Have you ever wanted to research your family tree? Where would you start? We asked Jonna Peterson, a member of the La Crosse Area Genealogical Society to give us some tips on how to do it.

What are the most common resources? Can the “average person” access them?

While internet websites such as www.ancestry.com are very helpful, you cannot assume that everything you access there is factual. You still need to verify this information. I have looked up records online that have different maiden names or misspellings of names. Birth and death dates may vary and you really need to find the original document to verify this data. Sometimes people submit information that may not necessarily be totally false, but may not be as accurate as you need for a well-documented search.

Courthouses, I have found, have great resources but you have to know what you are looking for before you get there. Especially if you are traveling out of town to go to a courthouse, the best bet would be to call ahead and find out what is easily accessible. Make a list of records you want to look up. For example, if you are looking for birth certificates, have a list of names and approximate dates of birth – this helps the research go much faster. Another important thing to consider is that not all courthouses have all records.

Another interesting tidbit is that not all courthouse employees are helpful.While most I have encountered have been very pleasant and helpful, there have been a few who were more on the less helpful side.

The average person should have few problems accessing these types of records if they have basic computer knowledge. There are resources to get help if you are a beginner by visiting your local archive or history room. Libraries are a great resource for getting help.

If you’re interested in joining the La Crosse Area Genealogical Society, visit their website.