[Basic, beginning research, and free Internet resources to assist the researcher.]
How popular is Genealogy? Hard to measure, with questionable statistics, being an individual activity, no superstars, but commercial sites, blogs, and personal family history websites are growing in number. It used to be common more with people who had the time and resources to travel to do the research. Libraries of all sizes have local history and genealogy sections of all sizes, and if your library provides Internet access for patrons, librarians can help them research their families using Internet resources. I’ll present these concepts as though you are the beginning researcher, and you can share whatever you find helpful with your library customers.
Some people think genealogy is a way to prove that they are descended from, or related to, someone important. Most of us are not – we are more likely to find some small black sheep in the family than we are to find a president in the pedigree. Be prepared to find unwed mothers and early babies. Accept that you may find someone with a criminal history. Your race may not be what you thought. Just enjoy the pursuit.
Assess what you already have. Look through letters, bibles, and photographs. Record what you know, starting with yourself, then your parents, then their parents. Don’t forget the siblings in each generation. Talk to the family elders. Ask them about family history – some will be more willing to talk than others. Pay attention at family reunions. Ask if they mind if you record stories.
KEEPING RECORDS – It’s hard for me to believe, but people did do research and keep records BC (before computers.) Now there are many software programs that keep electronic records organized. One free version is Personal Ancestral File (PAF) available from FamilySearch.org – the LDS site. It can be downloaded directly from the site. Another popular name is Family Tree Maker (FTM), which is affiliated with Ancestry.com. It is not free, but in the past it has come with a free subscription to Ancestry, so it might be a good deal. These are the only two I have personally used – I don’t have personal knowledge of the other programs. https://familysearch.org/products – Free download of Personal Ancestral File http://www.familytreemaker.com/ – Family Tree Maker for PC or Mac, or Google “genealogy software” for other options.
The first basic form most commonly used is a pedigree chart. Most are 4 generation, and will list the person, his parents, his grandparents, and great grandparents. The chart commonly records the name, and date and location for birth, marriage, death (BMD). These are handy for note taking, for later entry into a software program if used. The other most common form is the family group sheet (FGS). It lists the father and a minimum of his birth, marriage, death, and his parents. It lists the same information for the mother. Then it lists the children and information, and their spouses. A person would be listed as a child on the FGS of his parents, then be listed as the parent on his own FGS, then be listed as the parent of the parent on one of the grandchildren’s FGS. (This is why genealogy software is good –it will generate these reports, neatly typed. They will also re-order the children, if you happen to get them out of order.) If you don’t have genealogy software, you can get blank genealogy forms from the internet.
I started out keeping paper records in 3-ring binders – one for the father’s side, one for the mother’s side of the family. It didn’t take long to have to double that, one book for each grandparent. I haven’t investigated in detail, but I suspect that genealogist contribute greatly to the economy by buying all those binders and sheet protectors. Tip – Keep your original records in a safe place. Scan them and make copies for everyday use. Use archival-safe products (paper, sheet protectors, etc). Make back-up disks of your records. Send a copy to a cousin, in another town, even if they don’t care about genealogy. Tell them to keep it safe for you. Don’t know how often to update that off-site copy? If you lost all your records, how much of the newest information would you be willing to have to research again, without shedding tears? It’s a personal decision.
BASICS Record your sources – easy to say, but it does take a few minutes. It will save you time later. Record where you have already searched and NOT found something – it will save looking there again. You can simply record in a notebook, in your genealogy software, or use one of the free Research Log forms. Record dates in the international style – 01 July 1900. When recording locations, include the county name. It is suggested that state names should be written out, and the country should be included, as an aid for non US researchers, when you share information. When recording a woman’s name, use the maiden name. Junior and Senior are not normally recorded in the records although those are clues to the name of another family member. Sometimes, those terms were used to distinguish between two people of the same name, but differing in age – such as grandfather/grandson, or uncle/nephew. Expect to find variations of spellings of names. They may have been incorrectly recorded, or become Americanized. Some families alternated using the first name, and the middle name as the first name. Expect to find variations of ages when tracking a person through records. My great great grandmother only aged about 7 years in each census decade. For birth dates, the family might have claimed the baby was younger so as to fit in with the date of marriage. At a wedding, the bride might have been listed as older than she really was, if she was particularly young.
Best records are the original records – BMD – birth, marriage, death. If these documents are not in the family’s possession, search for copies of those records. These vital records are archived at different levels, depending on the state. In the east, they are most commonly held at the city hall. Farther west, events were recorded at the county level. Some states have repositories for vital statistics. Access to records can vary, too, from not available at all, to posted on line, free for the taking. Remember that you should look for a copy of the original, and not an index of those records. Any time someone copies information from one place to another, there is the opportunity for error. Google for the city or county offices – they may have posted information on how to order records.
INTERNET RESOURCES FOR RESEARCH In the past decade, the amount of genealogical information on the Internet has grown greatly. Some jurisdictions post actual images (Washington, Nova Scotia), some have an index (Massachusetts). The years covered varies. Unlike books, Internet resources can changes. If it is of interest, save it, as the information might not always be there. If you post records on the Internet, do NOT put information about live people on line, at least not without their permission. Tip -Set up a Genealogy folder in your Internet Favorites – and use it to keep track of the good websites you find.
Family Search –https://familysearch.org/ This site has all free databases courtesy of the LDS Church. Most records can be searched by location, name, and dates. Some records must be browsed, but most are organized by location. Many records are only part of an index, but many others have the actual images. New databases are being added all the time. This site has BMDs plus federal and some state census records, and even probate records. FS also has on-line training for all areas of research, from basics to technology.
Ancestry at http://www.ancestry.com is a subscription site. It has historical records (BMD), publications, and family trees (posted by users). It also has all the federal census records and about 36 state censuses. Publications include newspapers, city directories, and school yearbooks. Ancestry also has immigration records. Ancestry is free to use within some libraries, and at Family History Centers affiliated with LDS churches. Rootsweb at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/ is affiliated with Ancestry, but information is free.
Census Finder at http://www.censusfinder.com/ tells where to find census records. These are the most commonly used records to establish family groups, ages, occupations, residences. Use the “Census Questions” option to find out what questions were asked each census year. You are unlikely to find the original records for viewing, but scanned images are available online and on microfilm. The census was taken every 10 years, recorded by counties. This is why it is important to record the county as well as town. The first national census was in 1790. In the early years, only the head of household was listed by name. The rest of the family was documented by noting how many of each gender, in an age group (i.e. age 5-10) lived in the family. In 1850, the census started listing every name, but not the relationship. The woman living with the man was probably his wife, but could also have been his sister who came to the family to care for the kids. You just can’t tell from the census. In 1880, relationships were recorded. The 1890 census was almost entirely destroyed by a fire at the archives. The 1900 lists the person’s month and year of birth. The later census records asked “age at first marriage” and then “years married”. This can be helpful to establish whether this is first or second marriage. Some census takers were helpful and wrote “M2” to indicate a second marriage. Another question asked of women was number of children born, number of children still living. Other common information collected is where born, where parents were born, military service, occupation, immigration information. When looking at census records, check the page before and the page after, to look for familiar names. Families tended to leave near each other. In towns, the address was part of the census record and is recorded on the left. Tip – Go online and download blank census forms for each year. Look at the column headings – they will be easier to read than the actual images. Some people transcribe from the images onto the forms, because it may be easier to read when referring back to the forms. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/census/freecensusforms.htm is another website with free forms.
The latest census released is 1940 which came out in April 2012. Canada and Great Britain census records are available. They are on the “ones” – 1851, 1861, etc. 1911 is the latest.
IMMIGRATION The Ellis Island site is at http://www.ellisisland.org/ and the Castle Garden site is at http://www.castlegarden.org/ Those sites are sometimes hard to use. Another site at http://stevemorse.org/ellis2/ellisgold.html will provide links to the same information. Use the drop-down list to select Ellis Island or Castle Garden.
OBITUARIES – Obituaries vary greatly in the amount of information provided. Some are mere death announcements. Other include great clues such as family members (watch for “preceded in death by” and “survived by” for clues to their death dates.) Spouses of siblings and children may also be listed. Obituaries are a secondary record. The primary record would be a death certificate (which can also have errors, but are at least considered official.)
BURIAL RECORDS Missoula City Cemetery http://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/index.aspx?NID=202 These interment records are only for the City cemetery. Other cemeteries would have their own records. The cemetery sexton maintains files that may have more information. Find-A-Grave at http://www.findagrave.com has user-contributed burial records. Some records include links to other family members. Some include obituaries or short biographies. Searches can be filtered by state and county. Interment at http://www.interment.net/ is another site of user-contributed burial records.
CITY DIRECTORIES – Information collected can vary, but usually includes the head of the household, and perhaps the spouse, with the place of employment, and the place of residence. If the head of the household disappears from one year to the next, and the wife is now listed as “widow of”, that narrows down the search for the death certificate. A directory might even list the specific date of death. In addition, directories probably have advertising. I was lucky enough to find a turn of the century advertisement for my great great grandfather George’s horse-drawn freighting business. http://www.uscitydirectories.com/ is a website that has the goal of identifying where old printed, microfilm, and online directories can be found.
TOWN REPORTS New England towns have a wonderful tradition of annual town reports, which may commonly have included an index of all the births, marriages, and deaths for the year. Finding the event listed in the town report would point you to the town hall to get a copy of the actual birth, marriage, or death record. Take the time to look through more of the report. Although we still have not found great great grandfather Barnabus’ death record, we did find that the town paid for his stay at the town farm, and paid a doctor’s bill, then a grave digger’s bill, on behalf of Barnabus. That may be the only record we ever have for his death. Use Google or some other search engine to search for town reports on line.
MILITARY RECORDS The Missoula Public Library at http://www.missoulapubliclibrary.org/ provides access to Heritage Quest, but you do need a library card ID number to log in from home. Revolutionary war pension records are available on line at Heritage Quest. Information in these records varies, but often includes the pensioner or his widow explaining his war service, her date of marriage (to establish she is eligible), their children, and their residence.
Civil war pension index can be found on line, but I have not yet found many images for the actual documents. They can be ordered from the National Archives in Washington, DC. A pay website called Fold3 has military records. WW1 draft registration forms are on line at Ancestry. These were good at recording middle names, and dates of birth although the year can be off by 1. Some versions listed next of kin, and employment. WW2 enlistment information and the “old man’s draft” cards are also on line at Ancestry. (This isn’t an advertisement for Ancestry, but since I subscribe, this is where I have found the information.)
LAND RECORDS Available on line from the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office (GLO) are homestead records, at http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/ . Most have actual images of the final homestead award. You can send away for the full record, which may include proof of residency, naturalization records, etc. With the land description and a good map, you can find the homestead. It may be a housing development now, or perhaps is a farm still in the family. Search Land Patents by selecting the state, then the name using exact spelling (try variations.) http://www.earthpoint.us/TownshipsSearchByDescription.aspx is a website that will convert the homestead location from the Section/Township/Range location to a GPS location, and then will take you there using Google Earth if you have that installed on your computer.
WORLD GENWEB PROJECT at http://www.worldgenweb.org/ is a non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to providing genealogical and historical records. The website for the United States is at http://www.usgenweb.org/ and that site is divided by states, then by counties. Because these are all run by volunteers, the information at each local site varies.
GOOGLE at http://www.google.com/ or your favorite search engine (Dogpile, Yahoo) can lead to information about ancestors. Tip: Search also by last name first, “Woody, Frank”. Search on locations, such as “Vermont Genealogy”. Search for land records by geographic area, church records, etc.
MESSAGE BOARDS – If you google a name, you may get a hit that leads you to a message board relating to either the location you searched on, or the family name. Those are a good place to find information. Here are a few tips for posting a query of your own. In the subject line, put in meaningful information. A query like “Need information on Smith Family” will probably be glossed over by readers, whereas a query like “Seeking Parents of Joseph Smith b 1803 Ipswich MA” provides time and location enough to let the reader know if she can help this person. Use the body of the message to be specific about information sought. For example, “ Joseph m Harriet Newell, has children Albert, George, Drucilla. Brother possibly John. Trying to determine Joseph’s parents names.” Giving clues about what you already know will save someone the trouble of giving you information you already have. Make sure you are in the right bulletin board. If the query isn’t in the Ipswich MA board, or the Smith board, it is probably in the wrong place.
CYNDI’s LIST at http://www.cyndislist.com/ has categorized and cross-referenced lists of links to other genealogical research sites online. For example, click on N for Norway, and you will find 337 links to other websites that will have helpful Norwegian information.
LIBRARIES and HISTORICAL SOCIETIES The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has incredible resources. In fact, it can be overwhelming. A lot of what they have is available on line. They also do interlibrary loan with the local Family History Centers that are affiliated with the LDS churches. FHC have free access to Ancestry and other paid websites, as well as people who can help researchers Those also have lots of resources, and can order the microfilm you need. https://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlc/ is the card catalog. Search on places, and Norway, for example, has 161 matching titles, including biographies, census records, histories, etc.
Town libraries frequently have family history sections with books, film, and even donated records. Most libraries will accept donated copies of your research if it is related to that area. A good way to get more data is to donate a file and then leave your contact information. Someone may want to either give you info, or get more from you. Use Google to search for a town library, then check to see what resources are available. Remember that the reference librarian will be your new best friend. She either already knows the answers, or knows where to find them, or knows how to get them on inter-library loan.
NEWSPAPERS Chronicling America at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ contains searchable old newspapers from 1836 to 1922, in 25 states (including Montana). You can also use Cyndi’s List, browse categories – select N for newspapers, and you will find 742 newspaper links.
LANGUAGE LINKS – If you find records in a foreign language, you may be able to translate using a site like Google Translate at http://translate.google.com/# Just select the “from” language, and translate to English. Another similar site is http://www.freetranslation.com/ These may not be suitable for long documents, but might be good for translating simple documents such as BMDs.
GENEALOGY WEB LOGS – BLOGS
http://blogfinder.genealogue.com/ Blogs about specific surname, locations, technology
http://www.geneabloggers.com/genealogy-blogs/ Genealogy and family history
http://amberskyline.com/treasuremaps/create-genealogy-blog-1.html This site tells how to create a blog in order to attract other researchers, and open up opportunities to exchange information. This site gives specific information relating to “Blogger” which is owned by Google, but there are other free blog sites, such as WordPress.