Genealogy-enthusiasts will oftentimes be approached by budding researchers and asked to give lessons, crash-courses, or a few tips on tracing family trees. While there’s no official guideline for research, the following brief outline can be very helpful in introducing newbies to genealogy. It goes over a few of the basic record-categories (census, immigration, and vital records) and discusses free websites to get the beginner started. I found this outline very handy for genealogy parties and get-togethers. It’s primarily based on American and British research, and you might find it handy as well. Also if you get everyone to bring a laptop it’s more comprehensive and extra fun!
CRASH COURSE IN GENEALOGY:
A FEW POINTERS FOR RESEARCHING:
- There is no ultimate database that has every record ever- If you can’t find a record in a database that doesn’t mean the record doesn’t exist!
- People are people- All historical records are created by people, and therefore they’re sometimes wrong! Give leniency to spellings and birth/death years (generally within 5 years).
- See it through their eyes- A lot of places right now had different names back then. Names of diseases and occupations were also different. Always check the history of the place you’re researching.
- Trace your steps! – Write down what records you’ve searched, even if you didn’t find anything. That way you don’t accidentally check the same record twice!
- Each census record will tell you different things! The US started censuses in 1790 and the UK started in 1841. The US releases censuses to the public every 72 years, the UK every 100 years.
- Not every census record is available (1890 US census was mostly destroyed and most of Ireland’s census records were burned).
- If you find an ancestor on a census but can’t find them in the next census, search the next census by the address where they lived. It could be they’re still there!
- Check out who lives next door to your ancestor; oftentimes relatives lived close together. If someone lived on your ancestor’s street with the same last name, that could be another ancestor for you!
- A CENSUS CAN TELL YOU:
- An ancestor’s occupation.
- Where they were born and their age.
- Where their parents came from.
- If they immigrated or if they’re citizens.
A RESOURCE FOR CENSUSES: familysearch.org
- There are different kinds of immigration records: emigration (leaving a country), passenger lists (ship records), immigration (coming into a country), and naturalization (becoming a citizen).
- The older a naturalization record is (1800s), the less it will tell you.
- Before 1892 most immigrants immigrated into New York through Castle Garden Port, not Ellis Island!
A PASSENGER LIST CAN TELL YOU:
- Country of origin.
- If any relatives were traveling with them.
- Ancestor’s occupation.
- Ancestor’s destination.
A NATURALIZATION RECORD CAN TELL YOU:
- Details of where the ancestor came from.
- Name of parents.
- Current residence.
A RESOURCE FOR NATURALIZATION RECORDS: familysearch.org
A RESOURCE FOR PASSENGER LISTS: ellisisland.org, castlegarden.org
- Vital records are birth, marriage, and death records for an ancestor.
- Social Security Death Index is useful for people who died after 1960’s.
- In 1837 England began civil registration (registering vital records on a governmental level). Before that all vital records were recorded by the parish (areas based on proximity to local church). Therefore it’s IMPORTANT to find out which religion your ancestor followed!
- A VITAL RECORD CAN TELL YOU:
- Names of ancestor’s parents.
- Time and place of an event (birth, marriage, death) took place.
- Cause of death.
- Maiden name (if marriage record).
A RESOURCE FOR BIRTH RECORDS: usgenweb.org, freebmd.org.uk
A RESOURCE FOR DEATH RECORDS: findagrave.com
OTHER HELPFUL (AND FREE!) SITES:
rootsweb.com cyndislist.com google!