Getting Started with Jewish Family History Research RYO #1

Are you thinking of starting your own Jewish family history research?

Our first blogpost in the category Research Your Own (or RYO) will give you some ideas if you are beginning to think about starting your own Jewish family history research.

By far the simplest way to start any family history research, whether your family background has Jewish heritage or a background in other faiths and cultures, is by using a strategy familiar to all of us.

Begin with what you do know, identify what you don’t know (or would like to know) and then go after it.

Three stages: GATHER, GLEAN and GUIDE.

For getting started there are three handy words for three stages: GATHER, GLEAN and GUIDE.

  • GATHER all the information you have.
  • GLEAN all the information you can.
  • GUIDE yourself with a plan of action.


Selection of Jewish family history research documentsThis initial GATHER stage in the family history research process is an exciting time when you remind yourself of just how much you do already know. It is important to GATHER all the information you already have. This may be gathering together vital documents, photos or previous notes you have made about individuals.

Next, create a way of recording the information you have. Perhaps in a spreadsheet, database or a simple handwritten list. Alternatively using one of the big-name online genealogical websites where you can create databases about individuals and family trees.

Add your information to your record and as you do, analyse what you have gathered and gleaned. Reading through and transcribing that information has the added benefit of not overlooking details which might become useful at a later point but may initially seem irrelevant. Also if words or numbers are illegible, it will give you an opportunity to ask others to help decipher key information.

If you have very little information to go by at this first stage it may also be worth considering where the information you do have came from, what or who was its source, and if a document was handed down from a past family member, where, when and why had they obtained the document themselves.


In addition to gathering documentation, it is also important to GLEAN what you can from other sources, namely people. This can be an opportunity to reconnect with family members and share information about family history and forebears. Do not overlook aural history and family lore. Besides close and distant family members, alternatively members of the public may have posted information in the online family history research community which seems relevant to your own research. Make note of all the information they give you and where they got it from.

But with all the information you GLEAN you must evaluate it: what is its source, is there written or official evidence for that information, are you convinced by the family connections this information points to. It is all potentially useful but you need to be sure about how reliable that information is, especially when it has come from a third party and especially from online. In order to trace your family history backwards each step of the journey needs to be as concrete as possible to enable you to take your family history back further. Your key motivation should be to trace your ancestral lines for yourself through official documentation, rather than relying on second hand information which is not accompanied by historical proofs.


Next identify your goals, gaps or questions, this will GUIDE what you do next. Out of this process you can then also create your own GUIDE or plan of action. What do you want to find out, where could you look for that information, what do you need to do to go after it, what obstacles are there, who could help.

Typically family history research works backwards, from the known to the unknown and from the most recent events back through time. If you are tracing ancestral lines you will generally need to work generation by generation. At each stage gather as much information as possible, make copies of that information, transcribe it into your record and note your sources, evaluate the reliability of that information, log what actions you have taken and refine your next steps.

We will be developing some of the points we have touched on here in later blogposts in this Research Your Own series. In our second RYO #2 historytracings blogpost we will continue this series on getting started with your own Jewish family history research, so watch out for the blogpost entitled Routes to Research RYO #2 in which we will explore the direction and paths your Jewish family history research can take.

Ed., historytrace, 14/12/2015

Historytrace can help you to develop an individual family history research plan if you would like to research your family history yourself or the history of a family business or a former place of residence. Alternatively if you have already begun a project but need some advice or assistance we would be very happy to hear from you.

If you would find this service useful then do get in touch using the Contact page of this website.

If you enjoyed reading this, please share it with your friends and family using the share and like buttons below or get our historytracings blogposts via RSS feed.

You have been reading the historytracings blogpost “Getting Started with Family History Research RYO #1”. Copyright text and image www.historytrace.co.uk, 2015.