Your Own Research
HOW TO DO GENEALOGY RESEARCH.
This is one of the most
common questions from anyone new to genealogy that is planning family
research. The step-by-step guide is shown below.
1. Begin with yourself and work backwards
2. Pedigree Chart - Your direct line of ancestors.
- Fill in with as much information as possible,
including places (counties, townships, etc.).
- A number of forms are available from vendors.
- Pedigree forms use the Ahnentafel numbering system
wherein the base person is always number one (1), the father is double
the child's number, and the mother is double the child's number plus
- Males are always an even number.
- Females are always an odd number. Always
use birth/maiden name for females.
3. Family Group Sheet - one marriage.
- All known information about one father, one mother,
and all their children.
- List children in birth order if known.
- Forms available in a variety of designs from vendors.
- Record source of information.
4. Dates - use a consistent date format (mm/dd/yyyy)
5. Research Log.
- Record your research to avoid duplication and to make
the best use of time.
- Document each source of information (titles, pages,
publication dates, etc)
6. Computer Data Bases
- There are a number of commercial computer programs
available or you can create a document from scratch.
- Any "out of the box" application should have a GEDCOM
utility which allows you to import and export your data to another
7. Start your search.
- Gather family records and enter information on Family
Group Sheets and Pedigree Charts along with source of the data.
- Search for family records such as Bibles, newspaper
clippings, old letters, scrap books, diaries, baby books, wedding
books, photo albums, birth, death, and marriage certificates.
- Contact other family members locating and interview
oldest living relatives.
- Try to locate others who are researching your family
or a common ancestor; possibly someone has done some research on your
- Join genealogical group in the area where your family
1. Sources of information:
- Original Material - based on first hand knowledge.
- Derivative Material - everything else.
- Some records, a death certificate for
example, may contain both types.
2. Always evaluate the information that you find;
just because it is in print does not make it correct.
- What sources were used?
- What dates and places?
- Are there inconsistencies or contradictions in the
- Does data appear reasonable in conjunction with time
period and source materials used?
- Who provided the information?
3. When you talk to relatives, check the information
against other sources. Often you will be given some valuable clues but
those family stories can be garbled truth.
4. A good genealogist is a good detective!
CORRESPONDENCE - Paper Mail or E-Mail
- Be short, simple, direct and sincere.
- Limit request to 2 to 3 direct questions; don't
ask for all the person's information.
- When sending paper mail, always include a business
size, self addressed,
stamped envelope (S.A.S.E.).
- Write a friendly letter, express thanks for any
- Ask about anyone else who might have some
- Offer to share information.
- Keep a copy of your letters, and the address to which
the mail was sent..
- Sample Letter:
I am the granddaughter of
your sister Mary and am
trying to locate information about our family. My mother, Susan Smith
suggested that I contact you. Do you know when and where your parents,
John and Mary Green were born, married, and died?
I would appreciate any help that you can give me. If you know of
someone else who might be of help in this search, I would appreciate
having their name and address. I would be happy to share any
information that I find with you.
1. Surname - Check Catalog for publications on the
2. County - Search under the name of the county.
- County Histories - can provide clues about your
family but the person paid to be in these "mug" books and the
biographies were complimentary.
- Look for sketches on related families.
- Review other printed information such as Cemetery,
Census Indexes, Marriage, Probate, Land and other published records
that are available.
3. Most libraries now have computer catalogs rather
than a card catalog, it is usually best to use a "keyword" search.
Start with as broad a search as possible. If the list is too long then
start to modify it to produce a smaller list.
- Surname - Modify by using family such as brown
- Location - Modify by using and state. Spell out both
county and state name (Washington county and Wisconsin) or name of
town/city and state.
4. In New England search under the name of the town.
1. Important to know why the record was created and
where it is presently located.
2. Today - State Registration of Birth, Death, and
Marriage; with Social Security numbers and computerized information.
- State Registration started in the early 1900's in
- Death Certificates give correct death date and place
but other information may be wrong, look at who provided the
- Most states will provide Vital Records by mail for a
3. Prior - Most records on a person were kept in the
county of residence.
- Find out what county your ancestor resided in. Look
in an Atlas.
- Research history of county, see Ancestry's Red Book.
- Note - If your ancestor was an early resident of an
area you may find that he/she could be a resident of several different
counties or even states without ever having moved because of boundary
- Review what records are available; records may be
lost due to fire, flood, etc.
- Determine when your ancestor resided in this
4. Check to see if the records have been published.
5. Some are available on microfilm through the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) Family History Library
6. Information and indexes may be available through
- Usually indexed and often published.
- Will provide date of marriage and names of bride and
- May give information such as names of parents, place
of residence, witnesses.
- Sometimes difficult to locate. If not found in county
of residence, search surrounding counties and places where relatives
2. Probate Records
- All records which relate to the disposition of an
estate after the owner's death including Wills, Letters of
Administration, Petitions, Inventories, Appraisals.
- Usually indexed, sometimes abstracts are published.
- Wills indicate how property is to be distributed, may
name children and provide other information about the family such as
married names of daughters and family relationships.
- Probate Packet is a file of papers which may include
death date, appraisal of property, sale of property, location of heirs,
distribution of the estate and other clues about occupation and
- There may be Court Records pertaining to the
- Note witnesses, executor for possible relationships.
3. Land Records
- Usually indexed by the names of both the buyer
(Grantee) and the seller (Grantor); occasionally found in printed form;
original records for many counties to 1900 available from LDS Family
- Deed is a legal document that transfers title in real
property from one person to another.
- Important source because land was inexpensive and
readily available; may provide clues when no other record exists for
relationships, locations, name of wife, married names of daughters, and
- Dower Rights - In some states, widow had the use of a
portion of the lands that husband owned, usually 1/3 for her support
during her lifetime.
- Land descriptions:
- (a) New England
- laid out in towns with adjoining
- (b) Other colonial states plus TN, KY, TX and HI
metes and bounds.
- (c) Rest of States use Rectangular Land survey
divided into section, townships and ranges. Use a plat map to locate
- (d) Ohio has all of these.
4. Divorce records may provide interesting
information, in some states early divorces granted by state
5. Other - Court Minute Books, Tax Records, School
Census, other loose papers and documents; usually these records are not
indexed, may be hard to locate and time consuming to search.
6. Birth and Death Records may occasionally be found
but varies from state to state, check references. Sometimes delayed
birth certificates may be found.
7. Most counties will provide limited amounts of
information through correspondence. Do not expect them to do much
searching. Limit your request to a few items.
U.S. CENSUS RECORDS
1. Important record because provides personal
information at ten year intervals.
2. May give helpful clues about families.
3. Organized by State, County, Township and/or City.
4. US Government waits 72 years to open Census for
5. From 1790 through 1940 are now available for personal
research. Some were destroyed when British burned Washington DC during
the War of 1812 and the 1890 Census was 99% lost due to another fire.
INFORMATION CONTAINED ON CENSUS RECORDS
1790 - Name of head of family,
number of free white males 16
and up, free white males under 16, free white females; all other free
persons, number of slaves.
1800 - Name of head of family, number
of free white males
and females under 10, 10 and under 16, 16 and under 26,
under 45, 45 and over, number of slaves.
- Same as 1800.
1820 - Same as 1800, also male and female
slaves and free
colored persons under 14, 14 and under 26, 26 and under 45, 45 and up.
Foreigners not naturalized.
1830 - Name of head of family, number of free
and females in 5 year age groups to 20, 10 year age groups from 20 to
100 and 100 years and older, number of slaves and free colored in 6 age
- Same as 1830, also number of pensioners for
Revolutionary or Military Service
- First to list all persons in the household, sex,
color for each person, value of real estate, occupation for all males
over 15, place of birth, if married within year; if attended school, if
able to read and write for all over 20.
1860 - Same as 1850 and value of Personal
1870 - Same as 1860 also if parents foreign born, if able to
read and write for all over 10.
1880 - Name, relationship to head of family, sex, race, age,
marital status, married within year, occupation, number of months
unemployed, if sick what illness, attended school, able to read and
write, place of birth of person and parents. Soundex (Index) only for
households with children 10 and under.
1890 - Over 99% destroyed by fire in 1921.
1900 - Name, race, sex, month and
year of birth, age at last birthday, marital status, number of children
born to wife of that marriage and number living, place of birth of
person and parents, citizenship if foreign born, year of emigration,
occupation, can read, write or speak English; home or farm, owned or
1910 - Same as 1900 except does
not include month
of birth, adds Military Service.
1920 - Same as 1910, plus year of
Same as 1920.
Same as 1930, plus residence in 1935.
Look for printed indexes; however they usually index only head of
household and others in household by another surname.
Soundex system of indexing used for 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920 Census.
NOTE: 1880 Soundex only indexes households with children under 10.
3. The Soundex Algorithm:
- Soundex codes always start with the first letter of
the surname and are always followed by three numbers. The numbers
represents the first three remaining consonants in the surname. If
there are not enough letters in the surname, zeros will be added until
there are 3 digits. If the surname is very long, the numbers will be
truncated to three. No matter how long or how short the surname, a
soundex code always will have one letter followed by three digits.
- Soundex Coding Guide (Consonants that sound alike
have the same code)
- (1) - B,P,F,V
- (2) - C,S,G,J,K,Q,X,Z
- (3) - D,T
- (4) - L
- (5) - M,N
- (6) - R
- The letters A,E,I,O,U,Y,H, and W are not used.
- Names with adjacent letters having the same
equivalent number are coded as one letter with a single number.
- Surname prefixes such as La, De and Van are generally
not used in the soundex, although the prefixes Mc, Mac and O generally
Soundex indexes were not done for many states for 1910 Census, none for
Wisconsin and other low population states.
City directories around the time of the Census may help to locate your
Some states conducted state census, check reference books for
Census takers were often political appointments.
Problems with spelling of names due to misunderstanding between the
person giving the information and person taking the information. Names
People not always at home, don't know who gave the information, could
be a child or neighbor.
Sometimes use nicknames or middle names for people in the household.
If the same information appears in several census years, probably good
information. Compare to other data that you have about your family.
Unfortunately, some people were missed by the census takers.
Can be an important source of genealogical information.
Articles and notices found in newspapers usually are published about
the time of the event, making them a vital source. However, errors may
occur so the information must be compared with other sources for
The following may be found in newspapers:
which may give parents or ancestry of deceased, religious affiliation,
close relatives, some accomplishments, movements and activities.
notices may give information about the event, names of parents and
close relatives, residence, life events, religious affiliations.
announcement may provide information about time and place of birth,
parents, other relatives.
reunions and social events may give accounts of family gatherings,
relatives visiting or trips to visit relatives or for business, other
items such as graduation, appointments, accomplishments, movements of
people in a community. May be important in preparing family history or
biography and in tracing relationships.
may identify their professions or businesses.
notices of land sales, tax rolls, probate of wills, settlement of
estates, divorce proceedings and reports of civil and criminal cases
may give information about the family.
How to find Newspapers:
on the map to locate the closest towns to the place of residence. Try
to identify the place that they may shop and/or the county seat.
there are no newspapers published in a town or county of interest, try
to identify a news center for the area even if it is in another state.
overlook the foreign language papers for more recent immigrants.
for religious newspapers if you know the religious affiliation because
they might provide information about your ancestor.
the publication; Newspapers on Microfilm or write state historical
society for information on availability.
newspapers are available through inter library loan.
How to search Newspapers:
newspapers usually are be daily and contain more international,
national, and state news. Do not contain as much personal news.
from smaller communities may contain a wealth of information especially
if the person is politically or socially active, an early settler, or a
business owner. Tend to be published weekly with one page devoted to
provide information about the historical period.
City and Telephone Directories can help identify residence of ancestor,
locate the person on the census, estimate death dates, identify other
relatives at the same residence, may give occupation or profession.
County and regional directories can provide information about
residence, property owned, and other adult relatives in the area.
Professional directories may provide information.
College directories may give years of attendance, area of studies,
other activities, and biographical data.
Religious directories; if your ancestor served as clergy with an
established church, may be a source of biographical information.
Vary in content and emphasis based on theology and social role of the
or established church - considered every person in state a member and
in Europe the pastor was an official record keeper for the state for
events such as birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial. In this
country, these churches continued to record these events and can
provide important genealogical information. Examples of this type of
church are the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopal Church.
- Free or "gathered" Church - considered
only those who have been "born again" in Christ are the true members of
their church. The sign of this event was baptism and thus in these
churches baptism of infants is not practiced and baptism is not an
indication of age. Examples of this type of church are Baptists, German
Brethren, and Mennonites.
Identify religious background of your ancestor based on family
tradition, obituary, county histories, town histories and cemetery
Many church groups maintain archives. (Survey of American Church
Records by Kirkham or The Source by Ancestry.)
Military records may not provide the solution to every pedigree problem
but can provide valuable clues.
- Pre Revolutionary records are generally historical in
nature and seldom
contain specific individual genealogical information.
- Records created since the Revolution contain more
information such as
birth, marriage, death, parents, pension, bounty land.
Revolutionary War Records.
records relating to service began in 1776.
states provided benefits beginning in 1776, mainly to officers
acts in 1818, 1823, and 1832 liberalized pension requirements, allowing
the enlisted man, his widow, and his orphans cert benefits.
Lands were granted to veterans of US. service or state militia from
1776 to 1885.
relating to a soldier, his widow, or children are on file in the
National Archives and are available for a fee. Are on microfilm; should
request all information in the file including unselected material.
information has been published so check printed materials first.
- Patriot Index - DAR - use as clues,
early applications not well documented or closed and must be reproved
for DAR membership.
The Old Wars
applications for claims of service between the end of the Revolution
(11 Apr. 1783) and the beginning of the Civil War (4 March 1861).
- Files located in National Archives.
War of 1812, Indian Wars, Mexican War
of 1812 - Service from 1812 to 1815.
Wars - Service from 1817 to 1898.
War - Service from 1846 to 1848.
available through National Archives, similar to Revolutionary War.
- Microfilm indexes available through LDS
and pension files relating to Union are in the National Archives and
Records are located in the National Archives while others are retained
by the states.
- Records that may be found are; Service,
Certificate of disability, when dropped (death) marriage, birth of
children, and medical records.
Form for ordering records - NATF Form 80, write to National Service
Records, National Archives, Washington DC. 20408. 7.
Modern Wars - World War I to present
I draft records located at Federal Records Center, 221 St. Joseph Ave,
East Point Georgia.
records at National Personnel Records Center, GSA, Military Personnel
Records, 9700 Page Blvd., St Louis, MO 63132. Records not open to
public but genealogical data will be provided to close relatives upon
application with sufficient information to locate the records such as
name, service number, branch of service. Many of these records were
destroyed by a fire.
Can provide valuable information, but dates can be wrong.
- Birth, death dates.
about family relationships.
- Other information.
Locating the cemetery.
by individuals or organizations.
and/or death certificates.
- Religious affiliation.
Availability of records will vary and are often difficult to locate.
records or sexton's records.
deeds and plats.
- Local funeral home.
Walk the cemetery or family plot, record stones and/or take photos.
Look at surrounding stones and record them, may be relatives. Sketch
layout of stones.
Hard to read stones.
a rubbing of the stone.
- Take photo in indirect light.
Not all graves will be marked with a stone.
Some families buried on small plots on the land, these may be in very
bad condition or destroyed by current owners.
Just because your surname is spelled a certain way now, does not mean
that it is the original spelling or the only way that the name was
always spelled in every record.
Always check for alternative spellings for your surname.
that have similar sounds - C/K, G/J, T/D.
letters, single sound same - l/ll, t/tt, e/ee.
letters such as K in Knight.
- Additional letter or letters added for
local dialect such as r in Hallebone (Hallerbone).
altered because of different languages.
from one language to another, Smith for Schmidt.
or abbreviations - Jim for James.
names interchanged - John Edward Long instead of Edward John Long.
- Bill for William, Polly for Mary, Ann for Nancy.
- Incorrect name
given because of lapse of
memory or different informant.
Definition - Relatives not in your direct line.
Can provide information on your family and help solve research
A family is made up of relationships not just names.
Women tend to retain the strongest kinship ties and tend to be the
"keepers" of the family stories and possessions. They are more
difficult to locate because their surname will change when they marry.
Kinship ties are not broken by mobility; families did keep in touch
with each other and did visit each other.
Legal records for family members who leave no descendants may help in
determining family relationships.
Be alert for clues about relationships, know kinship terms for period
Our ancestors did more traveling than we often realize.
Once they arrived here, more likely to move again.
For most of our history, there was always cheaper land further west and
thus more opportunity.
In the early days, the migration routes followed waterways; rivers and
streams were very important; later overland route and railroads were
the means of travel.
People usually traveled in groups with relatives and neighbors. If they
did not come with the original group, they might migrate to a place
where relatives and former neighbors have settled.
were in the "traveling company" with your ancestor?
people with similar migration patterns.
- Look for information about background of
neighbors who may be from the old residence and may be related in some
way to your family.
Often marriage partners were people who came from the old residence.
Marriages between first cousins and other closely related people may be
- Sacrament Certificate - Colonial period.
of Allegiance - Colonial and early U.S.
of Intention (First Papers) - 1802 on.
(Second or Final Papers).
- Certificate of Naturalization.
Often filed Declaration of Intention but may never have filed Final
Early documents provide little genealogical data, more information
required later such as place and date of birth, emigration date, port
of entry, and arrival date.
Prior to 1906, naturalization could take place in any county, city or
After September of 1906, contact Bureau of Immigration and
Naturalization, 425 I St NW, Washington DC 20530. Form available at any
Prior to 1928, wife and children automatically became citizens with
YOUR IMMIGRANT ANCESTOR
Must know the location of the small village or region in order to find
Find out as much as possible about the immigrant using U.S. sources.
Investigate the origins of close family friends and neighbors since
people tended to settle near those they knew from the prior location.
See who witnessed probates and deeds,
administrators, live nearby, join same church or purchase land at the
List names of passengers who arrived at ports on East Coast, West
Coast, Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico, consists of passenger lists,
transcripts, abstracts, baggage lists, and manifests.
Information available from Passenger Lists depends upon time period of
usually provide little personal information; no central location for
lists; locate by searching indexes.
captains of ships required by Congress to prepare lists of passengers
contain name of ship, name of master, port left, date and port of
arrival; name, age, sex, occupation and nationality of each passenger.
Available through the National Archives and in the Microform Room of
- 1893-1954 useful personal information
was requested from each passenger; available through National Archives
and some on Microfilm in Library.
Check all available indexes first; unless you know port, and
Can be a long and tedious search unless you have some specific
information such as port, date and/or ship.
If you locate your ancestor, make a copy of the entire list, may be
relatives and friends who came from the same location and settled in
the same area.
Immigration through Canada and Great Lakes - prior to 1895 no records
kept by US. Government. From 1895 to 1954 records available through
Archives - Use GSA Form
7111, Order and Billing for Copies of Passenger Lists, order from
Correspondence Branch, National Archives, Washington DC 20408.
What you need to know:
- Place of origin, the small village or area.
- Name of immigrant (original surname).
- Time of immigration - clues about from where and why
the person came.
- Religious preference - what church records to search.
- Other information about family, names of other family
Find out what was happening in the area that your ancestor came from
for clues about his/her background.
Find a good publication on resources available in the area and how to
Check the resources available through the LDS Family History Libraries.
Look for microfilmed records for your area of interest.
Microfilmed records can be ordered from the library in Salt Lake City.
Correspondence - Write in simple English if you do not know the
language. Always include 2 International Postal Coupons available from
the Post Office.
When you start, you may have little information and it may seem easier
not to organize. However, as you continue to collect data, it will
become impossible to deal with unless you keep it organized and filed.
There is no "right" or "wrong" way to organize; you may want to use
notebooks, files, or hanging files.
Organize around surnames or family groups based on the amount of
information that you have collected.
Limit size of each file to a manageable amount of information.
Keep updating family group sheets and pedigree charts so you know what
information to look for.
Document where your information came from:
enough information that another researcher can locate it.
- Guide - Evidence! Citation &
Analysis for the Family Historian by Elizabeth Shown Mills.
TO DO WHEN YOU HIT A BRICK WALL
a simple narrative of the information that you have.
Chart with dates, ages, and sources.
Look for new solutions - keep asking why.
name out loud with accent of ancestors.
- Don't think of your ancestor in
isolation, identify other people who came at same time and were friends
Broaden your research
up a generation, research other children.
some history of the time and area.
at patterns of migration.
Census - 10 up and 10 down rule - expand research to neighbors of your
family for possible relationships.
Share problems and research with others.
Hire a professional researcher.
Let problem sit for a while and then go back to it.