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Genealogy Guide: Getting Started with your Family History Research

Computers and Genealogy

Computers can be a great tool in helping to organize and conduct research, and to locate resources. Though it is possible to do family history research without a computer, Internet access and family tree software expedite the research at every stage.

Internet and Research

There are thousands of web sites that are of real value in assisting research. Their number grows every day. Most sites include educational articles and databases that point you in the direction of actual documents in archives and libraries. Some actually contain images of records, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, and naturalization records. For example, if your ancestors arrived at Ellis Island, you can actually view their passenger arrival manifests at

Genealogy Software

The use of genealogy software has become an almost necessary part of organizing one's research. These programs can store all of your vital family history information, and sometimes also photos and audio/video clips. They also make it easy to print the information in the form of family trees or books.

Selecting a Software Program*

When selecting a program, you should look for one that is comfortable for your current level of computer savvy PLUS the ability to:

  • easily search, sort, and organize data.
  • store thousands of names.
  • create descendent and ancestor charts.

Some popular free programs include:


Legacy Family Tree Standard Edition                       

My Family Tree                                                                            

My Heritage Family Tree Builder                          

RootsMagic Essentials                                                   

You do not need to stick to one program. As long as you save your genealogy file in the GEDCOM format (e.g. file_name.ged), you will be able to import that file into any genealogy software program.

Organizing your Research

  • Enter what you know from family members, family documents, or your own knowledge into the software program that you have chosen.
  • Make a list of last names and places of origin. You will sort these by last name or place of origin in order to use search resources most effectively.


Do not discount the value of Google and similar search engines in assisting your research. The Jewish communities of many towns and cities worldwide have online resources. In addition, some families have created web pages containing genealogical information.

Collaborative Tools

The most powerful benefits of the Internet are collaboration and sharing knowledge. With all collaborative sites, however, remember that administrators and contributors are amateurs, and any information posted should be confirmed with an authoritative source. Also, remember that any information you share with others may become public.


A blog is essentially an online journal or diary on a particular subject that is usually the work of a single individual or organization. Blogs are distinct from other websites because they are typically regularly updated and are interactive in nature, allowing visitors to leave comments.

A comprehensive list of Jewish genealogy blogs can be found here.

Discussion groups & Mailing Lists

There are hundreds of Internet discussion groups, or forums, where an exchange of information and networking takes place between individuals with similar interests. You may post questions to these groups or search their archives for past discussions on your subjects of interest. Some discussion groups allow you to subscribe to e-mail lists, so that you will be sent any newly added postings on a regular basis.

JewishGen offers a general subscription list for Jewish family history research discussion, and lists for people researching the same area of interest (Galicia, Belarus, Sephardim, etc.). Free registration is required.

A comprehensive list of Jewish genealogy e-mail subscription lists can be found here.


Facebook is a social networking site that also supports many pages devoted to genealogy discussion groups. While anyone can view these pages, Facebook requires that you register for a free account in order to interact with these discussion groups (for example, to post questions or comments on a group’s page). Some groups are “open,” which means anyone with a Facebook account can post. Others are “closed” and require permission of the page administrator to post.  For closed pages, there will be an “ask to join” button on the top right.  You will typically be accepted within a day or so.

A comprehensive list of genealogy pages on Facebook is available here


 Geni is the world’s largest collaborative online family tree. In addition, Geni’s Projects provide a workspace for genealogists with similar interests to collaborate, share learnings, and discuss challenges and discoveries. Projects can exist for specific lineages, surnames, geographic regions, and much more.

A comprehensive list of Jewish projects on Geni can be found here    

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