Thursday, June 28, 2012

Getting Started With Genealogy Step 2 - Easy to Find Docs

Documentation is a crucial element of genealogy, as it is the only way to verify the information in your family history. Too many aspiring family researchers jump ahead of themselves and start downloading gedcoms with names of ancestors in them, just to find out later that the data is full of inaccuracies (yes, I speak from experience).

Good documentation habits will keep you off of a wild goose chase, and help you to find your answers much sooner. Keep up with your sources. We'll discuss citing your sources of documentation later, for now let's just find some.

Family Bibles

Did you inherit a bible from a parent, grandparent or great grandparent? Many bibles include pages for the owner to record their parents and grandparents names, as well as their own marriage information, and lists of births and deaths of family members.

Bibles are different, but usually, when made available, the family history pages are located near the front of the book. I have also found a Family Register located between the Old and New Testament instead, so be sure to check it thoroughly.

Also contact other family members who may possess a bible previously owned by an ancestor. They probably won't want to give it to you, but may be willing to scan the family pages and email them to you. Worst case scenario, ask them to transcribe it for you, or read it to you while you write it down. Also be sure to include the name of the person in possession of the bible and who the bible originally belonged to on the transcription for later reference.

Vital Statistics and Personal Documents

Many people will keep their personal documents and vital records together in a safe place. When someone dies, often these records are passed on to an heir. If that heir wasn't you, find out who would have inherited the deceased's personal items. While vital statistic records may be easy enough to gain from the county clerk, personal documents may be harder, especially if you don't know what you are looking for.

US States made birth and death certificates mandatory at different points in history, but if your ancestor was born after that date, there is a good chance they had to obtain a copy of their birth certificate at some point. They may have also had need to acquire a copy of an immediate relative's death certificate. Some even had heirloom marriage certificates made up, which might provide more information than the marriage license filed with the county.

Other personal documents can include things such as land sales, tax records, military service, graduation certificates, grade school memorabilia, newspaper clippings, obituaries, and much more. My husband was once practicing his lock picking skills on a strong box he found in the garage. Turned out it had belonged to his grandmother, and contained a document stating that she had married her deceased husband's brother, and shortly thereafter had the marriage annulled.

If you locate someone in the family in possession of an ancestor's personal documents, ask them to make copies and mail them to you. Offer compensation for copier fees and postage, of course. Keep all documents you find together, perhaps in a file folder or manilla envelope.

Note: If you don't already have a copy of your own birth certificate, get one. It can be obtained from the county clerk's office in the county where you were born. You should be able to find the mailing address and phone number of the county clerk online with an online search engine.

Family Photos

Also ask family members if they have any family photos or photo albums. If they live near to you, they may allow you to borrow them for scanning. Be sure to check the back of each photo for name and location data, and scan those too.

If you find a relative who is not close to you has family photos, it is possible that they would be willing to scan them for you, but the quantity of photos or their personal circumstances may not allow this. If the latter is the case, simply make a mental note (or write it down if you're forgetful) to go visit them when the chance presents itself.

Record What You Learn

If you find out anything new, such as birth or death dates, or parent names you didn't previously know, be sure to write it down on your paper pedigree chart. If you have had the need to expand your data to multiple charts, be sure to keep the pages together in a file folder, binder, or manilla envelope.

Be sure to number each chart you add according to the "continued on" number next to the last ancestor on you first chart, and keep your charts in order to make it easier to flip through to the chart you are looking for.

If you haven't started your paper and pencil pedigree, yet, see Step 1 for information and a free pedigree form you can print out.

Next Step, Researching Online

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