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A Genealogy Guide

December 24, 2019

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Creating a family tree
 | Understanding genealogy | Defining the term genealogy | Why research your ancestry | Using genealogy to address legal and financial issues Conducting genealogy research | How family history affects genealogy | Getting started | Additional Resources

Searching genealogy has become very common, with many people investing in different methods. People have different reasons for wanting to find out who their ancestors are; sometimes it’s just curiosity while other times there is a medical necessity. Whatever your reason may be, you need to be sure you know how to approach the process.

Creating a Family Tree

Knowing who your ancestors are is an interesting subject. While most of us don’t have the impressive tree that former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did (he was related to 11 past presidents by either blood or marriage), it can still be an interesting topic to research. While most people do not have ties to any world leaders or famous people, tracing a family tree can be an exciting journey. It may at times be intimidating—or even frustrating—but it will be well worth it when you see the results.

Understanding Genealogy

Genealogy is a very complex but exciting topic to explore. It involves the quest for information about ancestry and includes the following:

  • When did they live?
  • Where were they born?
  • How did they live?
  • When did they die?
  • How did they die?
  • Where are they buried?

When you are searching your family history, you will need to search for any kind of clues that link family members from one generation to those in another generation. While there are people who professionally research genealogy, anyone who is involved in researching family history is called a genealogist. For some people it’s a hobby in which they engage just for the fun of it; for others it is a quest to find out about family history in order o learn more about the family’s medical history and answer any questions the researchers have about their heritage.

Defining the Term “Genealogy”

There are two ways in which the term “genealogy” is used. One definition states genealogy involves the search for family history. Genealogists have their own way of conducting research, but they may start by obtaining information about their immediate families, information that may be more readily available before delving deeper to learn about the history of past generations.

Another way to describe genealogy is describing those who descended from one specific ancestor. For instance, a genealogy researcher might compile a list of all the descendants of his great-great-grandfather. This would make the list the genealogy of that specific ancestor.

Why Research Your Ancestry

Why do you want to research your ancestry? Your reasons may be different from those of your brother, sister, or even best friend. If you talk to several genealogists, you will find every one of them have reasons for researching their family history, and it may be completely different from yours. Sometimes people choose to research their genealogy just because they are curious or want answers to questions. They may wonder if their surname connects them to anyone famous or infamous in history. For instance, a person with the surname of “James” may wonder if they have any ties to the infamous train robber and killer. Maybe your parents told you that your grandfather or great-grandfather was born in another country, and you want to find out about that background: where they came from, when they arrived, how they arrived, and whether they became citizens of the new country.

When the genealogist searches for the answers to questions, he will uncover a substantial amount of information that will inspire him to dig deeper into his ancestry. Someone who has plans to travel to the location where an ancestor lived at one time may want to know more about the family tree before traveling to the area. This might be especially true if the ancestor you are searching was born in another country or was someone famous or infamous.

Another reason a person might choose to research his genealogy is due to health reasons. The family history might reveal information about the health of the genealogist’s ancestors and show whether they had recurring medical conditions or genetic traits that could pre-dispose the individual to some hereditary diseases or conditions. For instance, there has been ongoing research since the 1970s that show alcohol abuse, or more accurately, alcoholism, has a negative effect on the dopamine gene and its receptors. Where there is a history of alcoholism, there is the potential for it to affect the descendants. The researcher can share any health information he finds with the doctor and find out how he should proceed to address these corners. Children who are adopted may feel the need to learn about their biological families not only to address questions of a medical nature, but also to find out more about their social as well as cultural identity.

Using Genealogy to Address Legal and Financial Issues

An attorney could engage the services of a professional genealogist to find the rightful heir of an estate or to locate the owner of abandoned property. Although it would be exciting to find out your family has some wealthy aristocrats in its ancestry, the majority of family genealogists are just trying to build a larger family tree. During the research process, the genealogist has more stories to share with the family, pictures to exchange, and possibly an increase in the number of people who attend family reunions.

Conducting Genealogy Research

Once you make the decision to delve into your family’s history, you must begin the research phase. The best place to start is talking to relatives, identifying who is shown in family pictures, and reading any documents that have been saved over the years including all of the following:

  • Letters
  • Journals
  • Newspaper clippings
  • Diaries
  • Maps
  • Legal papers
  • Military records (if applicable)

It can be difficult and time-consuming to keep track of generations of family history, but you can accomplish this task more effectively and efficiently by using an ancestral chart. What is an ancestral chart? It is a form containing spaces for each generation. It also contains space for you to write the names of family members and dates of birth along with information about their marriages and deaths. If you’re looking for information on a couple, family group sheets are excellent for organizing information specific to that couple and their children. You can use either a notebook or computer to write the family stories and list the various sources of information.

The next step in the process is to research public records. You may want to start with the Internet since some of these records may be available online. While reviewing public records, you want to look for the following information:

  • year of birth
  • marital status
  • citizenship status
  • occupation
  • where the relative was born (country)
  • names of other relatives at the same address as reported in census records

Another helpful resource is ship manifests like the ones that are preserved in the Ellis Island archives. The manifests help identify the country of origin for immigrant ancestors and where they planned to go once they arrived at their destination. The U.S, Social Security Death Index can confirm several types of information about a deceased ancestor while birth, death, and marriage information can be obtained from the state’s vital statistics office.

Court cases, land records, and probate files are excellent sources of information and shed additional light on family dynamics. If church records are available, they can help you locate information about a person’s baptism, marriage, and burial. While some of these documents may be available online, this is not the case with all of them. If you cannot locate the information you need online, you will need to contact the church or courthouse to find out how you can access the information. It’s important to provide as much information as possible in order to ensure you have enough information for an effective search, provide as much statistical information as possible including names, dates, case or document number, and a legal description of the property in question.

How Family History Affects Genealogy

Oral history in the form of stories can greatly enhance genealogy. In most cases you will find it is easier to get family members to tell their stories verbally instead of depending on them to write them down. There are some cases where the family member may have written the stories down or recorded them on tape, but if not, plan to meet with the family member and bring a recording device with you (don’t depend on your memory or trying to write down everything he or she says).

Once you reach out to the family member, don’t just show up. Set a time and place to conduct the interview and agree on the method you will use for recording it. Plan ahead concerning the topic you plan to discuss, but don’t try to set it in stone—allow the person you are interviewing the flexibility necessary to tell the stories. Once you have concluded the interview, plan to transfer the recorded information to a more current storage device so it will always be available for others to access. This doesn’t mean it needs to be available to the general public, but at least make it available to current and future family members who may have an interest.

Genealogy has provided researchers with the resources they need to learn more about themselves and their family histories. While the search may at first seem endless, you will find that one little tidbit of information makes way for new stories, people, and places. Genealogy can pave the way to improvements in lives because of its ability to help descendants identify any health risks that could possibly occur. This, in turn, provides them with the ability to talk to their doctors about a plan to prevent or treat these conditions. Genealogists definitely earn a place in the hearts of their family and know whom they should invite when there is another family reunion.

Getting Started

Now that you have all the information, you can get started researching your own genealogy. Make sure you have a substantial size notebook for making notes. Don’t leave any page unturned no matter how insignificant a source of information may be. Even if you think it won’t include any information about the ancestor or ancestors you are researching, don’t take any chances. Don’t overlook any of your living relatives as potential sources of information. If you have relatives nearby (or even far away) that have passed but have children to whom you can speak, do so. You have no idea what stories those relatives told their children. They may even have close friends to whom they have told stories of their lives.

Ask other relatives if they know of any recorded information on the family. Depending on how long ago, the information may be in written rather than recorded form. This even holds true of public records since not everyone in the past had access to a recording device if there was even one available. Even birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates were previously either written by hand or typed. As late as the 1970s even bank statements were typed or manually processed on a bookkeeping machine.

The key to researching genealogy is to make a record of the resources you want to check and even information from family members that might allow you to know what sources would be the most effective, efficient, and easily accessible. They would also have a good idea if some of the resources listed would contain information you need to complete the family tree. While the list of resources is extensive, which ones you need to use for your own person search depends how far you want to research, what kind of information you’re seeking, and how much information you have available to you.

If you have an interest in genealogy, don’t wait any longer. Start scheduling interviews and talking to family members. Decide how far back you want to research and what kind of information you are hoping to find. Having a purpose and a plan will help you not only in your search but in staying focused.

Additional Resources

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