This page contains information
helpful to the beginner genealogists, to get you started in the
right direction. Any of your own experiences you would like to
share in reference to this, please do so. We can all help each
Joe L. Miller
Getting Started |
Gathering Your Information |
Interviewing Relatives | Libraries |
Birth, Death, Marriages |
Cemetery Searches |
Probate Records | Deeds |
Census Records |
Other Sources ]
Before you begin your research you
need to know how you are going to organize your work. You can
do this in many ways. A computer program for genealogy is the
best; there are several to choose from. I use Personal
Ancestral File from the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I also use
colored three-ring notebooks with document protectors to file my
work. Each main line being a different color with floppy disks
to match. You can use any file system, but please don't use a
To start with, gather information
on yourself. It is easier to trace you back than to find a
possible ancestor and trace down to you. This will be done by
going through your own family records: birth, death, marriage,
obituaries, baptismal, military, letters and other important records
you have on hand, then recording. For this you will need to
use Family Group Sheets and Pedigree charts. The genealogy
program will do this for you. Then we go to other family
members for the information that they have. If at all
possible, get copies of what others have, including any pictures.
Be sure to reference your documents so you know where you found
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When visiting relatives, it is
important to ask the right questions to find the information you
need. They do not know what you are looking for and may not
volunteer information. Many times they will tell stories of
the "olden days" which can provide valuable clues, especially if you
plan to publish your work. By all means let them talk, and if
they will allow it, bring along a tape recorder. If they do
not know or remember all the vital statistics (dates and locations)
some prompting from you with the right questions could spark their
If they do not know birth and
death dates and places, ask where they are buried. I have
found they usually know this because they remember their parents
visiting the grave on Memorial Day, and you can then get the dates
from the cemetery markers. If they do not know marriage dates,
ask where they were married and look it up in the county courthouse.
Ask for other births, including stillbirths. Many times the
child was named and buried. If they do not know a death date,
ask where they were living, even if the death occurred in a hospital
in a different town, you can look up the obituary.
There are many genealogy libraries
across the country. One famous one is the Mormon (LDS) library
in Salt Lake City, UT. You can try your local phone book to
see if there is a branch near you. Presently they are on the
internet and you can
search for records. Mid-Continent in Independence, MO, is a
very good one and my personal favorite. It has census records
for all states and county histories for many. It too is on the
internet. At your
local library ask for the genealogy and local history section.
It may be a few books, an entire room or an entire floor in the
facility. Ask if they have obituaries or newspapers on
microfilm. Some have a card catalog or information on
computer. If it is a large facility, ask for a tour.
Always ask for help because in most cases it will not be offered and
you will not know what is there unless you ask.
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Death & Marriages
Many county courthouses will allow
you to look up records yourself. Be sure to get copies of
everything. In many states some Birth and Death records are
available at the State Department of Vital Records and not from the
county. Many states charge a search fee ($10 in MO) to do a
search. Remember it is the search you are paying for.
The more information you put on the application increases your
success. In Missouri they began in 1910. Some prior to
that time are available at the county courthouse.
This is a big one. You can
save time by looking at your local library to see if they have any
cemetery books others have written. But, I highly encourage
visiting the cemetery to see for yourself. If it is a small
family plot record all the markers. You can put your cemetery
records in a database file which will alphabetize them for future
Can't read that old worn out piece
of rock? A few tricks I have learned will help you with this.
First, clean the marker off. If it is a standing upright, try
dropping some talcum powder lightly over the face, being careful not
to get it into the engraving, and the lettering will magically
appear. If it is on private property, I always like to let the
tenant know what I am doing there; many will help you find the
cemetery. I have found some that even take care of the
cemetery. In Missouri it is illegal to deny access to a
cemetery that is on private property. I like to take pictures
of stones. If you don't have time to record a large cemetery,
you might take a camcorder and record the stones and document them
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A valuable source is the local
newspaper. This includes obituaries. The
Historical Society is the place to go if you have a lot of
research to do in Missouri. They have the largest collection
of the newspapers in the country. When looking up obituaries,
look for the next publication following the date of death. If
nothing is found, look through the next several publications.
If you do not find it, try another paper that was nearest the town
where they lived. If still no success, look before the death
date as the date you have may be incorrect; I found a notice for a
grandmother being "sick and may not live long", but no death notice
or obituary. In many papers, obituaries were in the obituary
section, but not always. It may be found in the local
happenings area of the paper. So, it is best to check the
entire paper. You may find information under Sheriff's Sale,
especially if they had no living kin. If you do, you know a
probate was filed.
Probate records include Wills,
Real Estate Sales, Guardianships, and much more. These records
are a must see and are located at the county courthouse. You
are not guaranteed to find one, but worth a try.
Deed records for the transfer of
land is also a valuable resource. Where your ancestor lived
may indicate where they are buried, if they died on the family farm,
or in the home of a relative. Many times children are named in
these. Once again, these are at the courthouse. Grantee
is the buyer and Grantor is the seller.
These records are available at
libraries through inter-library loan, or you can purchase your own.
Remember, not all information may be correct. Children living
in the household may be "farm help", or cousins, nephews, etc. and
not all immediate family may be listed, since they may be hired out
as "farm help" or "domestic servant." Be sure to reference the
date, location, page number and line number.
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Social Security Death Index.
This is a valuable source especially if you do not know what state
the person died in and the death occurred recently. This
source you can check yourself right here on the internet. With
that information, you can order the SS-5 from the Department of
Social Services. The SS-5 cost $7. This is the
application for a Social Security card. This should have the
birth date, location, and parents names.
Civil War Pension records may have a death certificate. At the
least, spouse and children and maybe even marriage information
should be included. For these you have to write to the
National Archives, Washington D.C. and cost $10.
Church, Parish, School,
Civic Groups, Funeral Home Records. All can be
valuable resources if they are available. Letters can also be
a valuable piece of history. I file mine alphabetically in a
cardboard chest of drawers by name and date. The internet can
be a valuable source. I have some links you can try, but try
the search engines for your family name.
can also put up your own homepage and let others contact you.
It will be easier for others to find you than trying to find them.
You can get a free one,
email me and I'll tell you more about it.