Saturday, October 30, 2010

Start At The Beginning - Genealogy 101

It seems basic but I have had so many questions lately I'm posting it.

START AT THE BEGINNING. Write down what you know - your name, birth date and location, marriage date and location, etc. Add the same information for your children. Then do your parents and siblings. If you don’t know these details for your parents ask. If your parents are deceased ask your siblings, your parents’ siblings - anyone you can think of who might know. Ask them about your grandparents and any other ancestors they know about. If your parents don’t know perhaps their siblings do. Ask them. The answers will provide your initial research road map.

Collect your own documentation, birth certificate, marriage certificate, any other legal documentation including divorce papers. Gather your children’s birth certificates and their other documentation. If you don’t have this you may have to obtain copies from the County Clerk in which the birth, marriage or other event occurred. It's also at the state, at least modern records, but generally the County Clerk is less expensive. You need a copy of the official record [doesn't have to be certified]. Next do the same for your parents and your siblings. Do you know everyone’s maiden name, when and where they were born, married and if appropriate died and were buried? Were they in the military and if so when?

One of the top regrets genealogists have is “I didn’t ask my mother/grandmother/ uncle when I had the chance and now they are gone.”

You will be doing this progressively back for each generation. Remember, two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents and so on. And if you have step parents in any generation you probably want to include them. They and their children, even if unrelated to you, may be important later. 

You can see that there are a lot of people, a lot of information and a lot of documents. With all that information and documents you need to be organized. You need a two part plan, one for recording the information and one for saving the documentation. I'm sure you know by now my motto is Scan Everything.

The best thing to do with the information is to enter it into the genealogy program of your choice. Data entry can be time consuming but you need to enter every detail you know about every person and you need to cite the source for that piece of information. It will become obvious what you are missing when you enter the data into your genealogy program. Make a list of what is missing and make a plan for finding it.

Citing your sources is a critical step. If a person read your file in five years could they find your documentation? If the answer is not yes you haven’t done it correctly. This is the other top regret - “I didn’t cite my sources [or didn’t cite them fully] at the time and now I can’t find the information.”

Many people have elaborate filing systems for the documentation. I believe you should keep it simple. There are many options but you should chose one that works for you. If you are not a super detail oriented person you probably won’t carry through on an elaborate filing system. It is more important to file in an orderly manner so you can find it. 

To begin try eight files, one for each of your great grandparents using the maiden names for females. If you don’t know your great grandparents do it with your grandparents. You can expand later. In the beginning those eight folders are enough. Later you will probably want to have subfolders for such things as census records, vital records, military records, etc. as you gather more and more data. I scan all the information and keep the files on my computer, backed up of course. You can also easily share the scanned copies with relatives. Think of it as additional backup.

When you have completed your grandparents and you have filled out all the information you can find, with special attention to completing birth, marriage, death and children, then you can proceed backward, generation by generation. At that point you will have a better idea what you need to learn more about - census records, vital records, military  records, immigration and naturalization, land records, probate records, etc. There is internet research, courthouse research, library research, archives research, organization - there’s always something to learn that will enhance your genealogy.

And when you have your family under control - you are never really “done” with your ancestors - there is your spouse’s family, the families of your children’s spouses and on and on. Don’t worry. You’ll never run out of people.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

America's Top Ten Genealogical Repositories |

America's Top Ten Genealogical Repositories |

This blog post lists the top ten best archives and libraries for genealogy. If your library participates in Interlibrary Loan it's worth checking World Cat to see if they have your book. They assuredly do not loan every book but your librarian can determine if they will loan the one you want.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Genealogy Tip of the Day

I'm testing out Blog This! an extension for the Chrome browser. When I see something that I would like to share I can now do it with a click instead of making notes or attempting to remember it.

This is from Michael John Neill's Genealogy Tip of the Day. I'm a fan of Michael who also does Casefile Clues discussed here earlier.

Genealogy Tip of the Day: Have You Overlooked an Alternate Spelling?: "Have You Overlooked an Alternate Spelling?
Is it possible you've overlooked an alternate spelling of a last name? A relative's mother's name was listed in all documents as Morris. Her Social Security Application listed the last name as Morse. Just one that for some strange reason had not crossed my mind. It happens to all of us."

Everyone May Be Someone

Some people just want to find out about their direct ancestors. They think that will be enough. They ignore all the external people they find: siblings of in laws, neighbors, business associates, anyone who isn't their direct ancestor. They don't know how addictive this "little" genealogy hobby will become.

Don't fall into that trap. When you find a person who married into your line and you see something about his brother write it down. Often when a person married into a family other siblings and/or cousins also married into the same family. Or maybe they didn't but their children did. You may not know why now but someday you'll wish you had made the notes when you had the chance.

Originally I busily entered my ancestors into my database. This is a time consuming and, I admit, sometimes semi boring process. Naturally I avoided "unnecessary" people. I quickly learned that, sooner or later, I would need those unnecessary folks. Now I enter all sorts of people, even people who are totally unrelated to me [as far as I know today] but who were living in the area. I am no longer surprised when I eventually find a connection.

About 13 years ago I "met" Neal Downing. Back in the 1850s and 60s three children of Samuel Downing married three children of Robert Downing. These lines were previously unrelated, from different parts of the country, but ended up a mile apart in Logan County. I am a descendant of one of those marriages. Neal descends from another. His ancestors left Logan County and moved west - long gone but once they were closely related.

Last winter Neal commented he didn't know as much about his wife's family. In an amazing coincidence her ancestors had also lived in Logan County but moved west. They met in California. He sent me the line they knew, no names I recognized as they were from a different part of the county - until I got to her ancestor Charity Bowman. I did a double take.

I am related to both Neal and his wife. Charity was a sister of Hannah Bowman, my 4th great grandmother. Their mother Mary Senteney Bowman is my 5th great grandmother and Jackie's 4th great grandmother. Hannah, Charity and their mother are all buried in Steenbergen.

Take the time to write down those names and whatever else you run across. You just never know.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Genealogy Volunteer Opportunity

All those records in Granite Mountain near Salt Lake City are being digitalized and will eventually be available online free.

As you can imagine, there are millions of records which the LDS Church has collected over the years. They have the digitalizing down to a science and anticipate it will be completed in 10 years. That's the worldwide collection.

The indexing, which is necessary before you can search these records, is done by volunteers, checked and double checked, will take longer. There's just one problem. At the current rate the volunteers are working it will take 300 YEARS.

You don't have to be a member of the LDS Church to volunteer to index. You don't have to go to a Family History Center. You can do it from the comfort of your home. You need a computer and internet access. You don't have to have a fast internet access. You can chose to work offline but you will need the connection to download the software, download the projects and upload them when you are done.

There is a time limit for each project but if you can commit an hour over the week after you download a project you are fine. Some projects take less than than that but that's the time they suggest. And once the project is indexed and goes through the checking process it goes online.

To volunteer go to Sign up and download the software. I strongly suggest you view the training even if you find it simple. The main reason is there are a few instructions in there on the rules for handling specific situations such as when you can't read the handwriting [and obviously you will encounter this issue]. At the end you'll find you can actually download the training file and the "handout" for future reference.

If you need help there are FAQS and resources and a forum. The forums are a separate signup although you can use the same name as your indexing user name if you wish.

If you are reading this I assume you read English but if you read other languages remember this is a worldwide project and records come in all languages.

If every genealogist and historian volunteered for one project - one hour - a week it would have an impact on the timeline for completion. What are you waiting for?

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Quilt

When the weather starts to turn, too cool for just a sheet, not cool enough for a blanket, I drag out my old quilt. As I did so this year I thought it was looking pretty tired. It is fraying, has some holes through one layer, has some spots and is yellowing. But it is still in one piece and still does its job. My friend Betty, who is a quilter, sent me something to soak it in that took out a lot of the spots and the yellow. Smells strange but it did a nice job.

Get a new one? Not a chance. I have been dragging that quilt around all my adult life. I slept under it long ago in college. I wrapped up in it in my chilly apartment in Chicago. I still sleep under it at various times even though it is too small for the bed.

The quilt is a double wedding ring, obviously made for a double bed. I remember my grandmother pulling it from a pile of old and unused quilts in the back of the closet. She said she made it when she married. Back then they still had quilting bees as entertainment in the winter. She had one that was made of scraps, literally, a hodgepodge of fabrics and shapes. Many scraps had someone's name embroidered on them. It was interesting but some of the scraps were wool and my skin doesn't like wool. So I ended up with this quilt.

My grandmother married on January 19, 1910, over 100 years ago. I should look as good as the quilt when I am that age.