Your Own Research

How to do Genealogy Research

This is one of the most common qestions from anyone new to genealogy that is planning family research. A step-by-step guide is shown below.

1. Begin with yourself and work backwards generation by generation.
2. Pedigree Chart - Your direct line of ancestors.
3. Family Group Sheet - one marriage.
4. Dates - use a cocnsistent date format (mm⁄dd⁄yyyy) or (dd⁄mm⁄year)  
5. Research Log.
6. Computer Data Bases
7. Start your search.
1. Sources of information:
2. Always evaluate the information that you find; just because it is in print does not make it correct.
3. When you talk to relatives, check the information against other sources. Often you will be given some valuable clues but those family stories can be garbled truth.
4. A good genealogist is a good detective!
1. Be short, simple, direct and sincere.
2. Limit request to 2 to 3 direct questions; don't ask for all the person's information.
3. Always include a business size self addressed stamped envelope (S.A.S.E.).
4. Write in a friendly letter, express thanks for any information.
5. Ask about anyone else who might have some information.
6. Offer to share information.
7. Keep a copy of the letter that you send.
8. Sample Letter:
1. Be short, simple, direct and sincere.
2. Limit request to 2 to 3 direct questions; don't ask for all the person's information.
3. Write in a friendly letter, express thanks for any information.
5. Ask about anyone else who might have some information.
6. Offer to share information.
7. Keep a copy of the letter plus the emial address in your contact list  
8. Sample Letter:
Dear Mr.⁄Mrs. [?] ;
I am the granddaughter of your sister Mary and am trying to locate information about our family. My mother, Susan Smith suggested that I contact you. Do you know when and where your parents, John and Mary Green were born, married, and died?
I would appreciate any help that you can give me. If you know of someone else who might be of help in this search, I would appreciate having their name and address. I would be happy to share any information that I find with you.
[your name]
1. Surname - Check Catalog for publications on the known surnames.
2. County - Search under the name of the county.
3. Most libraries now have computer catalogs rather than a card catalog, it is usually best to use a "keyword" search. Start with as broad a search as possible. If the list is too long then start to modify it to produce a smaller list.
4. In New England search under the name of the town.
1. Important to know why the record was created and where it is presently located.
2. Today - State Registration of Birth, Death, and Marriage; with Social Security numbers and computerized information.
3. Prior - Most records on a person were kept in the county of residence.
4. Check to see if the records have been published.
5. Some are available on microfilm through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon)   Family History Library system.
6. Information and indexes may be available through internet sites.
1. Marriage
2. Probate Records
3. Land Records
(1) New England - laid out in towns with adjoining fields.
(2) Other colonial states plus TN, KY, TX and HI use metes and bounds.
(3) Rest of States use Rectangular Land survey system divided into section, townships and ranges. Use a plat map to locate land.
(4) Ohio has all of these.
4. Divorce records may provide interesting information, in some states early divorces granted by state legislatures.
5. Other - Court Minute Books, Tax Records, School Census, other loose papers and documents; usually these records are not indexed, may be hard to locate and time consuming to search.
6. Birth and Death Records may occasionally be found but varies from state to state, check references. Sometimes delayed birth certificates may be found.
7. Most counties will provide limited amounts of information through correspondence. Do not expect them to do much searching. Limit your request to a few items.
1. Important record because provides personal information at ten year intervals.
2. May give helpful clues about families.
3. Organized by State, County, Township and⁄or City.
4. From 1790 through 1920 are available for personal research. Some were destroyed when British burned Washington DC during the War of 1812 and the 1890 Census was 99% lost due to another fire.
5. US Government waits 72 years to open Census for personal research.
Name of head of family, number of free white males 16 and up, free white males under 16, free white females; all other free persons, number of slaves.
Name of head of family, number of free white males and
females under 10, 10 and under 16, 16 and under 26, under 45, 45 and over, number of slaves.
Same as 1800.
Same as 1800, also male and female slaves and free colored persons under 14, 14 and under 26, 26 and under 45, 45 and up. Foreigners not naturalized.
Name of head of family, number of free white males and females in 5 year age groups to 20, 10 year age groups from 20 to 100 and 100 years and older, number of slaves and free colored in 6 age groups, foreigners.
Same as 1830, also number of pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Service
First to list all persons in the household, sex, color for each person, value of real estate, occupation for all males over 15, place of birth, if married within year; if attended school, if able to read and write for all over 20.
Same as 1850 and value of Personal Property.
Same as 1860 also if parents foreign born, if able to read and write for all over 10.
Name, relationship to head of family, sex, race, age, marital status, married within year, occupation, number of months unemployed, if sick what illness, attended school, able to read and write, place of birth of person and parents. Soundex (Index) only for households with children 10 and under.
Over 99% destroyed by fire in 1921.
Name, race, sex, month and year of birth, age at last birthday, marital status, number of children born to wife of that marriage and number living, place of birth of person and parents, citizenship if foreign born, year of emigration, occupation, can read, write or speak English; home or farm, owned or rented. Indexes can be rented.
Same as 1900 except for month and year of birth, also Civil War Veteran.
Same as 1910, year of naturalization.
1 Look at for printed indexes, however they usually index only head of household and others in household By another surname.
2. Soundex system of indexing used for 1880, 1900, 1910, and1920 Census.
3. Soundex formula - always results in the first letter of the surname followed by three numbers. Designed to help locate alternative spellings.
4 . 1880 Soundex only indexes households with children under 10.
5. Soundex indexes were not done for many states for 1910 Census, none for Wisconsin and other low population states..
6. City directories around the time of the Census may help to locate your ancestors.
2. Some states conducted state census, check reference books for availability.
1. Census takers were often political appointments.
2. Problems with spelling of names due to misunderstanding between the person giving the information and person taking the information. Names given orally.
3. People not always at home, don't know who gave the information, could be a child or neighbor.
4. Sometimes use nicknames or middle names for people in the household.
5. If the same information appears in several census years, probably good information. Compare to other data that you have about your family.
6. Unfortunately, some people were missed by the census takers.
1. Can be an important source of genealogical information.
2. Articles and notices found in newspapers usually are published about the time of the event, making them a vital source. However, errors may occur so the information must be compared with other sources for accuracy.
3. The following may be found in newspapers:
4. How to find Newspapers:
5. How to search Newspapers:
1. City and Telephone Directories can help identify residence of ancestor, locate the person on the census, estimate death dates, identify other relatives at the same residence, may give occupation or profession.
2. County and regional directories can provide information about residence, property owned, and other adult relatives in the area.
3. Professional directories may provide information.
4. College directories may give years of attendance, area of studies, other activities, and biographical data.
5. Religious directories; if your ancestor served as clergy with an established church, may be a source of biographical information.
1. Vary in content and emphasis based on theology and social role of the church .
2. Identify religious background of your ancestor based on family tradition, obituary, county histories, town histories and cemetery records.
3. Many church groups maintain archives. (Survey of American Church Records by Kirkham or The Source by Ancestry.)
1. Military records may not provide the solution to every pedigree problem but can provide valuable clues.
a. Pre Revolutionary records are generally historical in nature and seldom contain specific individual genealogical information.
b. Records created since the Revolution contain more information such as birth, marriage, death, parents, pension, bounty land.
2. Revolutionary War Records.
3. The Old Wars
4. War of 1812, Indian Wars, Mexican War
5. Civil War
6. Form for ordering records - NATF Form 80, write to National Service Records, National Archives, Washington DC. 20408.
7. Modern Wars - World War I to present
1. Can provide valuable information, but dates can be wrong.
2. Locating the cemetery.
3. Availability of records will vary and are often difficult to locate.
4. Walk the cemetery or family plot, record stones and⁄or take photos. Look at surrounding stones and record them, may be relatives. Sketch layout of stones.
5. Hard to read stones.
6. Not all graves will be marked with a stone.
7. Some families buried on small plots on the land, these may be in very bad condition or destroyed by current owners.
1. Just because your surname is spelled a certain way now, does not mean that it is the original spelling or the only way that the name was always spelled in every record.
2. Always check for alternative spellings for your surname.
3. Other problems
1. Definition - Relatives not in your direct line.
2. Can provide information on your family and help solve research problems.
3. A family is made up of relationships not just names.
4. Women tend to retain the strongest kinship ties and tend to be the "keepers" of the family stories and possessions. They are more difficult to locate because their surname will change when they marry.
5. Kinship ties are not broken by mobility; families did keep in touch with each other and did visit each other.
6. Legal records for family members who leave no descendants may help in determining family relationships.
7. Be alert for clues about relationships, know kinship terms for period of research.
1. Our ancestors did more traveling than we often realize.
2. Once they arrived here, more likely to move again.
3. For most of our history, there was always cheaper land further west and thus more opportunity.
4. In the early days, the migration routes followed waterways; rivers and streams were very important; later overland route and railroads were the means of travel.
5. People usually traveled in groups with relatives and neighbors. If they did not come with the original group, they might migrate to a place where relatives and former neighbors have settled.
6. Often marriage partners were people who came from the old residence. Marriages between first cousins and other closely related people may be found.
1. Various types a. Sacrament Certificate - Colonial period.
2. Often filed Declaration of Intention but may never have filed Final Papers.
3. Early documents provide little genealogical data, more information required later such as place and date of birth, emigration date, port of entry, and arrival date.
4. Prior to 1906, naturalization could take place in any county, city or federal court.
5. After September of 1906, contact Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, 425 I St NW, Washington DC 20530. Form available at any Federal Building.
6. Prior to 1928, wife and children automatically became citizens with husband.
1. Must know the location of the small village or region in order to find more records.
2. Find out as much as possible about the immigrant using U.S. sources.
Census information
(1) 1850-1870 - Birth place of person - province or country.
(2) 1880 - Birth place of parents - province or county.
(3) 1900-1910 - Year of immigration, citizen if foreign born.
(4) 1920 - Also year of naturalization.
3. Investigate the origins of close family friends and neighbors since people tended to settle near those they knew from the prior location.
4. See who witness probates and deeds, administrators, live nearby, join same church or purchase land at the same time.
1. List names of passengers who arrived at ports on East Coast, West Coast, Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico, consists of passenger lists, transcripts, abstracts, baggage lists, and manifests.
2. Information available from Passenger Lists depends upon time period of arrival.
3. Check all available indexes first; unless you know port, and approximate date.
4. Can be a long and tedious search unless you have some specific information such as port, date and⁄or ship.
5. If you locate your ancestor, make a copy of the entire list, may be relatives and friends who came from the same location and settled in the same area.
6. Immigration through Canada and Great Lakes - prior to 1895 no records kept by US. Government. From 1895 to 1954 records available through National Archives.
7. National Archives - Use GSA Form 7111, Order and Billing for Copies of Passenger Lists, order from Correspondence Branch, National Archives, Washington DC 20408.
1. What you need to know:
a. Place of origin, the small village or area.
b. Name of immigrant (original surname).
c. Time of immigration - clues about from where and why the person came.
d. Religious preference - what church records to search.
e. Other information about family, names of other family members or friends.
2. Find out what was happening in the area that your ancestor came from for clues about his⁄her background.
3. Find a good publication on resources available in the area and how to do research.
4. Check the resources available through the LDS Family History Libraries.
a. Look for microfilmed records for your area of interest.
b. Microfilmed records can be ordered from the library in Salt Lake City.
5. Correspondence - Write in simple English if you do not know the language. Always include 2 International Postal Coupons available from the Post Office.
1. When you start, you may have little information and it may seem easier not to organize. However, as you continue to collect data, it will become impossible to deal with unless you keep it organized and filed.
2. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to organize; you may want to use notebooks, files, or hanging files.
3. Organize around surnames or family groups based on the amount of information that you have collected.
4. Limit size of each file to a manageable amount of information.
5. Keep updating family group sheets and pedigree charts so you know what information to look for.
6. Document where your information came from:  
1. Organize
2. Look for new solutions - keep asking why.
3. Broaden your research
4. Census - 10 up and 10 down rule - expand research to neighbors of your family for possible relationships.
5. Share problems and research with others.
6. Hire a professional researcher.
7. Let problem sit for a while and then go back to it.
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