GETTING STARTED ON YOUR RESEARCH
|There are many lineage organizations
available which are tied to a particular moment in history, a certain war, a series of
related events or a group of people. These organizations promote learning about
individuals and events surrounding these moments in time. The UDC focuses on the War
Between the States, 1861-1865. Membership encourages you to learn as much about your
family and this historical period as you can. For some people, this becomes a
lifelong hobby known as genealogy. As you discover the names and places in your
family tree, you will also learn much about history in general.
Membership in UDC invites you to investigate your Southern family tree in such a way that you identify a lineal (grandfather/mother, great-grand etc) or collateral (uncle/aunt, great uncle etc) ancestor who served honorably in the Army, Navy or Civil Service of the CSA, or gave Material Aid to the Cause. The challenge in genealogy is proving that the names, dates and places are correct. Many beginner-genealogists learn very quickly that simply copying another's family tree (or pedigree) is fraught with errors. Even information passed down by sweet Aunt Tillie, doesn't always hold up over time. Your job, with help from UDC chapter members such as the registrar, is to construct your family tree with a methodical gathering of documents which act as "proofs" for the information you present.
If you have a husband, son or brother who is also interested in family history, there are similar organizations they can join. Sons of Confederate Veterans may have a Camp (similar to chapter) near you. Teaching your children history can not only be a learning experience but also great fun through Children of the Confederacy. In your research you may be surprised to find you have a relative who served on the Union side and wish to join the Sons of Union Veterans. Members of all these lineage organizations may also be active in a local chapter of the Civil War Roundtable where historical events are presented and discussed from all perspectives. (The link above is to the San Diego CWR)
What proofs are used in genealogy? Any official document such as a birth, death or marriage certificate is acceptable. Also U.S. census records, family Bibles (if information was entered at the time and not added by a later generation), school, military, court or church records, newspaper notices, cemetery records/photos, letters, and documented books etc.
What kinds of proofs are usually NOT acceptable to genealogists? Undocumented records or books, pre-printed commercial family trees (beware of the salesman selling you your Coat of Arms etc.), recent family Bibles where official documents are readily available instead, and illegible photocopies. Remember, just because someone writes a "Family History" and has it bound as a nice, hardcover book, doesn't necessarily make any of it true or accurate. Good genealogists or county history compilers will document statements throughout their books. For instance, your Aunt's family book may state: James T. Smith married Ann Jones, 2 February 1888, Elk Co, Miss. (Mar. Bk 7, pg. 45). Her book is not your proof. The real proof is her reference to the Elk Co., Miss. Marriage Record Book 7, page 45 - write the Elk County Courthouse and purchase a photocopy of the record for yourself.
PROOF of MILITARY SERVICE
The National Archives has very good records for military service. If you already know (or think you know) who your military ancestor is, write off for the Compiled Military Service File. (Create a username and click "reproductions.") At the present, the fee is 25.00 and takes about 60 days. By writing off for this first, you can spend the waiting time gathering all of the other documents/proofs and arranging the material in its proper order. It also gives you time to write off for other documents as needed such as death certificates or copies of wills.
The National Archives allows you to order online (credit card) or order the free form NATF 86 which you can mail in at your convenience. You can choose to send the fee with the form (they will refund if they can't locate a file) or wait until they send you the names they find on the file. You can then decide whether to purchase or not. This would be prudent if you have sketchy information on your ancestor such as only his name. There may be 6 different James T. Smiths who served from various states and units. More research on his whereabouts on the 1860 census might narrow down his likely military unit and help you make a better choice when ordering.
If you don't know who your Confederate ancestor is, you can do some online military research on the Soldier-Sailor Site using either "name of soldier" or "browse by regiment"
Each state may have compiled military lists of their own. Use Google or another search engine to find what is listed for your ancestor's home state. Here is a sample of search sites from Georgia. They are clickable links:
Once you think you have identified the name and military unit correctly, order the complete file. Pension records for your ancestor as well his widow are also good records. Remember that he may have served in a Georgia Regiment but later moved to Texas. Texas could be where he applied for the pension citing his Georgia service.
Another site, FOOTNOTE.COM, has begun posting very good digital photos in jpg form of all Confederate Compiled Military Service Records. This is an ongoing project and only several states are complete. There are monthly or yearly fees to access these on your home computer or you can use the computers are various libraries for free. The LDS Family History Libraries usually have this service as they do ANCESTRY.COM.
There are a few simple rules when writing information down. This helps other genealogists decipher what you actually meant to say, and also prevents mistakes.
When writing dates, separate the numbers by writing out the month in words or abbreviation: 10 Mar 1862 or 10 March 1862. Don't use 3-10-62 or 3-10-1862. In some parts of the world this means Oct 3 rather than Mar 10. Write the year in full as 1862 so there is no question what '62 means. If it's a birth year estimate off a census record for instance, use circa1807 or c1807. (c means about) When listing a name, date or place which you cannot document, but you know the answer, put it in parenthesis: John (M.) Jones, b. (12 Dec.) 1934, (Los Angeles), California. A genealogist will assume the supporting documents say John Jones, b. 1934 in California and that you are providing the rest without a paper trail. Perhaps it's your father and you simply know it to be true.
Learn how to Soundex names. You'd be surprised at how many researchers can't find an ancestor because they only spell the name one way. The name Matthews might be Mathews, Matthews or Mathis etc. Grandma may have spelled it with 2 Ts but that doesn't mean the census taker spelled it right or that Gr-Great Grandpa didn't speak with a funny accent and census taker wrote what he heard. Soundex your family names and write the code off to the side by the name.
A great site for getting photographs of your ancestor's headstones is FindAGrave. Headstone photos with birth and death info can be used as a proofing document. You can join (free) and create sites for any ancestors if you know their cemetery location. You can also upload any pictures you have. After creating the virtual site, if you don't have a headstone photo, there is a clickable bar where you can ask a volunteer to go to the actual cemetery and take the photograph. The volunteer will then upload it and you will get an email notification.
Be sure and check to see if your ancestor's virtual site has already been created by another relative or volunteer. Sometimes, if the cemetery is small enough, a volunteer will go out and photograph the entire cemetery and upload each individual's information. If the virtual site is "owned" (meaning: created by) a non-relative, email and ask: are you a relative? (You may find some distant cousins!) If they are not a relative, most often they will gladly transfer the ownership of the site to you. As the owner, you can then add family information and other data to the biography section. If you own a digital camera, why not become a FindAGrave volunteer in your area?
If there are other areas or research techniques which you think would be helpful, please send any ideas to the webmaster. Also, your UDC chapter registrar is always a source of information and assistance.
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4 July 2011