In genealogy there is a chasm. On one side of the chasm, genealogy is easy. On the other side, genealogy is hard.The idea here is that when we begin to have an interest in our family's history, we rely on the source material that we have readily available. There is a marvelous description of the process of beginning your journey into your family's history in an Ensign article by President Boyd K. Packer entitled, "Your Family History: Getting Started" from August, 2003. Quoting part of that article,
On one side of the chasm are the ancestors and relatives we know personally. We know them as people. We grew up with them or with our parents talking about them. On the other side are ancestors and relatives that we know only through records.
It is a matter of getting started. You may come to know the principle that Nephi knew when he said, “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do” (1 Ne. 4:6).As genealogists, we refer to this as gathering the "low hanging fruit." This is the information we already possess, even if that information is just a few names on a Bible entry or what we can remember from our childhood. The real issue here is getting started. But then, as the AncestryInsider points out, there is a point at which you have to move from learning about people you know personally, to learning about your family from the records they left behind. The fact that you personally are not aware that these records exist does not mean that they do not exist. It is very important to understand the lesson taught by President Packer in his Ensign article, as he said in that article,
If you don’t know where to start, start with yourself. If you don’t know what records to get, and how to get them, start with what you have.
There are two very simple instructions for those who are waiting for a place to begin. Here’s what you might do:
Get a cardboard box. Any kind of a box will do. Put it someplace where it is in the way, perhaps on the couch or on the counter in the kitchen—anywhere where it cannot go unnoticed. Then, over a period of a few weeks, collect and put into the box every record of your life, such as your birth certificate, your certificate of blessing, your certificate of baptism, your certificate of ordination, and your certificate of graduation. Collect diplomas, all of the photographs, honors, or awards, a diary if you have kept one, everything that you can find pertaining toyour life; anything that is written, or registered, or recorded that testifies that you are alive and what you have done.
Things began to emerge once we got to work. We still are not, by any means, experts in family history research. We are, however, dedicated to our family. And it is my testimony that if we start where we are—each of us with ourselves, with such records as we have—and begin putting those in order, things will fall into place as they should.Now, this will not happen without a considerable and consistent effort on our part. Fortunately today, there are a huge number of places to go to get help with finding additional information about your family. It may take a trip to Italy, as related by President Packer, but the information is there waiting for us to begin. When you reach the edge of the chasm, start building the bridge. Here are a few bridge building steps:
Step One: Reach out to a wider ring of family members.
Try to find the oldest members of your immediate family. Even if these people are distant cousins, they may have valuable memories about your own family that will help you in your search. Look for photos, books about your family and stories that might help you understand more about your family origins.
Step Two: Seek help from a local FamilySearch Center
There are over 4600 FamilySearch Centers (also called Family History Centers) around the world. Even if the one near you is only open a few hours a week, there are still going to be people associated with that FamilySearch Center who have learned something about researching families in your area. You can find a FamilySearch Center by visiting FamilySearch.org and clicking on the Get Help link in the upper right-hand corner of the startup page, then clicking on the Visit Us link. This will take you to a search page where you can find the nearest FamilySearch Center on a map.
Step Three: Do not become discouraged
You will find that there are a huge number of classes, instructions, videos, webinars and other instructional helps online and available around the world if you just look. Take time to learn about how to find your family. Do not assume that it will be easy or fun. It may turn out to be hard work, but you will be successful. As President Packer has said,
Family history work has the power to do something for the dead. It has an equal power to do something to the living. Family history work of Church members has a refining, spiritualizing, tempering influence on those who are engaged in it. They understand that they are tying their family together, their living family here with those who have gone before.
Family history work in one sense would justify itself even if one were not successful in clearing names for temple work. The process of searching, the means of going after those names, would be worth all the effort you could invest. The reason: You cannot find names without knowing that they represent people. You begin to find out things about people. When we research our own lines we become interested in more than just names or the number of names going through the temple. Our interest turns our hearts to our fathers—we seek to find them and to know them and to serve them.
In doing so we store up treasures in heaven.