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Genealogy 101

Updated on June 8, 2013

Destination Unknown: Following the family tree

Once upon a time, if you were curious to know more about your roots you had to hire someone to research your family history (and it would cost you a small fortune). Now, however, there is a tremendous amount of genealogical information that's only a mouse click away. A number of years ago, I innocently offered to do a bit of "poking around" on the internet for my mother who was very interested in our ancestry.

It started out slowly enough, poking around in the LDS records online until I had my first "hit" via the 1880 census. Fascinated as I am by puzzles and mysteries, it was not long after that I stumbled over a case full of old photographs and found myself totally hooked (ask anyone and they will tell you, genealogy can be very addictive). I created this lens to help others interested in researching their family tree get started. It is a wonderful way to explore a little history and I've got to admit that playing at part-time sleuth is just flat out fun!

Dating Your Photographs

Just how old is that dude, anyway?

Did you know the first photographs were taken in the early 1800s? Initially produced on pewter plates around 1825, they progressed slowly over the next several years to copper and then to glass by the late 1830s. During the 1850s tin types replaced the glass and remained in use until the late 1800s when a man by the name of George Eastman created the first film.* Color did not come into play until 1907, and was not commonly used until much later in the century.

Vintage photographs are very easily damaged by light, so store them somewhere safe that's dark. Believe it or not, my grandmother had an entire suitcase (albeit a small one) crammed full of old family photos. I opted to scan and print out all of the old photographs and newspaper clippings to use for my heritage scrapbook (I'm doing a lens on that too, if it isn't finished already that is :o)

* Wikkpedia

Keeping track as you look back

I bought two 3 subject composition notebooks to keep track of my research information - a blue one for my father's side, and a red one for my mother's. In the first section I kept track of my own notes, genealogical websites, and even a running list of what I wanted to look up or work on next. The second section I used to trace the paternal side and the third section for the maternal side. In between the sections are pocket dividers that are perfect for storing bits and pieces of relevant information. On the top right hand side of the page, I make a note of the where and the when for that particular family. Parents are placed at the top (father first), and all the decedents are then listed in birth order; marking the one I am following with an asterisk (see photo below). I also include their dates of birth and date and age of death. Sometimes if you cannot find the specific person you are tracing, you can find them laterally through a family member.

In addition to the spiral bound notebooks, I also have two three ring binders in red and blue (the color coordinating makes it super easy to grab and go). In these I keep printed census reports and the genealogy charts I've completed thus far; there's a link to some free forms for you further down this lens :o)

Start with simple searches

Researching the records

Depending on your age, you will have to go back a couple of generations to search the records publicly (I think I remember reading somewhere it was 20 years after a person dies before the records are available to research). My Mom had my great grandparent's wedding certificate framed and hanging on the family room wall for a bit of genealogical nostalgia - isn't it pretty?

There are several simple ways to follow the family, for example: Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates, Death Certificates, and obituaries. Many newspapers are now online, along with cemeteries (although I must admit it's a bit weird to think about poking around virtual graveyards :o)

The best place to begin, however, is the LDS church records (see sample record below this module, and their site link below that). The search windows allow for several different levels of searches, including a +/-20 years (which is invaluable if you're unsure of the year).

Discover your inner detective - Be warned: It's addictive!

I'm following Jesse Thacker, one of the children, in this census record found through the LDS Family Search site. From it, I can obtain both her parent's names, where they were born, and an idea of when. This gives me my next "lead" to follow.

The Consensus on the Census

It is solid gold!

Census records are possibly the A#1 best resource you can have for information on your family tree. These records include each person's country of origin, their parent's country of origin, age, and occupation; it even has the entire household is listed together in birth order (sometimes even including In-Laws and other family members). it is an absolute treasure trove of genealogical information!

The pages from the LDS website (shown above) offer a more simplified version of the census reports, but still allow you to work out birth years and locations as well as moving back to the next generation.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Many of the census takers had gorgeous handwriting, with fabulous loops and swirls that any scrapbooker would die to have. Unfortunately, in reality it's a pain in the patootie to decipher :o)

The Name Game - Who???

What's in a name? A lot!

One thing to watch for is spelling changes in surnames. It was fairly common for immigrants to change their names when coming to the United States in order to "Americanize" themselves. Be sure to check a large variety of names when conducting a search (e.g. O'Reilly, O'Reily, O'Riley, Reilly, Riley, etc.)

It can also be helpful to note the names of all family members when you find them. The most frustrating wall I hit when researching my father's side, was my grandfather's sudden name change in between census reports. Originally named for an ancestor, his father (my great grandfather) decided to change his name and make him a "junior" somewhere between the 1910 and 1920 census reports. Had it not been for the other family members listed on the report, I would never have figured out what happened to the guy (Of course I already knew he could not have died, or I wouldn't be here :o)

Pulling your past into your present

The leather cover shown on the far right had fallen off an old (and I mean OLD, as in mid-1800's) family bible my mother had kept in a closet. Rather that leave it there, I put it in a shadowbox frame with some photographs of that side of the family; it made a great addition to the living room wall. The bible belonged to my great-great grandparents - their photos are in the two rectangular frames on either side of their daughter (my great grandmother - wow).

Out of wall space? Try a tiny table instead!

This small table sits underneath the family bible and old photos shown in the lens above. I crocheted the table topper to add a dash of vintage to go along with the photographs on the table.

So how about it, are you ready to blast into your past?

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    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 4 years ago

      What a nicely done and enjoyable read! I have researched my genealogy for over 40yrs but have come to a brick wall...I've about given up....so the lenses I have made on them is all that I have.

      ~d-artist Squid Angel Blessing~

    • ryokomayuka profile image

      ryokomayuka 4 years ago from USA

      I did do some research for schoo a couple of times and found out where some of my family tree came from. I even saw pictures.

    • profile image

      Shadrosky 5 years ago

      Can't wait! Its something I should have done a long time ago

    • Genjud profile image

      Genjud 5 years ago

      Nice lens and great ideas for displaying old photos.

    • debnet profile image

      Debbie 5 years ago from England

      I'm glad you made a point to add about spelling variations. Here in the UK, church records vary greatly as different vicars, vergers, parish clerks etc, each put their own variation in the records, especially when the person being recorded can't spell. I have Veronelli's in my line and you should see the variations on that one!! Love your old photo's. Blessed by a Squid Angel ;)

    • pkmcruk profile image

      pkmcr 7 years ago from Cheshire UK

      Excellent genealogy lens packed with great information. SquidAngel blessed

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 7 years ago from Croatia

      Great lens! And packed up with good tips! Blessed by an Angel!