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Genealogy - How To Begin Discovering Your Roots
Maybe you know who your granparents were or are, where they came from, where they lived, and even where they are buried. But do you know who their grandparents were? Where they came from, where they lived, and where they are buried?
How about their grandparents? Did some of your ancestors fight in the American Revolution? Did they help start this country? Fight in the Indian Wars, Civil War? Were they farmers, doctors, did they own their own businesses?
Have you ever wondered when your ancestors immigrated to the United States of America? By ship? From where and to what port? For what reason? As an indentured servant, to escape religious persecution or opression? Famine? Or maybe to live the American dream?
I have wondered all of these things and still do. I started my research about eighteen years ago and am still continuing today. It has been a wondrous adventure.
So how do you start your Genealogy research?
Start with what you already know. Yourself and your Parents and work backwards:
- The FULL names, including mother's maiden name
- birth date
- Religion, churches
- marriage date and place
- military service
- moved in their lifetime? When? Where?
- divorced? Remarried? Who? When? Where?
- death date (if applicable)
- place of death
- and burial
- each sibling, yours and parents and all above information for each of them. Don't forget their children as well.
There have been numerous times where I have had to search through siblings to find my ancestor, therefore, it is very important that you have everyone in that "family group" listed, even if they died as an infant or small child. The further back your research takes you, this becomes more common.
Then proceed with your
- Father's parents (Paternal Grandparents)
- Mother's parents (Maternal Grandparents)
This is where your tree begins to grow quite large. The above list seems like a lot of information, but each one is useful in your research. Not only in knowing who your ancestors were, but where to go to look for documentation.
If you are one of the lucky ones to get your hands on a family bible, births, marriages and deaths are likely to be recorded there. If not, speak to any and all family members you can, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, even great grandparents.
Document who told you what. Always DOCUMENT your sources.
At some point you will come to a dead end and will have to begin your research.
Software or Paper?
In the beginning of your research you can start with old fashioned paper. Pedigree charts, Research Notes, Family Data forms are readily available on the Internet for free download.
There are downloadable software programs as well.
As your family tree grows, and it will quickly, you may choose to invest in a software program. There are quite a few to choose from; Rootsmagic, Legacy Family Tree, Personal Ancestral File (Free download), Family Tree Maker, Reunion (Mac compatible), Master Genealogist, and more.
My giant oak became so large that I split it up into different files on my software. My husband's ancestors, my father's ancestors and my mother's ancestors. Thousands of names, documents, sources, photographs, notes and more. It's all at my fingertips and I can produce reports, or I should say books, for family members.
I do still maintain paper files, originals of documents sent to me by various government agencies. Though I have scanned each of them, attaching them to the individual in my software, I still keep the originals.
Documentation to uncover truth.
You know who you are, you know your parents and siblings information, what about your grandparents? Let's say you don't have much information on them. This is the true beginning of your genealogy journey.
Now you will start with what you don't know. Maybe you know the names of your grandparents, even where they are buried, but not much else. Start with them and look for each of them (there are 4) in the following areas:
Death Records - many states and counties have death records online. (see links below) If not you will have to write to that county recorder and request a copy, it usually involves a fee for copy. Sometimes death certificates can be a disappointment as the information is only good as the informant.
Obituaries - many are online. Local libraries and inter-library loans. Obits can give a lot of information on the person, where born, parents, life history, siblings, etc.
Census Records - 1930 and before for Federal Census which were taken every 10 years. Some states have the earliest which is 1790. 1890 is very limited since most were destroyed. Some individual states took census' during the 5th year of the decade, i.e. 1865, 1875.
Marriage Records - many states have these records available online, you may have to request from the county in writing for a copy or older records may need to be obtained through church records.
Birth Records - Obviously a birth certificate is golden. Some are online or have to be ordered through the county of birth. The farther back you go you will find that birth's were not recorded as they are today and you will have to rely on other documentation as proof.
These types of documentation are only the tip of the iceberg, but starting points. Remember, to find female ancestors you need maiden names. Many seasoned genealogists know that this can lead to brick walls.
Good to know
Trust only what you can prove! When I first started I stumbled across another tree that low and behold had generations of my family right there on the internet already compiled for me. So I began inputting all the names and dates then started to dig deeper, looking at census records and searching for documents and guess what? Their information was wrong.
Document, Document, Document!
When you find a valid source (written on paper) document the event with that particular source. (John Smith and Susan Boyd married in 1874 Will County, Illinois. Source: Will County Marriages Book B, page 12 online resource Will County website)
You will hit brick walls, we all do. Don't give up, just follow another branch for awhile, then return to the wall and see if you can get passed it.
Many seasoned, and new, genealogists are happy to share their information with a 'cousin', be willing to do the same, but only if your information has been proven. Again sourced and documented.
Happy Hunting! As we genealogists love to say.
Free Genealogy Websites
- Free Genealogy and Family History Online - The USGenWeb Project
Free genealogy and family history online made possible by the USGenWeb Project volunteers. Search free genealogy websites for your ancestors.
- FamilySearch.org - Family History and Genealogy Records
Search for family ancestors. Billions of free family tree, family history, ancestry, genealogy and census records.
- RootsWeb.com Home Page
RootsWeb - the Internet's oldest and largest FREE genealogical community. An award winning genealogical resource with searchable databases, free Web space, mailing lists, message boards, and more.
- Cyndi\'s List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet
More than 270,000 links! 260,000 links, categorized & cross-referenced, in over 180 categories. Another 10,000+ uncategorized new links in the works.