This week, as promised, we will explore how to begin to fill in the blanks and how to find more information.
The first place to begin is with your relatives.
You’re probably thinking, “Duh.”
Not so fast with the condescension.
After asking, “Well, have you ever really talked to them about the family history?” or saying, “Think of it as a way to break the ice and get to know him better,” you later hear, “We talked for hours, they had pictures and everything!”
So...talk to your relatives first! ALL of them:
- aunts & uncles
Before you meet, prepare. If you are unsure about how to proceed, read a pdf from UCLA, Conducting Oral Histories with Family Members, Guidelines and Tips, or watch the YouTube video below, “Interviewing Family Members to Grow Your Family Tree.”
When scheduling the meeting, ask your relative to bring or make available any photographs or documents he or she is willing to share. Helpful items would include scrapbooks, family bibles, photo albums, old letters, journals, birth certificates, marriage certificates and death certificates, obituaries, newspaper clippings, and “In memory of” cards from funerals, to name a few.
While relatives can corroborate facts you already have, and add facts you don’t have, there's also a blue ton of value in the stories they remember having heard as they grew up. Those stories flesh out families and turn facts and dates into the real lives that were lived.
Conveniently, you can go to the next place in your pajamas. No, not Walmart! The internet!
There are many free sites to get you started online. Cyndi’s List and One-Step Webpages by Stephen P. Morse come to mind. They will point you to databases of information which may or may not be free to use, but undoubtedly will have some value for you in your quest. FamilySearch.org is a completely free site. Subscription-based sites such as Ancestry.com, Fold3, Genealogy Bank and Newspapers.com can be very valuable.
Okay so you’ve arrived at your computer in your jammies with your seaming mug o’ coffee and a bajillion databases at your fingertips. Where should you begin?
The U.S. federal censuses are a good place to begin because they are available from 1940 back to 1790, depending upon the locale you are researching.
The availability of birth, marriage and death certificates vary from place to place as states weren’t required to document the information until the early 1900s.
At some point, usually after the acquisition of information for grandparents, it will be wise to choose one line to pursue. It is impractical to try to search all your lines at once. Pick one. Follow it back as far as you can. When the trail goes cold, you have two options:
- Go to the three C’s—the courthouses, churches, and cemeteries where that ancestor lived and see what you can find locally.
- Choose another line to pursue--back to the jammies and coffee!
Continue in this manner, remembering to check back often as records are now coming online at a brisk clip.
And that, my friends, is Genealogy 101.
Please feel free to comment and/or ask questions about this series.