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The following is a handout from the Peninsula Genealogical Society’s  2008 Workshop:

“Where In The World Is My Family From?”

We hope each of you will be able to gain some new knowledge about how to find your family’s places or origin and how to go about getting more family history information.

The Search Strategies are the same whether you are a new or seasoned family history researcher:


Step 1.: Identify what you know about your family: Find all the information you and your family members know about your ancestors. Check your attics and interview family members gathering documents, photographs, and any information regarding your relatives. Then organize the information you have found on pedigree charts and family group records or use a computer genealogy program if possible. Most important in the facts you will gather are the DATES AND PLACES where people were born, married and died and are termed Vital Records.

The WHERE and WHENS of people’s lives are key points to researching records.

Included in your handouts tonight are the Forms: Pedigree Chart and Family Group Records. You may make photocopies of these as you gather your family history. It is important to list ONLY the maiden name of women (under their surname) and not their married name as you fill in your forms.

Pedigree Charts are the “backbone” of your family history and consists of your direct line ancestors: you, your parents, your grandparents, your great grandparents etc. You should begin as “Number 1" on your Pedigree Chart and your Spouse should be “Number 1" on his/her Pedigree Chart.

Family Group Records are the “body” of your family history and consist of a Husband, Wife and Children. Each person in your family history should be on two family group records. One as a child and the other as a Spouse. As you can imagine, you will need many of these forms as you fill out your family history. They can be sent to relatives as well so that they may fill in the information for you.

Forms are wonderful in that the blank spaces will tell you what information you need to find. Information on all your family should be gathered because you may find that the information that you need for your direct line ancestor will be found when you receive information on his/her brother or sister for instance. You will find that you will get to know cousins that you did not know existed. Cousins that you do or don’t know may have the key information that you need to find the place of origin in the “old country”! They may have been doing family history research as well!

Step 2: Decide What You Want To Learn:

Select a person in your family history you want to learn about. This evening we are discussing how to find a family’s place of origin so choose an immigrant ancestor. Choose one for whom you have minimum identification. It helps to know where the immigrant lived in the country of arrival and any names used there (such as a woman’s married names)

PRIMARY GOAL: The Primary Goal is to find the immigrant’s place of origin. With the place of origin you can begin using records from the hometown to extend the immigrant’s ancestry or pursue other research goals. If you do not have enough information to find the place of origin, choose one of the secondary goals below. Many times death certificates will list the place of birth of a person or their newspaper Obituary at their place of death will list that all important place of birth. Sometimes it is only a country but there is always the chance they might have the town. That is why it is important to check siblings obituaries/death certificates because theirs might have that all important LOCATION!

SECONDARY GOALS: Other information about an immigrant is often helpful when searching for a place of origin. Even records that say nothing about the place of origin may give clues leading to other records that name the hometown. One clue can lead to another until you find a record showing the town of origin. Important are Church Records, Vital Records, Cemetery Records, Obituaries, Probate Records, Land Records, and Naturalization Records.

*Date of Immigration: An immigration date leads to passenger lists and other records. With the immigration date you can also figure out when the immigrant first appears in other records in the new country or when he/she applied for citizenship. The year a person immigrated to the U.S. is given on certain U.S. Censuses as well as the country they and their parents were born. Using that year, you can zero in on Passenger Lists and Naturalization and Citizenship Papers as well. The first papers filled out to become a naturalized citizen of the U.S. is called the Declaration of Intent and will have the most information included regarding the individual such as place of birth-again, LOCATION!

*Place of Arrival: Immigrants often stayed in the port of arrival for months or years before moving on. In such cases you can search Naturalization, church, and vital records for that location.

*Ship’s Lists: Passenger Lists at Ports of Entry are a great resource to finding the country of origin of an individual but most often do not have the town of origin listed. There always is that chance that it might however. Finding the ship your ancestor came over on is a wonderful way of realizing what it was like for him/her to go from a country they were familiar with to a whole new world for the rest of their lives. Those journeys were not easy for them and because they endured hardships you are here today to tell their story!


Immigrants endured many hardships as they made their way to the United States.

IMMIGRANT: person in country of arrival. - EMIGRANT: person leaving country of origin.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: Once you have found the location of the place of origin (not just the country but the town is needed!), then you are ready to research in the “Old Country”.


Get as much information as you can in the country of arrival records before proceeding!

*Survey Of Previous Research: The first place to search in country-of-origin records is those records containing research already done by others. In many cases, other researchers have already found where the emigrant came from. A distant, unknown relative may have the information, or indexes may contain the emigrant’s birth record.

Previous Research includes: indexes and databases of compiled records, such as the International Genealogical Index (IGI), Ancestral File, and Pedigree Resource Files found at FamilySearch ( This information can be viewed at home on your computer, at the nearest public library (Door County Library here in Sturgeon Bay has many computers free to use) or at the Family History Center (FHC), a branch of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City,of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) nearest you: Green Bay Family History Center is nearest to us and is located at:

Green Bay Family History Center

651 Pinehurst Ave.

Green Bay, WI

Phone: (920)406-8050

Hours: Tues: 6-9 pm; Wed.: 9-2 pm, 6-9 pm

Millions of individuals have been extracted from original records for you to search at FamilySearch. Many more are available on the Internet!

Census records and Vital records have been indexed and are available as well for you to search on the Internet and many more are being made available in original format on-line.

The world of genealogy is dramatically changing as far as having original records being made available to us in our own homes. The information we have gathered here for this workshop for instance is for this time. A year from now many more indexes and websites will be available for us to use in our research. Because of that, those of us who have researched 10 years ago for example in a country of origin or in the U.S. as well, will find that they will now be able to gather new information that was not available then or they will be able to obtain a record that was not available a decade ago. Our researching strategies remain the same though: Choose someone to find new information for. Decide what new information you would like to find. Then check out indexes. Finally, go to the original record source and MAKE COPIES!!

There are many websites available for you to research online. Here is a list of only a very few good places to begin:




-Ancestral File-Pedigree Resource Files-IGI (International Genealogical Index) for BMD,

 -FHLC (Family History Library Catalog) for microfilms available for interloan at FHC’s (Family History Centers)-also helpful in locating the complete address of locations,

 -1880 Census Index and actual images for FREE,

-Research helps (guides, word lists, histories, etc. free to download or print)


Free at-FHC’s (full)-libraries (partial)

-Censuses: Indexed with actual images-1841-1901,

-many vital records (BMD, Directories, Military Record Indexes, etc.

Search for free but to view any records you must subscribe. Available Free at Family History Centers. Public Libraries (such as the Door Co. Pub. Lib.) it is available in a special library edition which does not include everything available but is a wonderful resource.



Rootsweb:- Great “How to begin Family History Research” tutorials -Many how-to’s and websites for localities and for individual family histories: search by surname’s and/or localities.


Free search

$$-view document -some libraries subscribe

Many documents are being digitized and being made available here. The NARA (National Archives) for instance has partnered with them and many documents from the 1700's through WWII are available there..

Cyndi’s List


Cyndi’s List: Genealogy LINKS-Lots of great links for all countries including the U.S. - * this site is at least 1 year behind current web activities so newer sites might not yet be listed.

Heritage Quest

Free at home \using your Door County Library card no.

Census Indexes and Census actual images available.

Using your Door County Public Library Card you can access this website at home on your own computer or at the Door County Library itself on their many computers.

*This list of web addresses is NOT in any particular order and is NOT all inclusive but will give you a good start with your Family History Research!

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The Peninsula Genealogical Society (PGS)

We hope that we have given you some helpful information that will get you going on your Family History Research! That is the mission of the PGS. Our members are Family History Researchers like you who are engaged in helping others to do their Family Histories too!

Our PGS has a website that has information regarding Door County for those researching Family History locally where we have created indexes and projects to help others find their ancestors. Please come and visit it! It is located at: .

If you have any questions regarding your Family History Research you may contact us at our e-mail address: .

Your are welcome to join our PGS and have fun helping others and grow in knowledge about Family History Research! More is available on our website regarding our activities or better yet, ask us tonight!

Most of the PGS Members have learned that when you help Family History Research where you are, someone else is working where you are researching through their local Genealogical (Family History) Society! It’s that “Pay It Forward” thing! That is how all the research helps and improvements occur all over the world. We are a very enthusiastic and friendly bunch of folks who love our families and love to help others find theirs!

Good luck with your Family History Research! We wish you success finding and getting to know your ancestors!

Return to the PGS HOMEPAGE