- Compared to some, I'm a novice when it comes to Genealogy
Research. Thankfully I have some great teachers in my oldest
sister and my Mother In Law. I thought I'd share some of the
things I'm learning along the way, and document the information
they share with me to help others get started on their own search.
- Starting Your Family Tree
- The first thing to do is find a software package that will
help you record and build your family tree. You can do this on
paper of course, but a PC package will give you much more flexibility
in making changes, reporting and adding documentation to your
- One of the most popular packages is Family Tree Maker.
- Which ever you decide to use, start with yourself and your
immediate family. Document who you know personally and their
information. Start working your way back by interviewing you
family members, ask about a family bible, historical documents
that might be stored in an old shoe box in the closet or attic
and begin collecting information. If you don't have a scanner
to scan documents or pictures, take them to your local copy store
(such as Kinkos, or Office Depot), they will scan them for a
small fee.Armed with your immediate family information, you can
begin your search in earnest
- Researching Your Family
- There are many online genealogy websites to help you in your
search. Each one of course has their own fees and membership
costs. It's ok if you can't afford this, many records can be
found online for free. A member subscription through a genealogy
service provides easier access and greater search capabilities.
The one I recommend is Ancestry.com.
Their membership can be set up for a modest monthly fee, instead
of a larger annual fee required by some sites. Additionally,
they don't nit-pick you death with fees for vital records.
- You can use Google for searching the internet as well. You'll
be surprised what you can find online from other people who might
be researching the same family line as you are.
- The biggest thing to remember and do, is to document what
you find. By that I mean you need to keep a record of where you
found information about your ancestor. If you found a name, or
a list of children on a 1900 US Census, then include that in
your notes. If you can, copy the record and paste it to your
notes file. Most family tree software packages allow you to do
this. This documentation is your proof of ancestry, which might
be needed later on when you want to prove your lineage to a famous
person in history.
- Even if you don't want to do that, keeping this information
will help you years later when you're trying to find gaps in
associations. You might come across information that is contradictory
and wonder where you got that first bit of information from.
Knowing it was an 1870 Census vs. an 1880 Census can be very
- Now you're not going to find everything you need online.
Not all historical records have been converted to digital format.
Though new records get added all the time. So you're going to
have to become familiar with your local, state and federal libraries.
Each one will have a genealogy section. Some larger than others,
but most will have a microfiche section for genealogy research.
Librarians are very helpful in helping beginners, so don't be
afraid to ask.
- Additionally, you might need to take a few trips to other
locations to review records not available in your area. If you
family lived in North Carolina and you're stuck, you might want
to take a trip to the area in NC they lived and see what vital
records you can find from that area.
- What Kind Of Records To Look
- US and State Census Records
- The easiest records to search are US and State Census Records.
But you can't find everything you need through a Census. But
it's a good start. You can find the name of a spouse, children
and sometimes estimated birth dates.
- My sister clued me in on some important information about
the early census records. They may not be wholly accurate, so
use them as a guide. For instance, the person giving the information
may not have been the head of the household, but rather one of
the older children who doesn't fully know all the information
being asked. Even neighbors were used to gather information when
the residences could not be found at home. The information they
may provide could be totally off the mark and in accurate. So
finding supporting records is important.
- Additionally, the farther back you go, the more dialects
may have played in the taking of information. Southern accents
might be hard for a Census taker who was from the north. The
dialects from foreign countries may also impact the information
record, if the taker isn't familiar with that countries language.
- For instance, some one might say they "firty-eight"
meaning 38; but a take might hear 48 and record the wrong number
on the census. This could give you an indication that the person
was born in 1730, when they were actually born in 1740. This
doesn't seem to happen very often; but it does happen so be aware.
- Here's an example of a Census and the information you can
learn from it.
- To the right is an example of an 1870 Census record for Benjamine
Carey. There is a lot you can learn from this.
- You can discover the general date of his birth; About 1838.
- You can learn where he was born; Tennessee. This is very
helpful when conducting future searches for records as it helps
limit the broad range of available records.
- You can learn where he and the family lived in 1870. This
can help you narrow searches to a specific region for land records,
recorded wills, even local newspapers that might have information
- You can learn who lived in the house, which may include children.
In this case we can see that Ben lives with a woman named Sarah
who you can assume is his wife. The younger members of the household
are probably their children. And based on their age listed in
the census, you can learn the general year they were born. Henry
B is 10 in 1870, so he was born about 1860. Cordelia is 1 years
old, so you can make an assumption that she was born in 1869
and probably in Tennessee.
- When you see a link that says "View Image" it's
wise to take a look at the original document and see what else
you can learn. On this record you'll find:
- Information about Ben's father and mother. Knowing they were
born here in the US is a big help the farther back in time you
- Knowing what his profession is can also help you locate information
and records. Was the person a mason who might be listed in a
- 1870 United States Federal Census
Name: Benjamine Carey
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1838
Age in 1870: 32
Home in 1870: District 14, Washington, Tennessee
Value of real estate: View Image
Post Office: Jonesboro
- Benjamine Carey
- Sarah C Carey
- William Carey
- Henry B Carey
- Joseph Carey
- Daniel P Carey
- Worley E Carey
- Cordelia C Carey
- Data From Original Image:
- Occupation: Farmer
- Father Of Foriegn Birth: No
- Mother Of Foriegn Birth: No
- Can Read: Yes
- Can Write: Yes
- Marriage Records
- Marriage records not only document the date of a marriage,
but they will list the wife's maiden name, giving you a link
to her family. Some marriage records also list the name of her
father, or both parents, giving you another link in your family
- Tombstone & Obituary Records
- Death records are the next biggest source of information.
In the above Census Record, we get the ideal that Henry was born
in 1860. But not the month or day. In his death record we can
find the exact date of not only his death, but his birth as well.
Henry's death notice for instance gave us more information than
just what happened to him:
- Death Notice:
- JONESBORO HERALD-TRIBUNE - Vol. XVIII. #31 Thurs., Nov. 17,
- Joseph E Carey / Henry B Carey
- Death has visited the home of Benjamin Carey and wife
and revisited it. Son, Henry B. Carey, member of the M. E. Church
at Jonesboro, was born Feb. 5, 1860 and died Aug. 30, 1887, aged
27 years, 6 months, and 24 days. Joseph E. Carey was born Nov.
5, 1861 and died Nov. 2, 1887, aged 25 years, 11 mo. & 25
- Birth Records
- Birth records can confirm the date of a birth if you only
know the general year. And some will give you information about
the mother, such as her maiden name, and where she was born.
They also provide the proof of lineage.
- Last Will & Testaments
- Wills are also a great source of information. Some might
clear up a lineage link. What you thought was a son to someone,
might turn out to be a brother. A will might say "to my
brother Henry", instead of "to my son Henry" as
an example. You can also learn about additional connections through
the witnesses who signed the will. They might be a son-in-law,
or brother-in-law of the person who the will was written for.
- Land Records
- Land records also provide information, so don't over look
those. You might find a land grant for a son from his father
- Newspapers & Periodicals
- Newspapers are a great source of information when you can
find them. You might discover a feud between two individuals,
and within the story there might a list of relatives.
- Occupations & Trades
- Knowing someone's occupation can also help you search records.
Occupations can be used to distinguish between two individuals
of the same name, indicate social status, or provide information
about a region or location of ancestry. Certain skilled occupations
or trades may have been passed down from father to son, providing
indirect evidence of a family relationship. It's even possible
that your surname derives from the occupation of a distant ancestor.
- For instance, a Shoe Maker might have contracts for apprenticeships
that list vital information about the apprentice You might learn
the name of a father or mother. You might discover them registered
in an association or guild such as The London shoemaker's guild
known as the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers who helped finance
Captain John Smith's 1607 expedition to Virginia.
- When you run across an unfamiliar term for an occupation
you can find help from About.com in their Glossary of Old Occupations & Trades.
Keep in mind, that some terms may be associated with more than
one occupation, depending upon the country. Oh, and in case you
are wondering, an aurifaber is an old term for goldsmith.
- Military Records
- Military records are not only a good source of information,
but they can be fascinating bits of history about your family.
Some records list the names of parents, birth dates, if the person
was married and had children or not. Keep in mind there's a difference
between a Registration Card and a Military Service Record. A
Registration Card is just a card stating the person registered
with the state or government for service if needed. It may also
indicate any medical or physical ailment about the person that
will excuse them from military service.
- Religion & Church Records
- If you locate information about someone's chosen religion,
or church try to search records specific to those associations.
Our Duggar line was significantly connected to the formation
of the Methodist Church, through a land grant from one of our
Duggars. The land was used to establish the first Methodist Church
here in the colonies.
- The religion your ancestor followed can also be very helpful.
There are collections of records dedicated to certain religions
and organizations, such as the Masons. Ancestry.com has a huge
category of records dedicated to Hebrew and Jewish ancestry.
- Specialty Records
- Property records can also be a great source of information.
Not only do they include property of land, ships or other trade
type associations; they also include slave records. This negative
side of history can be hard to trace and track relatives through,
but like religion records, some online genealogy sites have specialty
databases available for searching specific categories; such as
- Locating People In An Area
- Sometimes you'll hit a wall and can't find records for an
individual that matches exactly what you're looking for. Don't
give up. If you find a record that says someone lived in Greene
Co. Tennessee, then look for records that might not match exactly
to your information for the same name in the same county. It's
more likely that you're looking at the same person, and less
likely that two people from 1720 lived in the same place and
had the same name.
- Surnames & Spellings
- Keep in mind that surnames change over time. Carey today
can be Cary, Carry, or even Kerry in the past. So don't be timid
in expanding your search by altering spellings. Additionally
original records from the past were written, not typed. Trying
to read someone's handwriting from 100 or 200 years ago might
be a little tough today. You might find a name that's listed
online as Tuller, when in actuality it's Tulles. If you have
a chance to look at an original record, do so. You might see
something in the handwriting that the person converting it to
digital didn't see.
- The Use Of Sr. & Jr.
- The people in the past did not use "Jr." and "Sr."
the same way we do today. In fact, they didn't refer to "cousin"
the same way we do now either. That makes it hard to understand
what they are saying through names, wills and even bible records.
- They used Jr. and Sr. to refer to the youngest and oldest
people of the same name in the family. But the family wasn't
the immediate family as in Father and Son. But rather the extended
family which could include grand parents, uncles, cousins and
so on. So John, Sr. was the oldest John and John, Jr. was the
younger John whether he was a son of the older John or not. We
have this in our family between Joseph Cary and Benjamine Carey,
- The Puritans & Hankypanky
- I think one big misconception I ran into was the assumption
that people in the past were some what puritanical in nature.
That was a wrong assumption. People are people regardless of
time. In your research you will find people who slept around,
had children out of wedlock, fought duels and committed crimes.
Some of this can help you find information, some of it can make
it harder to locate documented proof about lineage. But keep
digging and you'll find what you're looking for.