Genealogy: First Steps- A Guide to Starting Out

Hi! So I did a post recently about genealogy and how important it is to me. You can find that post here, as well as the image of my 2000 person family tree that was printed for my wedding. You’ll start to see little snippets of stories from my ancestors’ lives here throughout the next couple months.(Please read that article first, if you’re interested in your ancestry)

I gave you almost all of the most important information about genealogy, but I thought I would guide you through the first couple steps of tracing your genealogy. It’s a giant puzzle with you at the heart, and if you love stories like I do, you’re bound to find some gems among your family tree.

(Ever wonder if you really are related to Vikings? This is how you’ll find out.)

Here’s how to begin.

Start with a website like– it’s a free, web-based site where you can input your information. I’m starting a new family tree to show you how this works.

Step One: So the first person you’ll include is yourself. You’re the starting point.


So, here’s where we start. On the left hand side you can see that I’ve inputted my info: full name, DOB, and gender. Also to the right of the ‘personal’ tab, you’ll see ‘Biographical’. When you click on this, it’ll open another input aside, pictured below. This will be most important when you get to ancestors that are deceased.


It’s a little hard to see on my screen- I hope it’s clear for you. I clicked on the ‘Biographical’ tab and it brought up some blank boxes for me. Like I said, this will be much more important later. Feel free to add anything about yourself you like.

Step Two:  Add your parents. One of the keys to good researching is to be as precise as you can be. I don’t know my parent’s birth years right offhand, so I ask them. (Or you could look on FB, a lot of people have their birth year there.) To add your parents, click on the ‘add parents’ box:

Two little boxes will appear above you; one pink, one blue. That’s pretty self-explanatory. Fill those out as much as possible.

(Hang with me, this will get much more exciting soon, I promise)

Step Three:  Repeat step two for both parents (add their parent’s names, DOB, Place of birth, etc) I like to upload images if I have them or can find them online. This may be a more difficult step, if you’re not close with your extended family. If that’s the case, and your information is incomplete, try Google.
*This is one of the hardest steps in genealogy- the grandparent and great-grandparent generation is notoriously difficult. Don’t let this discourage you. If your grandparents/ great-grandparents are deceased, it might be a little easier. My father’s parents both died when I was 10, in the year 2000. We’ll start with them:


As you can see, I’ve added my parents and my dad’s parents. I don’t know when either of them were born, but I’m going to find out.

Here’s what I’ll type into Google: Robert Bradburn and Callie Arnett

That brings up this page:


Most of these results are about my uncle, who is also heavily into genealogy. I don’t trust WikiTree, but I’ll click the link that says ‘Callie (Arnett) Bradburn’ and see what they have to say. It doesn’t help. It has no further information- just says that she died in 2000s and was probably born in the 1930s.

So I’ll Google this: Callie Arnett Bradburn 2000

This is slightly more helpful, but it still leaves me with most of the same posts. *Sometimes you will have to look through more than just the first page of Google results. I scroll down and come across this beauty:


This is exactly what I’m looking for. It’s not a web page someone (who I don’t know if I can trust or not) has put together, it’s a death-record. And bingo! It has Helen Bradburn, who is my grandfather’s mother and who died the same year. From this article, I discover the exact date of my grandmother and grandfather’s deaths, from a reputable source. Still no info on my grandmother’s parents, though, so I keep scrolling… and I make it all the way to page 5 of the Google search results before I give up on this particular search.

I type Callie Bradburn KY, but only find an online guestbook for her funeral, which is blank, and my heart breaks a little.I almost click off of the guestbook, but a tab that says ‘obituary’ catches my eye, and I click on it. It says:

Callie Bradburn, 64, of Holly, Michigan, an employee of Alvins in Birmingham, Michigan, before her retirement, died on Saturday, October 14, 2000. Friends may visit on Tuesday, October 17, 2000, 3-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m., at Lewis E. Wint & Son TRUST 100 Funeral Home…

She was 64. I’d forgotten that. But now, with a little math, I can know her birth year. 1936. Okay.I Google Callie Bradburn 1936-2000. That gets me to a site that says her birthday was August 7th, 1936, but nothing else. I’m getting a little more information each time, but this isn’t really helping me much. There ought to be a birth, marriage, and death record for both of my grandparents, but I can’t seem to find them. I think hard.

One of the best sites for information is Find A Grave,.and thanks to the PDF I read above, I know in which county and township my grandmother died. I head to, click on ‘search 154 million grave records’ and type in: Callie Bradburn, died 2000. Nothing comes up, which is pretty weird since I’ve been to her grave. I try again. Still nothing.

I try another tactic: the county was Oakland, and so I’m wondering if the cemetery was Oakland Cemetery. I click on ‘Cemetery Search’ and type in ‘Oakland Cemetery’ and choose ‘Michigan’ from the drop down menu. There are 9 Oakland Cemeteries in Michigan.

I search ‘Bradburn’ in every single one and come up with nothing. Time to broaden the search. I return to the ‘search 154 Million grave records’ page and just type in ‘Callie Arnett’. Still nothing.

While I’m here on Find a Grave, I’ll search for Bradburns buried in Michigan. That might turn up some clues.

70 hits come up, which is good because I was wondering if I’d broken Find a Grave. Sadly, neither Robert J nor Callie Arnett Bradburn are listed, though I do recognize some names. *It’s not uncommon for cemeteries to be incomplete in their records on Find A Grave, but when a record is found, it’s almost always correct. Who can argue with a headstone, after all?

So we’ve learned that find a grave can’t help us this close to the present. That’s fine. We’ll try tracing my grandfather instead– normally if one person’s information can be found, so can their spouses’. It’s all about whether or not Google thinks they’re important.

I Google Robert Julian Bradburn 2000 . Again, only WikiTree comes up, with information on his death and possible birth. It does say that he’s the son of ‘Julian Bradburn’ and ‘Helen Unger Bradburn’ and I recognize the latter from the PDF on deaths in Oakland county.

Headway at last. I Google Helen Unger Bradburn and WikiTree (again) comes up with a picture of a wedding: Helen Unger and Julian Bradburn. I click on it, and this page appears:

Screenshot 2017-01-01 12.06.46.png

Robert Bradburn, my grandfather, and a family tree, complete with pictures and names I now recognize, appears. It’s on WikiTree, and I don’t normally trust WikiTree, but this time I know they’re right.

I input all this information into my family tree.

I think that’ll be all for now, folks.

Weigh in! Has this been unbelievably boring? Interest you? Do you want to trace your own family tree now?

*P.S. I started from scratch to show you step by step how to research. I, luckily, have a very good relationship with my family and was able to bypass the frustration of my grandmother’s invisibility on the internet. In case you’re interested, her father’s name was Wiley Arnett and her mother’s name was Maudie Keeton.

Update: My sister-in-law has created a fabulous post about how to use her favorite program, My Heritage. Find that here.





5 thoughts on “Genealogy: First Steps- A Guide to Starting Out

  1. One of my goals for this year is to seriously work on genealogy (I will probably pay especially since I REALLY want to take a DNA test). My maternal grandparents have meticulously researched their side, visiting courthhouse and searching through microfilm. We also have some old photos. We really don’t have any contact with Dad’s family anymore after his mom died, and when I try to research I’ve come up with some name mistakes (one at least in the paperwork). I’m definitely going to try the sites you mentioned as being trustworthy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi! I’m SO glad to hear that you’re interested in genealogy too.
      Mistakes are pretty common in paperwork- I have a few posts scheduled about that.
      If I were you’d I’d start with find a grave, though as you can see, they don’t always have the records from the last 20 years.
      Thanks for coming by! I’d be super interested in your stories of genealogy too!


  2. Great tips, Pixie! I’m going to try delving into some of the details now that you and I have traced the broad strokes of my peoples. Not to mention the details I need to add in about my Vikings now that I have so many books on the subject as Christmas presents.


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