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YOUR MISSION, IF YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT: To collect and assemble the pieces of your family’s history. This assignment is not for the faint of heart. You will travel through time, sift through a maze of documents and microfilm, journey to remote corners of the earth, question informants, manuver through blockades, and juggle numerous names, dates and places to solve this mystery. Are you ready?...
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Having the right tools makes a job easier. Here’s a list of items handy to have in the trenches:
Chart -- This form
is used to record information about a person, their parents, grandparents and
great-grandparents, etc. It is like a four or five generation family tree on one
sheet of paper. It gives an "at a glance" look at your ancestry. When your first
Pedigree Chart is filled, you begin more charts: Each great-grandparent
becomes the "first person" on a new chart. If you have a genealogy computer
program, it should print blank copies of this form for you.
Family Group Record -- This form is used to record information about a husband and wife and their children. It is more detailed than the Pedigree Chart. If you have a genealogy computer program, it should print blank copies of this form for you.
Folders with Pockets, for a 3 - Ring Binder -- Folders come in handy for temporarily storing documents, photographs and notes. You can label each folder with a surname, then keep all notes on that surname in it's folder. If you visit "Aunt Margaret" to ask her about family history, and she gives you an old photograph, where’s a safe place to put it until you get home? -- A folder pocket. This happened to me during a genealogy trip, and home was two weeks away. Did I want to trust a family heirloom in our suitcase, stuffed with other "junk" in the trunk of the car? No way!
3-Ring Binder -- This is to keep all your genealogy forms, folders and notes in. When doing genealogy research by telephone, or while traveling, nothing beats having an organized, up-to-date family history binder. Invest in a sturdy binder at least 1-1/2 inches thick Pockets are a plus. If you have a computer program which stores your family history, keep the forms in your binder up-to-date anyway. A binder is easier to take on the road than a desktop computer....And if your computer crashes or somehow erases your data, you will still have your information in the binder.
Index Dividers for 3-Ring Binder -- This is to organize your forms in your binder. The basic method is to separate the Family Group Records from the Pedigree Charts. You might find more ways to further organize your binder, depending upon your experience and style. My binder is divided into: Family Group Sheets, Pedigree Charts, and Research (my folder section).
Notebook -- A notebook is useful for, well, keeping writing notes in. Notebook paper is also useful for making pencil rubbings of a headstone if it is difficult to read. You can also buy special forms for your notes. However, I find it just as easy, and more economical, to use a regular notebook. If I want to organize the notes, I just rip the paper out and put it in a folder (mentioned above) for that surmane. If the notes are a biography, when I get home I can type them neatly on the computer and print them out. Nevertheless, if note forms will help you more, then go ahead and buy them.
Pencils and pen -- Yes, we must have something to write all those notes with!
Photo box or album -- Sooner or later you will probably want something to organize those old family photos in. An acid-free, archival quality box or book is best.
Books and Maps (optional) -- You might buy a few genealogy books and maps, depending upon what countries your ancestors came from, and what areas you need help with. Many genealogists collect a small library of resources to help them.
File Box (optional) -- A durable plastic file box is useful for neatly storing all your family history materials in one easy to find location. If you’re a rookie, you might not need one for a while. If you’re a seasoned veteran, you may have a file cabinet full!
Camera (optional) -- I highly recommend using a camera when doing genealogy work in cemeteries. Photograph the headstones. This provides evidence of what you saw and recorded. I had a distant cousin ask if I knew where an ancestor was buried, and what their death data was. I replied, "Yes, I’ve been to the grave." They proceeded to ask me for details of name and dates, but seemed unsure of my information. When I told them I had a photograph of the headstone, it was evidence that my research was correct. She seemed satisfied and the case was closed. Plus, it is also nice to have a picture of the ancestral farm, home, etc. when possible.
Genealogy Software for Your Computer (optional) -- If you have a computer (which you probably do if you’re reading this), a good family history program makes organizing all that data easier. Shop around and note the features you want in genealogy software before buying.
Now, where can you find all those tools? Many of them can be found at your local department store and book shop. You can also purchase some, plus forms, on the Internet. Here are a few online stores to shop around at:
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Here is some help to get you started with your family history.
First, begin your Family History
Binder. Write down everything you know on a Pedigree Chart and Family
Group Sheets. Start with yourself and move backward. Then organize those
forms into your binder. (For more information about the binder and forms, see
Tools of the
After you start your family history binder, you do deeper research. Begin talking to your relatives--your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Find out what they know about your ancestors. What were their parents' names, and their grandparents' names? When and where were they born? Where did they live, and when did they live there? When and where did they get married? When and where did they die? Where are they buried? It is also nice to find out who they were--what hobbies they had, what things they liked to do. Keep notes of what your relatives tell you. NOTE: Make sure you find out as much as you can about the children in each family. This will help you identify families later. Organize the notes in your Family History Binder. This is when Pedigree Charts and Family Group Sheets really start to come in handy.
Gather all available vital records on your ancestors; namely birth certificates, marriage records and death certificates. Those documents should give you further information about your ancestors’ birth places and parents. It can also confirm the information you already have. If data you were given does not match data on the certificates, further research can confirm correct information. Organize the documents in your Family History Binder. Or, by this time, you might want to start a file box. (For more information about a file box, see Tools of the Trade.) In the U.S., you can order such documents from the Office of Vital Records of the appropriate county, or the Department of Health of the appropriate state. Call a public library near you and ask them for the address and/or telephone number. Outside the U.S., such records are kept in the appropriate county or province records offices. Again, a public library is a helpful place to start looking for address information.
When those steps are done, it's time to search through federal census records. Say you have some information on your grandfather--we will call him James Smith. You know he was born in 1927, in Corson County, South Dakota. You know he had an older sister Beth, and a younger brother Tom. However, you're not sure about who his parents were. Now it's time to order a microfiche census. (How?--Find your local LDS Family History Center. They will be happy to help you order and view the film. If there is not one near you, contact a lending library. Perhaps they have the census you need. Then check with your public library and see if they will let you view the film there.) Using the example above, you would want to order the 1930 census for Corson County, South Dakota. When you search the census, look for Smith families who have children Beth, James and Tom. When you find the children Beth, James and Tom, make sure the birth dates match. If they match, you probably have the right family. (Sometimes, two families have same names and dates, and live in the same area--But that is very rare. If you want to be double sure, read through the whole census.) See who the parents of the family are. Write down their names, birth dates, and places of birth. Many census records show where the parents' parents were born, so note that too.
What if you order the census and cannot find the family? Here are a few suggestions:
The above information should be enough to get you started. Happy Hunting!
Would you like to keep reading through the next section, Field Tips? Follow the link to go to that next Genealogy Quest section.
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