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Genealogy Research
~ Finding Your Ancestors ~
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. Family Tree Maker Image
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 tree.
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 Start working your way back by interviewing you family members, ask about a family bible, historical documents that might be stored in an old shoe box in the closet or attic and begin collecting information.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 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 helpful.
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 For
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.
  1. You can discover the general date of his birth; About 1838.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 from obituaries.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:
    1. 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 go.
    2. Knowing what his profession is can also help you locate information and records. Was the person a mason who might be listed in a Masonry Association
1870 United States Federal Census
Name: Benjamine Carey
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1838
Age in 1870: 32
Birthplace: Tennessee
Home in 1870: District 14, Washington, Tennessee
Race: White
Gender: Male
Value of real estate: View Image
Post Office: Jonesboro
Household Members:
Name Age
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 tree.
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, 1887
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 days.
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 for instance.
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 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. 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 slave records.
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, Jr.
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.
It's A Small World
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