Skip to main content

View Diary: Genealogy and Family History Community -- Help Me (69 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  First, start with yourself.... (9+ / 0-)

    I've been doing genealogy research for fifty years now.  I don't know everything, but basics one can learn fairly quickly.

    Get a computer-based genealogy program.  A few are free online.  You will need a way of organizing this data.

    How-to books on the subject of genealogy do say "Start with yourself."  The second thing they say is "Get documents for everything."

    What does your birth certificate say?

    What are the names and ages of your parents listed (your mother's maiden name is supposed to be listed, not her married name)?  What are their occupations?  Some states have birth dates and locations of birth for the parents on their child's birth certificate.  It really all depends on the state and the era.  The older the info, the more likely it's only found in old ledger books instead of filed as separate pieces of paper for each person.

    Then get US census data.  The 1940 US census was just released on 2 April this year.  Not all of those records are indexed yet..., but, if you have a specific location in mind, you can scroll through the records and find the people you're looking for and if you are old enough, your parents and grandparents and their siblings will be in those census pages, and - so far - there are two or three web sites that have free downloads of the 1940 US census images.

    1930 US census and earlier:  Many are indexed on the LDS web site (quality of transcriptions for the indexes often leaves much to be desired - and in some cases, some were not indexed, and in others, the transcribers were clearly not thinking when they couldn't read plain handwriting).  Home page for the LDS site:
    Click on United States.  A long index will pop up.  Where there are camera icons images are available - some are free on the LDS site (unbelievably, I've actually found documents for a free download in a few cases).  Some are able to be scrolled through, and where one is lucky, there is an index.  Otherwise..., it's slogging through one image at a time until one finds the image with the information you're looking for.

    1900 US census is indexed and the images are available for a free download on the LDs site.  Re-name each document as you download it.  Start with year, two-letter state code, county, township/town, then surname of the person listed on that page.  That way all your census images will index themselves numerically and alphabetically in your files.  Start a census file in your computer and put ONLY census info in it.  It will soon be very large.

    1910, 1920, 1930 are indexed..., but you're redirected to a fee-based web site.  For those, just find the info on the person you're looking for..., and go to another web site where ALL US census images are free (but not indexed!):
    Internet Archive.
    Lots of good things on this web site, including scanned books whose copyrights have long since run out, so if you have early ancestors and need a genealogy book about them, the chances of you finding it on Internet AND on Google Books are equally good.  Either way, as long as the copyright is expired, both are free downloads.  You can also view videos that have been released for free viewing, like The Power of Nightmares, for instance.

    As far as census data on the Internet Archive web site, there's a master index, then you have to find the state, then the county and townships.
    There is a US Census every ten years from 1790 forward.  Not a lot of info is found until ca 1850 or so.  1900 forward is a positive goldmine of info.  Caveat:  The accuracy of the records is only as good as the accuracy of the answers of the person who gave the census enumerator the info.  The first thing you'll find is that census enumerators were hired because they knew how to write.  Spelling ability... optional.  You cannot imagine how many alternate ways of spelling common names there are until you start to go through US census data.

    1890 US census:  only the Veteran's Schedules still exist (veterans of the Civil War).  The rest of the 1890 census burned in a fire, but the Veteran's Schedules were kept in a different location so they survived intact.  [Commence crying.  Every serious genealogy researcher weeps for lack of the 1890 census at some point.]

    If you're lucky, you lived in one of the states that did a state census in years ending in 5, and that includes 1885 & 1895.  It almost makes up for the lack of the 1890 census.  Many of those state censuses are indexed and the images are available for a free download on the LDS site.

    Courthouse records, like police records, are "public records."  That means all records there you may look at (except for modern sealed juvenile records - but if the records are old, it might be possible to petition a court to see them).  There are birth, marriage, divorce, and death records - courthouses are where modern "reporters" from rags like Star 'magazine' and the like get the information when petitions are filed and how they know about all the things that end up on gossip shows.  Court cases of all kinds (criminal and civil).  Probate records.  Deeds & plat maps.

    Since courthouses hold "public records," you - as a member of the public - are entitled to see all the records whether they pertain to you or not.  Fees for copies vary.  I always ask for copies of original documents.  They certify them and sell them to me for the higher price of certified documents.  I don't care as long as it's a copy of the original record, not a fill-in-the-blanks certification.  (I had a certified copy of the death info for one of my gr-grandmothers for years.  Missing: cause of death.  A friend went to the courthouse for the county where she died, looked in the old ledger books pre-1900, snapped digital photos with her camera: cause of death was measles.  There was no blank to fill in for cause of death on the certified copy form, so I went for many years not knowing why she died at the young age of 42.)  Yes, you'll soon figure out there's no "long form" and "short form" records.  There's only the ones listed in ledgers (usually pre-1900), and the ones where there's only one record per sheet of paper (after 1900).  Specifics will vary from county to county, but that's the generality for what kind of records to find for births, marriages, divorces, and deaths of ancestors and their siblings.  Yes, research the siblings, too.  Do your research by family unit.  If you lose someone you may be able to find them by researching the life of a sibling.

    Oddly enough, images of some of those courthouse records for a very few counties in a very few states are on the LSD site, and are available for a free download.  I know.  I couldn't believe it either, but I found a few documents for a side lineage I'm researching, downloaded the images, so that saved me a huge amount of money (and headaches in tracking down the said documents since I didn't know where they were in the first place).

    The fee-based web sites are sometimes good, sometimes NOT.  Like everything else, they can be a tool to further your research.  Just don't take everything you find on those web sites as gospel truth.  Even the documents can be wrong.  There really is free information out there that is accurate and useful, even if it's only an index put online by some lovely volunteer who contributed the info to a genealogy web site (Rootsweb, for instance).  It can be a real lifesaver just finding names and dates in an indexed file somewhere.

    Genealogy research in the US is not a cheap hobby, but whatever you do, do NOT use online pedigree information in your documentation thinking someone else has done the research already.  They most likely have not.  Many have only copied someone else's data..., and that means the original data may not be correct or what documents say or the info they publish may be a typo and most assuredly not correct.  You can use someone else's info to potentially point you in the right direction (if they got their facts straight off of documents); just do not use their data.  Get your own documents.  [If you enter the wrong info in your genealogy program, you'll have to delete stuff or correct it, and it's a hassle.  I no longer add info to my database unless I know I have correct data.  I hate, hate, hate having to do corrections!]

    Modern courthouses (in large cities) are a bitch to deal with thanks to the laws that have come about as a result of paranoid Congress Critters did with the Patriot Acts and afterwards.  They went WAY overboard.  (Fact: more 'identity theft' is accomplished by thieves absconding with tossed ads than by anything they can find online on a web site or in old records.  Shred all those credit card solicitations, your bank statements, etc., before putting in the garbage.)  Courthouses in small communities are much easier to deal with.  The people who work at the courthouse where I was born and raised knew me before modern laws.  They know I've been doing genealogy research on my family and people who married into my family all these years..., they don't even bother to ask me to fill out those stupid privacy forms.  I love those particular people for having an abundance of common sense!

    Do not use numbers for dates.  Use day, date, and year, and spell out ALL information in full.  In the US the dates are usually (but not always) listed as month, day, and year.  In Europe the dates are listed as day, month, and year, and they use numbers that way.  You'll soon discover that when the church records list 25/10 '49 and you try to figure out the correct date.  It's 25 October 1849.  Yes, suddenly you have to make sure you have the correct century in the years listed.

    Do not use abbreviations of any kind for any reason (except when transcribing data; then you have to put exactly what someone else wrote; add notes and spell out the abbreviations at the end of the transcription).  If someone runs across your paperwork in two hundred years and the documents you acquired don't come with your basic genealogy info, and they want to duplicate your research, the meaning behind abbreviations may have changed..., or someone in a foreign country will mistake the meaning of an abbreviation.  Spell out everything.  List locations from smallest to largest: (town, if applicable), township, county, state.  [Census data lists Town of___.  That is township.  There's a separate blank for the name of a village, town, city.]

    For women, use the name on their birth certificate and do NOT add her married name.  If you don't know her birth surname, leave the surname space blank.  Nicknames can be listed in the Miscellaneous Information about them.  I hate doing research in the US for the simple reason I lose too many women to married names.  In the Scandinavian countries where I've done so much research for the last few years (Norway and Denmark have their records online for free, thanks to the taxpayers in those countries; Sweden let corporations copy the church records, so they are not free), the patronymic naming system was used until the early 20th century.  Some people in large cities used inheritable surnames before then, even in the countryside by 1900-1910 sometimes, but by how the records are listed, one always knows what the patronymic name will be and women kept their own names their entire lives because of that, so I never lose them to name changes.  Iceland and the Faroe Islands still use the patronymic naming system to this day.  [Yes, a patronymic name and a surname are two entirely different things.  Unless you have Scandinavian ancestors, you probably don't have to worry about it.]

    The above info will get you basic data in the US.

    If you're still lost, KosMail me, list the full names, dates and location of birth of the people you need to find if they are old enough to be listed in the 1930 census or earlier, and I'll see what I can do.  No guarantees if I'll find info, but the worst I can say is 'I don't know.'

    Good Luck.

    I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

    by NonnyO on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 11:09:00 AM PDT

    •  Wow Nonny (6+ / 0-)

      What a complete guide!

      “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

      by markdd on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 01:35:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I could not agree (5+ / 0-)

        more markdd with your Wow. The mere path I read to find my past is in itself intimidating. I am just so glad for all the advise and help I am "at the very moment" getting from a very special Kossack. I know that I just embarked on this complicated task and confusing to boot, I feel confident that good things will find me.

        Old men tell same old stories

        by Ole Texan on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 02:11:40 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  excellent (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NonnyO, klompendanser, Jim H, edwardssl

      Could be a diary.

      I want to point out that Ancestry has a genealogy program, i.e. family trees that they provide to users, whether or not you pay for the subscription. Useful to help you fill stuff out. I tried their 2 wk trial recently and one of the cool things about the program was the tips. They lead you to all kinds of records, even pictures, if available, of your ancestors and if you click to accept the tip, it's automatically added to your tree- names, dates, sources, etc. Be sure to check that it matches your ancestor. They don't always match. The tips are for paid subscribers, though.

      Also, to those new their free trial is opt-out, meaning they ask for your credit card or checking information when you sign up for the free trial, and before the end of the two week period, you have to call them to cancel if you don't want to subscribe, otherwise they charge you for a subscription automatically.

      It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.

      by raina on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 05:50:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ancestry stuff... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        raina, klompendanser, Jim H, edwardssl

        ... comes with neon-flashing caveats.

        I'm listed as an "editor" for three or four other people whom I offered to help with some of their documentation on Ancestry.

        One of the people is a novice and she keeps adding stuff that hasn't been verified..., much as what happened with so many LDS pedigrees.

        Many years ago when I got my first computer and was first online, I went under the assumption that others got documents..., so what could go wrong if I copied some of their work.  OMG!  I had to backtrack and delete stuff..., and start from scratch.  I no longer put info in my database without a backup document (or, in the case of my New England ancestors, a specific quote from a genealogy book or historical tome that mentions my ancestors, including the ones that debunk the first incorrect info).

        This is why I say one can look at others' work, but without documents, don't include it in your own family tree.  If you hate deleting and correcting info as badly as I do, don't copy anyone else's work.

        I didn't do everything wrong those first weeks of getting my first computer at home.  By sheer dumb luck, I did a Google search for one of my ancestral names (three men in succession, all have the same name with no junior or senior or number tags).  I figured I'd find something.  I hit pay dirt with the middle one.  The family historian who published the genealogy in 1938 noted he was proscribed and banished and mentioned Sabine's Loyalists (first edition; not mentioned in successive editions, I found out).  This fellow in Canada had published the Massachusetts Banishment Act of 1778 online (my middle fellow and the youngest son were on that list; I descend from the eldest son of the same name as the first and middle fellow)..., AND the same fellow had published a book of will abstracts from New Brunswick, and my middle fellow's will was mentioned.  I wrote to the NB archives, got a copy of the will dated 14 May 1798 and copies of the massive number of pages of two deeds wherein my ancestor is mentioned, along with a whole long list of names that reads like a Who's Who of early Massachusetts descendants of the first settlers.

        Then I found Norwegian and Danish transcribed records.  Then each country put microfilm images of their records online going back to the 1600s..., all for free, thanks to the taxpayers in those countries.  I now work from nothing but copies of original documents from those two countries.  To say that I'm spoiled because I work from copies of original documents and transcribed documents done by people who know how to read their own language is a treat the likes of which one can't believe unless it happens to them.

        The LDS site now has free copies of some records from some states..., much to my astonished amazement.  For two counties of those states I've been able to download copies of original documents for ancestors of my sis-in-law.

        Images of Canada's census is also online for free.  I think their government sponsors that one, but I've done some work in their records, too.

        When all else fails, get a throw-away email (yahoo, hotmail, gmail - whatever, as long as it's not your primary email address; you will get spammed) subscribe to a Rootsweb email list for a specific country, state, surname (NOT the message boards - the email lists).  I belong to several, and now that I have some experience with research and have quite a network of other researchers to work with, I can sometimes turn around and help others instead of asking for help for a change.

        It's great fun!

        I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

        by NonnyO on Mon Jun 18, 2012 at 06:21:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site