and death). Make sure to fill out the chart so it includes the family member that your story is about. It’s a great idea to call a family member that might know more of the story to ask them for more details. 

Tip: Write down who you called and when you talked to them on your notes.

We’ve created supplemental worksheets to go along with today, get your free copy HERE.

Day 3

Write it Out

“What the son wishes to forget the grandson wishes to remember.” -Marcus Lee Hansen

Fill out a family group sheet for the person the story is about. Once filled out, highlight facts that you need to verify and any holes that need to be filled. A family group sheet focuses on a couple and their children including dates and places for birth, death, and marriage for each person. You could fill out two: one for the person as a child (with their parents) and one with their spouse and children. Don’t stress if you don’t fill in all the information, just do the best you can. You can also call a family member to see if they have the information.

We’ve created supplemental worksheets to go along with today, get your free copy HERE.

Day 4

Discover Records

“Eventually all genealogists come to their census” -Unknown

Records are made when an event happens in someone’s life. This is how genealogists find and verify family member’s life events. Today we are going to learn about the four most used records, why they were made, what they can tell you and how you can use them. 

  • Birth records-are created when someone is born. Births weren’t always kept track of on a state or county level, but you can find out when they started keeping track of them in your area. Birth records should list the name of the baby, date of birth, gender and parents’ names. They sometimes list where the baby was born and some more details about the parents.
  • Death records– are created when someone dies. Death records are usually kept by the local government. Information on the death record was given by other people so the information may not be accurate. Death records should list the name of the deceased person, date of death and where they died. Sometimes they include the deceased person’s birth date and place, spouse’s name, marital status, parents’ names, where they are supposed to be buried and who gave the information.
  • Marriage records– are created when two  people get married. Marriage records are usually kept by the local government or the church or in the newspaper. Marriage records should include the groom’s name, the bride’s name, when they were married and where they were married. They might include ages, parents’ names, if they had been married before and the name of witnesses.
  • Census records–  are created around the world when a government needs a count of the population or when the law says they need to do it. Around the world most censuses are on a 10-year schedule and a few are on a 5-year schedule. Because of privacy laws the most recent censuses are not available for us to search. The information collected in each census changes. Most include the name of the head of the household, how many people live in the house and where the house is. Sometimes they include other family/household names, relationship to the head of the house, age, marital status, occupation, birth place, and parents’ birthplace.

Day 5

Discover More Records

“History remembers only the celebrated, genealogy remembers them all” CLaurence Overmire

There are more records available for us to search and verify what our family members did. These records cover events that may not have happened to your family member, but if they did these records can enrich your story of your family member. Today we are going to cover some more records and what you can discover about your family member from them. 

  • Military records– are created when a family member enlists in the military or if there is a major war. These records are kept by the government. There are many different types of military records and they vary in information recorded. Military records should contain the name of the ancestor. They might contain physical traits, home address, name and location of closest relative, birth date, occupation, and residences. It’s best to compare your family member’s age to a timeline of wars to see what war they might have fought in.
  • Newspapers– were the social media of olden days! Newspapers will enrich the details in your family member’s life. Newspapers could be available at the publishers, libraries, and local historical societies. The information in newspapers vary! You could find out about a crime committed by or to your family member. In wedding announcements not only tell who the groom and bride are but sometimes describe what they were wearing and what flowers they had. The social column will let you know who traveled somewhere else and who came to visit. A lot of newspapers aren’t indexed so it might take some time and work but the results are usually worth it!
  • Obituaries and cemetery records– were created when someone passed away. Obituaries can be in newspapers or at the funeral home that took care of your family member. Cemetery records can be found at the cemetery, online or at the county office. Obituaries vary in information from name and date of death to a summary of their life story; and family members’ names and their relationships. Cemetery records can be a picture of a headstone or records listing who was buried where. 
  • Land records– are created when land changes hands and when new towns are created. Land records are held at the local government level. They can tell you where your family member owned property and how much they bought or sold it for. Some different types are homestead records, land deeds and plot maps. 
  • Immigration records– are created when someone moves from one country to another.  Records are generally kept by the local or federal courthouses or government. There are different types of immigration records, such as ship passenger lists, border crossing lists, passport applications, naturalization paperwork, and citizenship paperwork. The information listed on these documents vary from name, origin and destination country to pictures, full birth information, family information, and occupation.

Day 6

Identify Holes

“Every family has a story, and I love that those stories are etched in sand rather than granite. That way we can change them. We can bury the lies and embrace the truth. And we can move forward.” – Diane Chamberlain

Look through your written story, pedigree chart and family group sheet and write down what facts you need to verify and what holes you need to fill. A great way to write these down is to pose it as a question. Next to each question list what records could answer your question. Writing your questions down and what records could answer your questions will help you focus your research.

Day 7

Meet FamilySearch

“Everyone’s pedigree merges into everyone else’s pedigree. So if you go back far enough, everyone is related.” – Steven Pinker

Get familiar with FamilySearch. FamilySearch is a free website to keep your family tree and connect it to the global family tree. Using FamilySearch will also give you access to many free/searchable records. Create an account for FamilySearch or log in, then look around.  Make sure to add your living family members (ALL living people you add will ONLY be visible to you). Check out new features since the last time you logged in.

Day 8

Connect to Your Community

“When we connect and belong to each other we treat each other differently.” -Steve Rockwood

Working from your pedigree chart, add the deceased members of your family to FamilySearch. FamilySearch is a community tree, meaning we are all working on the same tree, benefiting from the work of others while working together. As you add these family members, FamilySearch will search the tree to see if they are already in the tree. Make sure to add all the people involved in the story you would like to verify.

Day 9

What Others Have Found

“Don’t believe everything the old relatives tell you, no matter how ‘sure’ they are.” – Fran Boyce Mcpartlin

On FamilySearch, explore the person page for the main character in your story to see what facts have already been found and verified from your story. Fill out your earlier forms with the information you learn. Make sure to check out their vital facts, sources tab and memories tabs. Don’t just blindly trust what was added, make sure the facts have been backed up with records. You can also check out the timeline tab and map view for your relative to help find or fill in holes.

Day 10

Add Easily Grabbed Records

“A tree without roots will surely fall over.” -Unknown

Learn to attach records by finding a record hint for a relative. Record hints are indexed records that may match your relative. Most of the time the record in the record hint is about your relative, but you still need to verify and check that it is your relative before attaching it to your relative. To find a record hint go to the Family Search Fan Chart View and change the view to “Research Helps”. Use the key to identify your ancestors who have record hints.

Day 11


“Have patience. It’s not a race. I’ve been searching for some information over 20 years and I’m not frustrated. New records are going online or can be found in paper form every day. Tomorrow could very well bring the answer.” -Mark Daly

Now that you know what questions you are wanting to know, let’s start researching. Go to your relative’s person page in FamilySearch, on the right side under “Search Records” click on FamilySearch. FamilySearch puts your relative’s information from their page into a search. This information is on the left side of the screen and called filters. You can change the information to help answer your questions. For example, changing a woman’s maiden name to her married name if your question pertains to her life after marriage.

Try additional searches, when you find a record about your relative that isn’t attached, be sure to attach it.

Day 12

Leave a Trail

Truth without proof – not really truth.” -Crista Cowan

As you research it’s important to leave a trail for you or someone else to follow to be able to find these records again. This is called a citation. Citations need to include who the record is about, what the record is, when this record was created and where this record is located (digital/physical location). 

Tip: If you’re a beginner you can use templates to build your own, or use this Citation Machine or read this article to learn more. Make sure you have a citation for each record you are using for your story.

Day 13

Sharpen your Search

“Finding the path our ancestors walked is not always easy but the rewards of the journey make the effort worthwhile.” -Unknown

When you search in FamilySearch you’ll see there are filters and tools for narrowing your search. Use the section called “Collections”, this section will help you narrow down your potentially large list of search results. You can select the specific type of record you are searching for, to hone in on your search. Under each record type, you will find the collection names. Select or deselect collections to match your search criteria. Perform another search or use another filter, to answer additional questions.

Day 14

Gettin’ Wiki With It

“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” -Napolean Hill

FamilySearch Wiki is an educational resource for genealogical research. Compiled by the community professionals with expertise in each area. The Wiki will show you what records are available, when those records started being kept and where you can find them. Go to FamilySearch Wiki and search for the place you are researching (where the record would have been created). Explore all the records available for that area and see if there are any record types you didn’t know about before! 

Tip: Some new types that are fun to find are state census records and city directories.

Day 15

Get Guidance

“Without someone guiding you, it’s just a road of walking alone endlessly.” -Milan J

FamilySearch has created a tool for you to find the best ways for you to research your relatives. Better yet, they even walk you through it step-by-step! This is called Guided Research. Find out if this tool is available to help you with your story research by checking it out here

Tip: Check back often as they are always expanding the localities that are available.

Day 16

Wring those Records Dry

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it again?” – John Wooden

Each record you find holds a wealth of knowledge and you may miss it by not looking at the record or asking what the record could help you figure out. When you find a record about your relative make sure you look at the actual image of the document. Not all the information on the document is indexed and displayed. Open up a record you found earlier by using FamilySearch go to the “source tab” on your relatives’ “person page” to find and open a record. Examine the record to discover what other information you can glean. Be sure to record this new information and other findings as you go. 

Tip: Don’t go down a rabbit hole researching new questions, just add them to your to do list to research later when you’ve answered this question.

Day 17

Apply Your Findings

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe

Now that you have found new information, update your FamilySearch tree. Add or change the information on your relative’s “person page”. Make sure that you add and tag the record/source that verifies the fact that you are improving. Use the “collaborate” tab to coordinate research with others or to inform them of what you have been working on. Check out the “Other Information” box to see what other information you can add. 

Tip: If you feel like you have enough information you can write up a life sketch for this relative.

Day 18

To Merge or Not To Merge

“Don’t try to be like others. Be the perfect version of yourself” -Teller Naaz

Today we want to review and correct profile information on our relatives. The biggest part of this is merging. Being a community tree with years of contributions, there can often be duplicate copies of individuals in the tree. In order to collaborate and avoid duplicating research, we want to ensure that there is only one copy of each of our relatives. To find out if there is a duplicate person, visit their “person page” and on the right side fourth box down, is a box called “tools”. In that box you’ll find a “Possible duplicates” link. Click this link in order to compare side-by-side the two individuals. By reviewing the information on each individual side-by-side you can decipher if they are actually the same person or are in fact two different individuals.

Tip: You can also clean up their profile by selecting which information is applicable in the “other information” box.

Day 19

Finetune Your Story

“The best loved stories are not from books or films but those from our own families” – Jayne McGarvey

You’ve learned a lot over the past 18 days. Your original story from Day 1 has probably changed, either new facts or a new story has emerged. Today write up your story with your new found facts. After writing your story, enrich it with visual aids (pictures you have found, i.e. what the ship looked like your relative was on) and other verified facts about the time period or culture. Add personal pictures of your family members (if you have them) and maps of the area.

Tip: Make sure you include your record citations to back up your research of the story.

Day 20

Power of Family Stories

“I’m giving away my family’s story. Who owns the family’s story? I don’t. But you could turn it around and ask, ‘Who is to deny me to write my family’s story?’” – Karl Ove Knausgaad

You may discover stories from your family tree that might upset other family members or yourself. It’s important, as you make these discoveries, that you are responsible as you decide how or if you share what you’ve found. If you have decided to share your story you need to think about the different platforms you can share it on and how public your story will be. To learn more about deciding to share hard stories check out these resources:

Day 21


You did it! Today think back to the beginning of your journey and recognize what you have learned! Share either a skill you’ve gained or your verified family story on social media. Make sure you tag us! Also, don’t let your new found skills go unused, keep researching (using your to do list) and learning more.

Pro Tip: Start again with a new story or another family member.

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Complement your 21day experiment with Your DNA Guide—the Book. It takes you step-by-step through the various ways of using DNA to answer questions about your origins.


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