Note: As you go through these hints of how to start your family history research, you will see highlighted links, just click the link to find the appropriate form.
Genealogy, or if you will, the tracing of one's ancestors, is a lot of fun. Being involved in finding a relative is somewhat comparable to belonging to the F.B.I. Everything counts imagination, supposition, suspicion, hunches, intelligence, diligence, money and eventually one or the other wins out.
Now let's give you some ways to get results. The object is to make a genealogist out of you, and to make you like it in the process. Let's do something interesting. You may get confused sometimes, but that is part of the adventure in genealogy. When researching your elusive ancestors, you need to remember one important thingwrite it down as you do your research. You may not think it matters, but later it may fill in some of the blanks on one of your lines. As we go along, you will find different types of research materials you will need in your adventure of finding that missing family member.
Four ways to identify your relatives: (1) Name, (2) Dates, (3) Places, and (4) Relationships. If you cover each one of these four ways, you have less chance of making a mistake of mixing relatives.
Now lets take the name of Mary Smith. Since 1600, there must have been 5,000,000 women by that name in the United States (Name). Let's say she was born in 1850, which narrows the number to about 10, 000 born in that year (Date). We think Mary was born in Boston, and we find that 20 were born in Boston in that year (Place). But of all those with the name of Mary Smith born in 1850 in Boston, only one married Archibald McLeash (Relationship).
Now, we need to see if you got the correct information about the Mary Smith of your family line.
How to Trace Your Ancestors
You start your search by filling out a pedigree chart, starting with yourself. Later, you will find a pedigree chart to use. In each generation, give as much information as you can on each individual. It is best to use a pencil so that way you can make changes when you locate an error.
Record All females by their maiden name. As you find your documented proof, then use black ink to fill in space on your pedigree. It is okay to use an estimated date until you find the correct one, or if you can't find the date.
The next step is to consult the older members of your family. Write down or tape (with permission) all they tell you, such as names, dates and places. Family stories and traditions that are passed down from generation to generation can help locate answers. Sometimes, the family stories become distorted or embellished as they are passed down from one generation to another so you have to prove or disprove the information.
Inquire if there are old Bibles, family records, letters, etc. in possession of your family. If so, get them photocopied. Visit cemeteries where your family are buried to copy and take snapshots of the inscription on the tombstone. Also, remember to take a photo of the cemetery entrance, place the date this research was done on the back of the photo and give directions to the cemetery especially if it is in a out of the way place so you can find it again. Sometimes it helps to know that Grandma Smith's sister married a McCoy so that you can check the other graves in the cemetery for more of your relatives. There are times when you have to visit the same cemetery several times because you find out later that Aunt Lou or Uncle Jack were buried in the same cemetery as Grandma Smith. It is hoped that someone saved the Death Certificate of Grandma Smith and maybe, her obituary from the newspaper, too. There is a Death Certificate Information form which will help to organize the information from the death certificate or obituary.
Now you have collected some basic information, you need to place it on a Family Group Sheet. Fill out a FGS (family group sheet) for yourself first, then do your parents, grandparents, etc.
There are census records online with Ancestry.com and you may view them for a fee. However, if you live in Texas, and have a library card for your county, you may obtain a user name and password from your local library and go online to TexShare. Texshare has lots of information online for census, books, periodicals, and many other listings of genealogical and historical sites. Check with your local library for more information. Census records are available for the public to use from 1790 to 1930. There are books and microfilm at a lot of libraries that have genealogical sections. You have to remember that there were only 13 colonies in the United States at the time of the American Revolution so the earlier census records contain only certain areas. Your first step would be to look at the 1930 census and find your parents and grandparents, if possible.
Most of the time in genealogy you work from the present generation to the previous generation as you have more information about the present than you do the past.
Documenting Your Work: The basic forms of documentation are the family Bible, family documents such as letters, birth records, death records, marriage records, military records, wills and probate records, tax records, newspaper articles, cemetery inscriptions, census records, and family stories. The one thing you have to consider is that the information on the census records, cemetery inscriptions and death records are sometimes not totally correct due to the person who furnished the information, and how much they knew of the family history. Maybe, the neighbor next door filled out the death certificate as there was no other know family living at the time. Therefore, you want several sources to prove these documents are correct. All information needs documentation from several sources to prove or disprove. Carefully, keep a record of each book with title page information, microfilm(roll number and page), relative interviewed, etc. with dates and places where you obtained certain information. There times that you find someone in the same county or on the same page in a census with the last name you are searching, but it does not seem to fit your family history. It is best to copy that information and file it as sometime in the future you may find out that was the brother who was disowned or left for some reason and was not mentioned by your family. Also, look at all the spellings of the names, not just how the present day family spells your name.
Libraries: Many local libraries especially at the county seats will have a genealogy collection. These collections vary in content and size. If you are planning a trip to a library, contact them and see if it has a collection or if they can tell you where the nearest one is located in that area.
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