My mother is the chief genealogist of our diverse tribe, and has spent countless hours tracking down dead people from all over the world. I tapped into her expertise to share the basics of uncovering your family history. Below are some FAQs of the budding genealogist.
1. Where do you start?
Start with what you know, like your immediate family. It gives you an opportunity to write down all those birthdays forgotten every year. Once essential dates are found (which include marriage, and death dates if applicable), you can branch out...so to speak. Your parents most likely have information on their siblings and grandparents. Each connection found may lead to more information on your heritage. You're on the way to fill in the blanks of your personal history.
2. What are some of the best sources for information?
Family-owned materials can offer you some of the best sources. Family Bibles, photo albums, birth and death certificates, marriage certificates, and even baptismal certificates can give you valuable information. Old newspapers are excellent repositories of birth, death, marriage, and social records. An excellent newspaper site is Fulton History which may help you turn up helpful data. A wedding announcement can give more than just the happy couple's stats. You'll likely find out names of parents, siblings, grandparents, and other assorted relatives that will help you expand your knowledge base.
Libraries, county historians, city or town clerks are valuable contacts. Each has different help they can provide. Libraries may have old newspapers on microfiche, clerks have vital statistic records, and historians may have more in depth resources about the area you're researching, events your relatives may have been involved in, and much more. If you want copies of certificates, plan on shelling out some cash for them. Twenty dollars per document is not unusual.
Cemeteries are also excellent places to visit for data, although my mother did find a gravestone carved with the wrong date of death. Alas, it was truly written in stone with no correction possible. A website called Find a Grave may help too.
The U.S. Census has tons of information which genealogists love. Ages, names of everyone in the household, where they were born, occupations, length of marriage, and even immigration info.
Heritage Quest is an online resource that is absolutely loaded with genealogy goodies. Census records, books, publications, war info are part of its package. It requires a subscription though. Some libraries may subscribe and if you have a library card, you'll have free access.
Other resources: Rootsweb Cyndislist Ancestry.com Family Search Pinterest
I'm hooked. How do I organize all this information?
The right software is an easy answer. Family Tree Maker is the program of choice for my mother. Do your homework and see what will work for you. Use archival/acid-free paper to mount photos and acid-free sheet protectors for documents to keep them safe.
Download free templates from Family Tree Templates if you're old school.
Why dig up the past?
There are some good reasons. Aren't you a little bit curious about those ancestors? My great-grandmother's sister shared such interesting stories about life at the turn of the 20th century when I visited with her many years ago to discuss our lineage. How else would I know that Aunt Eva's mother shooed her children quickly inside on laundry day when she spied a mountain lion creeping up on them from the woods. My aunt was both frightened and a little invigorated by the close encounter.
You may find out about some ailments that have plagued your relatives. Forewarned is forearmed. Many times serious illnesses can be traced down the family line. Physical characteristics - blue eyes, premature white hair, and other interesting stuff can be traced in the family line.
If you are adopted, finding your biological family can be a burning desire. My mother was able to help a woman in prison find her biological parents and siblings. These family members each made contact with her and it was a meaningful event in her life. Although not all such searches are successful or welcomed, the possibility of finding family connections is important for us.
If you enjoy sleuthing, genealogy research can be a satisfying pursuit as my mother has found for many years. Her database includes over 16,000 individuals and she hasn't stopped yet. Her research has also yielded membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) which isn't a bad outcome either. Happy ancestor hunting!