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GENEALOGY QUEST |
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since January 1998.
MISSION, IF YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT: To collect and assemble the
pieces of your family’s history. This assignment is not for the faint of heart. You
will travel through time, sift through a maze of documents and microfilm, journey
to remote corners of the earth, question informants, manuver through blockades,
and juggle numerous names, dates and places to solve this mystery. Are you
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Tools of the
Having the right tools makes a job easier. Here’s a list of items handy to
have in the trenches:
Chart -- This form
is used to record information about a person, their parents, grandparents and
great-grandparents, etc. It is like a four or five generation family tree on one
sheet of paper. It gives an "at a glance" look at your ancestry. When your first
Pedigree Chart is filled, you begin more charts: Each great-grandparent
becomes the "first person" on a new chart. If you have a genealogy computer
program, it should print blank copies of this form for you.
Group Record -- This
form is used to record information about a husband and wife and their children. It
is more detailed than the Pedigree Chart. If you have a genealogy computer
program, it should print blank copies of this form for you.
Pockets, for a 3 - Ring
Binder -- Folders come in handy for temporarily storing documents,
photographs and notes. You can label each folder with a surname, then keep all
notes on that surname in it's folder. If you visit "Aunt Margaret" to ask her about
family history, and she gives you an old photograph, where’s a safe place to put
it until you get home? -- A folder pocket. This happened to me during a
genealogy trip, and home was two weeks away. Did I want to trust a family
heirloom in our suitcase, stuffed with other "junk" in the trunk of the car? No
3-Ring Binder -- This is to keep
all your genealogy forms, folders and notes in. When doing genealogy research
by telephone, or while traveling, nothing beats having an organized, up-to-date
family history binder. Invest in a sturdy binder at least 1-1/2 inches thick
Pockets are a plus. If you have a computer program which stores your family
history, keep the forms in your binder up-to-date anyway. A binder is easier to take
on the road than a desktop computer....And if your computer crashes or
somehow erases your data, you will still have your information in the
Index Dividers for 3-Ring Binder
-- This is to organize your forms in your binder. The basic method is to separate
the Family Group Records from the Pedigree Charts. You might find more ways
to further organize your binder, depending upon your experience and style. My
binder is divided into: Family Group Sheets, Pedigree Charts, and Research (my
Notebook -- A notebook is useful
for, well, keeping writing notes in. Notebook paper is also useful for making
pencil rubbings of a headstone if it is difficult to read. You can also buy special
forms for your notes. However, I find it just as easy, and more economical, to
use a regular notebook. If I want to organize the notes, I just rip the paper out
and put it in a folder (mentioned above) for that surmane. If the notes are a
biography, when I get home I can type them neatly on the computer and print
them out. Nevertheless, if note forms will help you more, then go ahead and buy
Pencils and pen -- Yes, we must
have something to write all those notes with!
Photo box or album -- Sooner or
later you will probably want something to organize those old family photos in.
An acid-free, archival quality box or book is best.
Books and Maps (optional) --
You might buy a few genealogy books and maps, depending upon what
countries your ancestors came from, and what areas you need help with. Many
genealogists collect a small library of resources to help them.
File Box (optional) -- A durable
plastic file box is useful for neatly storing all your family history materials in one
easy to find location. If you’re a rookie, you might not need one for a while. If
you’re a seasoned veteran, you may have a file cabinet full!
Camera (optional) -- I highly
recommend using a camera when doing genealogy work in cemeteries.
Photograph the headstones. This provides evidence of what you saw and
recorded. I had a distant cousin ask if I knew where an ancestor was buried,
and what their death data was. I replied, "Yes, I’ve been to the grave." They
proceeded to ask me for details of name and dates, but seemed unsure of my
information. When I told them I had a photograph of the headstone, it was
evidence that my research was correct. She seemed satisfied and the case was
closed. Plus, it is also nice to have a picture of the ancestral farm, home, etc.
Genealogy Software for Your
Computer (optional) -- If you have a computer (which you probably do if
you’re reading this), a good family history program makes organizing all that
data easier. Shop around and note the features you want in genealogy software
Now, where can you find all those tools? Many of them can be found at your
local department store and book shop. You can also purchase some, plus
forms, on the Internet. Here are a few online stores to shop around at:
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Here is some help to get you started with your family history.
First, begin your Family History
Binder. Write down everything you know on a Pedigree Chart and Family
Group Sheets. Start with yourself and move backward. Then organize those
forms into your binder. (For more information about the binder and forms, see
Tools of the
After you start your family history binder,
you do deeper research. Begin talking to your relatives--your parents,
grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Find out what they know about your
ancestors. What were their parents' names, and their grandparents' names?
When and where were they born? Where did they live, and when did they live
there? When and where did they get married? When and where did they die?
Where are they buried? It is also nice to find out who they were--what
hobbies they had, what things they liked to do. Keep notes of what your
relatives tell you. NOTE: Make sure you find out as much as you can about the
children in each family. This will help you identify families later. Organize the
notes in your Family History Binder. This is when Pedigree Charts and Family
Group Sheets really start to come in handy.
Gather all available vital records on your
ancestors; namely birth certificates, marriage records and death certificates.
Those documents should give you further information about your ancestors’ birth
places and parents. It can also confirm the information you already have. If
data you were given does not match data on the certificates, further research
can confirm correct information. Organize the documents in your Family History
Binder. Or, by this time, you might want to start a file box. (For more information
about a file box, see Tools of the
Trade.) In the U.S., you can order such documents from the Office
of Vital Records of the appropriate county, or the Department of Health of the
appropriate state. Call a public library near you and ask them for the address
and/or telephone number. Outside the U.S., such records are kept in
the appropriate county or province records offices. Again, a public library is a
helpful place to start looking for address information.
When those steps are done, it's time to
search through federal census records. Say you have some information on your
grandfather--we will call him James Smith. You know he was born in 1927, in
Corson County, South Dakota. You know he had an older sister Beth, and a
younger brother Tom. However, you're not sure about who his parents were.
Now it's time to order a microfiche census. (How?--Find your local LDS Family
History Center. They will be happy to help you order and view the film. If there
is not one near you, contact a lending library. Perhaps they
have the census you need. Then check with your public library and see if they
will let you view the film there.) Using the example above, you would want to
order the 1930 census for Corson County, South Dakota. When you search the
census, look for Smith families who have children Beth, James and Tom. When
you find the children Beth, James and Tom, make sure the birth dates match. If
they match, you probably have the right family. (Sometimes, two families have
same names and dates, and live in the same area--But that is very rare. If you
want to be double sure, read through the whole census.) See who the parents of
the family are. Write down their names, birth dates, and places of birth. Many
census records show where the parents' parents were born, so note that
What if you order the census and cannot
find the family? Here are a few suggestions:
- Call your public library. Ask them to give you the phone number for the
Register of Deeds for Corson County, South Dakota (still using the previous
example). If you live in a small town, you may want to call a library in a larger
community for this information. (No offense to small towns, because I live in
one. However, I have found larger public libraries are more helpful in this
department.) When you have the phone number, call that Register of Deeds.
Ask them if they have a birth certificate for "James Smith, born in 1927". Some
offices will look up the information on the spot, and give it to you over the phone.
Others will request you send them a letter. If they have the birth
certificate, and will give you the information over the telephone, ask them
what the certificate states about the parents--What were the parents' names?
Does the certificate show the parents' ages and places of birth. Some
certificates will. Some certificates will be nicely typed and easy to read. Others
are handwritten, and are difficult to read. If they will not give you the information
over the phone, you can order a copy of the birth certificate. Even if they do give
you the information over the phone, you still might want to purchase a copy.
When you receive the certificate, file it carefully in your genealogy notes. If
they do not have the certificate, tell them you wanted it for genealogy.
Some offices have given me helpful information when I told them this. For
example, one lady told me that her county had once been part of an adjoining
county. Perhaps the birth certificate was in the other county. Perhaps that
county would have the certificate. She gave me the phone number for the other
county's Register of Deeds. I called them--sure enough, they had the certificate
I was searching for! It was a major breakthrough for me. NOTE: This technique
also works with Death Certificates. If you don't know when an ancestor was
born, but you know when and where they died, try finding their Death Certificate.
They often have birth information on them.
- You can order a Soundex. Simply put, a Soundex lists all the surnames in
a given state during a given census year. The easiest way to order one is to
have a local LDS Family History Center figure the catalog number for the
surname, and order it for you.
- You can try ordering census records for adjoining counties, and search
- If you know where the husband’s parents or wife’s parents lived, you can
try ordering census records, or a Soundex, for that county or state. Perhaps the
couple moved "back home" for a time.
The above information should be enough to get you started. Happy
Would you like to keep reading through the next section, Field Tips? Follow the link to go to that
next Genealogy Quest section.
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