Genealogical research can be one of the most challenging yet rewarding life experiences. The following suggestions have a proven track record for helping newcomers navigate through the research process. Begin by writing down all known facts concerning yourself, your parents, your children, grandchildren, and grandparents. Take the time to interview relatives, especially older members of the family.
Take notes and ask for permission to record the sessions for future reference when the inevitable contradictions surface. Going back for clarification is impossible if they are deceased! Study the “historical context” of their lifetimes, as well as obtaining names and spellings of family members and specific dates and localities of residence. Long-term success in research depends on the ability to document sources of information. This involves seeking out family bibles, photo albums, trunks, old letters, and scrapbooks. Check your home and homes of parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, old friends and neighbors for clues.
Your local library may have printed genealogies on any of your family surnames. Other libraries to search include historical societies, and major repositories, such as the Family History Library, Allen County Library Genealogy Center, National Archives, or appropriate state archives. College libraries and universities may also have holdings for the surrounding area.
When recording information, work back from the known to the unknown. Cite your sources, and be as specific as possible. This includes Record Group Numbers, Census years, Wards, Enumeration Districts, county and town names, and website links. Documenting where the information was obtained is extremely important since either subsequent researchers or you may have to go back, at one point or another, in order to verify or review the same information. Knowing what types of records are available is another key step for research. Reading how-to-books on genealogy will provide valuable guidance.
Court records provide good documentation through wills, estate inventories, official records, land records, tax records, bankruptcy records, criminal and civil cases, and other court records. Records which are accessible to the public vary from state to state, and even county by county. Some birth, marriage, and death records may sometimes also be found in courthouses, especially adoption records. Some states will allow some records to be accessed. Check the state statutes or contact the Clerk of Court to see what is accessible, and by whom. Courthouse website list what types of records were kept and are available. For unique local reasons, some unusual types of records were sometimes kept. Before 1860, church records provide the best source for early births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths/funerals.
Cemetery and funeral home records can also provide documentation for a burial and list birth/death dates.
Census records contain information about the members of a given population and are an excellent source for documenting your family’s whereabouts at a given time. However, census records are only as reliable as the person giving the information. Spellings of names will always be an issue. Prior to the 1850 census, only the head of household was listed by name. Others are grouped by age and sex.
Old newspapers help in providing death notices and obituaries. Obituaries usually refer to military service, employment and membership in organizations as well as listing surviving family members. Sometimes they also list who predeceased the person. Birth and marriage announcements are found in newspapers as well.
Books on local and county history, although not considered official documentation, may provide helpful clues and context. City Directories can help locate information about individuals such as occupation, address, ward, marital status, etc. Other publications commemorating various anniversaries of the town or city or of churches in that area may exist. Perhaps the name you are searching will be listed among residents of a particular area or as a participant in a local celebration.