Your Own Research
How to do Genealogy Research
This is one of the most common questions from anyone new to genealogy
that is planning family research. The step-by-step guide is shown below.
1. Begin with yourself and work backwards generation by generation.
2. Pedigree Chart - Your direct line of ancestors.
- Fill in with as much information as
possible, including places (counties).
- A number of forms are available from
- Male line is always first and is an
- Use birth⁄ maiden name for female
and always is an odd number.
- 3. Family Group Sheet - one
All known information about one father, one mother, and all their
- List children in birth order if
- Forms available in a variety of
designs from vendors.
- Record source of information.
4. Dates - use a consistent date format
(mm⁄dd⁄yyyy) or (dd⁄mm⁄year)
5. Research Log.
- Record your research to avoid
duplication and to make the best use of time.
- Document each source of information
(titles, pages, publication dates, etc)
6. Computer Data Bases
- There are a number of commercial
computer programs available plus you can create a document from
- Any "out of the box" application
should have a GEDCOM utility which allows you to import and export
your data to another program.
7. Start your search.
- Gather family records and enter
information on Family Group Sheets and Pedigree Charts along with
source of the data.
- Search for family records such as
Bibles, newspaper clippings, old letters, scrap books, diaries, baby
books, wedding books, photo albums, birth, death, and marriage
- Contact other family members
locating and interview oldest living relatives.
- Try to locate others who are
researching your family or a common ancestor; possibly someone has
done some research on your family.
- Join genealogical group in the area
where your family lived.
1. Sources of information:
- Original Material - based on
- Derivative Material - everything
- Some records may contain both such
as a death certificate.
2. Always evaluate the information that
you find; just because it is in print does not make it correct.
- What sources were used?
- What dates and places?
- Are there inconsistencies or
contradictions in the information?
- Does data appear reasonable in
conjunction with time period and source materials used?
- Who provided the information?
3. When you talk to relatives, check the
information against other sources. Often you will be given some valuable
clues but those family stories can be garbled truth.
4. A good genealogist is a good detective!
CORRESPONDENCE - Paper Mail
1. Be short, simple, direct and sincere.
2. Limit request to 2 to 3 direct questions; don't ask for all the
3. Always include a business size self addressed stamped envelope (S.A.S.E.).
4. Write in a friendly letter, express thanks for any information.
5. Ask about anyone else who might have some information.
6. Offer to share information.
7. Keep a copy of the letter that you send.
8. Sample Letter:
CORRESPONDENCE - Email
1. Be short, simple, direct and sincere.
2. Limit request to 2 to 3 direct questions; don't ask for all the
3. Write in a friendly letter, express thanks for any information.
5. Ask about anyone else who might have some information.
6. Offer to share information.
7. Keep a copy of the letter plus the email address in your contact list
8. Sample Letter:
Dear Mr.⁄Mrs. [?] ;
I am the granddaughter of your sister Mary and am trying to locate
information about our family. My mother, Susan Smith suggested that I
contact you. Do you know when and where your parents, John and Mary
Green were born, married, and died?
I would appreciate any help that you can give me. If you know of someone
else who might be of help in this search, I would appreciate having
their name and address. I would be happy to share any information that I
find with you.
1. Surname - Check Catalog for publications on the known surnames.
2. County - Search under the name of the county.
- County Histories - can provide clues
about your family but the person paid to be in these "mug" books and
the biographies were complimentary.
- Look for sketches on related
- Review other printed information
such as Cemetery, Census Indexes, Marriage, Probate, Land and other
published records that are available.
3. Most libraries now have computer
catalogs rather than a card catalog, it is usually best to use a
"keyword" search. Start with as broad a search as possible. If the list
is too long then start to modify it to produce a smaller list.
- Surname - Modify by using family
such as brown family.
- Location - Modify by using and
state. Spell out both county and state name (Washington county and
Wisconsin) or name of town⁄city and state.
4. In New England search under the name
of the town.
1. Important to know why the record was created and where it is
2. Today - State Registration of Birth, Death, and Marriage; with Social
Security numbers and computerized information.
- State Registration started in the
early 1900's in most states.
- Death Certificates give correct
death date and place but other information may be wrong, look at who
provided the information.
- Most states will provide Vital
Records by mail for a fee.
3. Prior - Most records on a person were
kept in the county of residence.
- Find out what county your ancestor
resided in. Look in an Atlas.
- Research history of county, see
Ancestry's Red Book.
- Note - If your ancestor was an early
resident of an area you may find that he⁄she could be a resident of
several different counties or even states without ever having moved
because of boundary changes.
- Review what records are available;
records may be lost due to fire, flood, etc.
- Determine when your ancestor resided
in this community
4. Check to see if the records have been
5. Some are available on microfilm through the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) Family History Library system.
6. Information and indexes may be available through internet sites.
- Usually indexed and often published.
- Will provide date of marriage and
names of bride and groom.
- May give information such as names
of parents, place of residence, witnesses.
- Sometimes difficult to locate, if
not found in county of residence, search surrounding counties and
places where relatives lived.
2. Probate Records
Usually indexed, sometimes abstracts are published.
- All records which relate to the
disposition of an estate after the owner's death including Wills,
Letters of Administration, Petitions, Inventories, Appraisals.
- Wills indicate how property is to be
distributed, may name children and provide other information about
the family such as married names of daughters and family
- Probate Packet is a file of papers
which may include death date, appraisal of property, sale of
property, location of heirs, distribution of the estate and other
clues about occupation and lifestyle.
- Possibly there are Court Records
pertaining to the estate.
- Note witnesses, executor for
3. Land Records
- Usually indexed by the names of both
the buyer (Grantee) and the seller(Grantor); occasionally found in
printed form; original records for many counties to 1900 available
from LDS Family History Library.
- Deed is a legal document that
transfers title in real property from one person to another.
- Important source because land was
inexpensive and readily available; may provide clues when no other
record exists for relationships, locations, name of wife, married
names of daughters, and heirs.
- Land descriptions
(1) New England - laid out in towns with
(2) Other colonial states plus TN, KY, TX and HI use metes and bounds.
(3) Rest of States use Rectangular Land survey system divided into
section, townships and ranges. Use a plat map to locate land.
(4) Ohio has all of these.
Dower Rights - In some states, widow had the use of a portion of the
lands that husband owned, usually 1⁄3 for her support during her
4. Divorce records may provide interesting information, in some states
early divorces granted by state legislatures.
5. Other - Court Minute Books, Tax Records, School Census, other loose
papers and documents; usually these records are not indexed, may be hard
to locate and time consuming to search.
6. Birth and Death Records may occasionally be found but varies from
state to state, check references. Sometimes delayed birth certificates
may be found.
7. Most counties will provide limited amounts of information through
correspondence. Do not expect them to do much searching. Limit your
request to a few items.
US CENSUS RECORDS
1. Important record because provides personal information at ten year
2. May give helpful clues about families.
3. Organized by State, County, Township and⁄or City.
4. From 1790 through 1920 are available for personal research. Some were
destroyed when British burned Washington DC during the War of 1812 and
the 1890 Census was 99% lost due to another fire.
5. US Government waits 72 years to open Census for personal research.
INFORMATION CONTAINED ON CENSUS RECORDS
Name of head of family, number of free white males 16 and up, free white
males under 16, free white females; all other free persons, number of
Name of head of family, number of free white males and
females under 10, 10 and under 16, 16 and under 26, under 45, 45 and
over, number of slaves.
Same as 1800.
Same as 1800, also male and female slaves and free colored persons under
14, 14 and under 26, 26 and under 45, 45 and up. Foreigners not
Name of head of family, number of free white males and females in 5 year
age groups to 20, 10 year age groups from 20 to 100 and 100 years and
older, number of slaves and free colored in 6 age groups, foreigners.
Same as 1830, also number of pensioners for Revolutionary or Military
First to list all persons in the household, sex, color for each person,
value of real estate, occupation for all males over 15, place of birth,
if married within year; if attended school, if able to read and write
for all over 20.
Same as 1850 and value of Personal Property.
Same as 1860 also if parents foreign born, if able to read and write for
all over 10.
Name, relationship to head of family, sex, race, age, marital status,
married within year, occupation, number of months unemployed, if sick
what illness, attended school, able to read and write, place of birth of
person and parents. Soundex (Index) only for households with children 10
Over 99% destroyed by fire in 1921.
Name, race, sex, month and year of birth, age at last birthday, marital
status, number of children born to wife of that marriage and number
living, place of birth of person and parents, citizenship if foreign
born, year of emigration, occupation, can read, write or speak English;
home or farm, owned or rented. Indexes can be rented.
Same as 1900 except for month and year of birth, also Civil War Veteran.
Same as 1910, year of naturalization.
US CENSUS INDEXES
1 Look at for printed indexes, however they usually index only head of
household and others in household By another surname.
2. Soundex system of indexing used for 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920
3. Soundex formula - always results in the first letter of the surname
followed by three numbers. Designed to help locate alternative
Ignores the letters a, e, i, o, u, y, w, h.
Counts double letters only once.
Use 0 if run out of numbers. Code:
b, p, f, v.
c, s, k, g, j, q, x, z.
4 . 1880 Soundex only indexes households with children under 10.
5. Soundex indexes were not done for many states for 1910 Census, none
for Wisconsin and other low population states..
6. City directories around the time of the Census may help to locate
STATE AND⁄ OR FEDERAL CENSUS
1. IMPORTANT INFORMATION RESOURCE
2. Some states conducted state census, check reference books for
EVALUATE CENSUS INFORMATION
1. Census takers were often political appointments.
2. Problems with spelling of names due to misunderstanding between the
person giving the information and person taking the information. Names
3. People not always at home, don't know who gave the information, could
be a child or neighbor.
4. Sometimes use nicknames or middle names for people in the household.
5. If the same information appears in several census years, probably
good information. Compare to other data that you have about your family.
6. Unfortunately, some people were missed by the census takers.
1. Can be an important source of genealogical information.
2. Articles and notices found in newspapers usually are published about
the time of the event, making them a vital source. However, errors may
occur so the information must be compared with other sources for
3. The following may be found in newspapers:
- Obituaries which may give parents or
ancestry of deceased, religious affiliation, close relatives, some
accomplishments, movements and activities.
- Marriage notices may give
information about the event, names of parents and close relatives,
residence, life events, religious affiliations.
- Birth announcement may provide
information about time and place of birth, parents, other relatives.
- Family reunions and social events
may give accounts of family gatherings, relatives visiting or trips
to visit relatives or for business, other personal information.
- News items such as graduation,
appointments, accomplishments, movements of people in a community.
May be important in preparing family history or biography and in
- Advertisements may identify their
professions or businesses.
- Legal notices of land sales, tax
rolls, probate of wills, settlement of estates, divorce proceedings
and reports of civil and criminal cases may give information about
4. How to find Newspapers:
- Look on the map to locate the
closest towns to the place of residence. Try to identify the place
that they may shop and⁄or the county seat.
- If there are no newspapers published
in a town or county of interest, try to identify a news center for
the area even if it is in another state.
- Don't overlook the foreign language
papers for more recent immigrants.
- Look for religious newspapers if you
know the religious affiliation because they might provide
information about your ancestor.
- Check the publication; Newspapers on
Microfilm or write state historical society for information on
- Many newspapers are available
through inter library loan.
5. How to search Newspapers:
- Metropolitan newspapers usually are
be daily and contain more international, national, and state news.
Do not contain as much personal news.
- Newspapers from smaller communities
may contain a wealth of information especially if the person is
politically or socially active, an early settler, or a business
owner. Tend to be published weekly with one page devoted to local
- May provide information about the
1. City and Telephone Directories can help identify residence of
ancestor, locate the person on the census, estimate death dates,
identify other relatives at the same residence, may give occupation or
2. County and regional directories can provide information about
residence, property owned, and other adult relatives in the area.
3. Professional directories may provide information.
4. College directories may give years of attendance, area of studies,
other activities, and biographical data.
5. Religious directories; if your ancestor served as clergy with an
established church, may be a source of biographical information.
1. Vary in content and emphasis based on theology and social role of the
- State or established church -
considered every person in state a member and in Europe the pastor
was an official record keeper for the state for events such as
birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial. In this country, these
churches continued to record these events and can provide important
- Examples of this type of church are
the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopal Church.
- Free or "gathered" Church -
considered only those who have been "born again" in Christ are the
true members of their church. The sign of this event was baptism and
thus in these churches baptism of infants is not practiced and
baptism is not an indication of age. Examples of this type of church
are Baptists, German Brethren, and Mennonites.
2. Identify religious background of your
ancestor based on family tradition, obituary, county histories, town
histories and cemetery records.
3. Many church groups maintain archives. (Survey of American Church
Records by Kirkham or The Source by Ancestry.)
1. Military records may not provide the solution to every pedigree
problem but can provide valuable clues.
a. Pre Revolutionary records are generally historical in nature and
seldom contain specific individual genealogical information.
b. Records created since the Revolution contain more information such as
birth, marriage, death, parents, pension, bounty land.
2. Revolutionary War Records.
- Pension records relating to service
began in 1776.
- Individual states provided benefits
beginning in 1776, mainly to officers
- Pension acts in 1818, 1823, and 1832
liberalized pension requirements, allowing the enlisted man, his
widow, and his orphans cert benefits.
- Bounty Lands were granted to
veterans of US. service or state militia from 1776 to 1885.
- Documents relating to a soldier, his
widow, or children are on file in the National Archives and are
available for a fee. Are on microfilm; should request all
information in the file including unselected material.
- Much information has been published
so check printed materials first.
Patriot Index - DAR - use as clues, early applications not well
documented or closed and must be reproved for DAR membership.
3. The Old Wars
- Pension applications for claims of
service between the end of the Revolution (11 Apr. 1783) and the
beginning of the Civil War (4 March 1861).
- Files located in National Archives.
4. War of 1812, Indian Wars, Mexican War
- War of 1812 - Service from 1812 to
- Indian Wars - Service from 1817 to
- Mexican War - Service from 1846 to
- Records available through National
Archives, similar to Revolutionary War.
- Microfilm indexes available through
5. Civil War
- Service and pension files relating
to Union are in the National Archives and are indexed.
- Confederate Records are located in
the National Archives while others are retained by the states.
- Records that may be found are;
Service, Certificate of disability, when dropped (death) marriage,
birth of children, and medical records.
6. Form for ordering records - NATF Form
80, write to National Service Records, National Archives, Washington DC.
7. Modern Wars - World War I to present
WW I draft records
located at Federal Records Center, 221 St. Joseph Ave, East Point
Other records at
National Personnel Records Center, GSA, Military Personnel Records,
9700 Page Blvd., St Louis, MO 63132. Records not open to public but
genealogical data will be provided to close relatives upon
application with sufficient information to locate the records such
as name, service number, branch of service. Many of these records
were destroyed by a fire.
1. Can provide valuable information, but dates can be wrong.
- Birth, death dates.
- Clues about family relationships.
- Other information.
2. Locating the cemetery.
- Publications by individuals or
- Family records.
- Obituaries and⁄or death
- Location of property.
- Religious affiliation.
3. Availability of records will vary and
are often difficult to locate.
- Information from monuments.
- Burial records or sexton's records.
- Cemetery deeds and plats.
- Burial permit records.
- Grave opening records.
- Local funeral home.
4. Walk the cemetery or family plot,
record stones and⁄or take photos. Look at surrounding stones and record
them, may be relatives. Sketch layout of stones.
5. Hard to read stones.
- Do a rubbing of the stone.
- Take photo in indirect light.
6. Not all graves will be marked with a
7. Some families buried on small plots on the land, these may be in very
bad condition or destroyed by current owners.
1. Just because your surname is spelled a certain way now, does not mean
that it is the original spelling or the only way that the name was
always spelled in every record.
2. Always check for alternative spellings for your surname.
- Consonants that have similar sounds
- C⁄K, G⁄J, T⁄D.
- Double letters, single sound same -
l⁄ll, t⁄tt, e⁄ee.
- Silent letters such as K in Knight.
- Additional letter or letters added
for local dialect such as r in Hallebone (Hallerbone).
3. Other problems
- Names altered because of different
- Translation from one language to
another, Smith for Schmidt.
- Initials or abbreviations - Jim for
- Given names interchanged - John
Edward Long instead of Edward John Long.
- Nicknames - Bill for William, Polly
for Mary, Ann for Nancy.
- Incorrect name given because of
lapse of memory or different informant.
COLLATERAL FAMILY RESEARCH
1. Definition - Relatives not in your direct line.
2. Can provide information on your family and help solve research
3. A family is made up of relationships not just names.
4. Women tend to retain the strongest kinship ties and tend to be the
"keepers" of the family stories and possessions. They are more difficult
to locate because their surname will change when they marry.
5. Kinship ties are not broken by mobility; families did keep in touch
with each other and did visit each other.
6. Legal records for family members who leave no descendants may help in
determining family relationships.
7. Be alert for clues about relationships, know kinship terms for period
1. Our ancestors did more traveling than we often realize.
2. Once they arrived here, more likely to move again.
3. For most of our history, there was always cheaper land further west
and thus more opportunity.
4. In the early days, the migration routes followed waterways; rivers
and streams were very important; later overland route and railroads were
the means of travel.
5. People usually traveled in groups with relatives and neighbors. If
they did not come with the original group, they might migrate to a place
where relatives and former neighbors have settled.
- Who were in the "traveling company"
with your ancestor?
- Identify people with similar
- Look for information about
background of neighbors who may be from the old residence and may be
related in some way to your family.
6. Often marriage partners were people
who came from the old residence. Marriages between first cousins and
other closely related people may be found.
1. Various types a. Sacrament Certificate - Colonial period.
- Oath of Allegiance - Colonial and
- Declaration of Intention (First
Papers) - 1802 on.
- Petition (Second or Final Papers).
- Certificate of Naturalization.
2. Often filed Declaration of Intention
but may never have filed Final Papers.
3. Early documents provide little genealogical data, more information
required later such as place and date of birth, emigration date, port of
entry, and arrival date.
4. Prior to 1906, naturalization could take place in any county, city or
5. After September of 1906, contact Bureau of Immigration and
Naturalization, 425 I St NW, Washington DC 20530. Form available at any
6. Prior to 1928, wife and children automatically became citizens with
TRACING YOUR IMMIGRANT ANCESTOR
1. Must know the location of the small village or region in order to
find more records.
2. Find out as much as possible about the immigrant using U.S. sources.
Death certificates, tombstones,
newspapers; obituaries and other articles.
Military and⁄or Pension Records.
(1) 1850-1870 - Birth place of person - province or country.
(2) 1880 - Birth place of parents - province or county.
(3) 1900-1910 - Year of immigration, citizen if foreign born.
(4) 1920 - Also year of naturalization.
Check the International Genealogical Index (IGI) of the LDS Family
History Library. Look at source of information.
3. Investigate the origins of close family friends and neighbors since
people tended to settle near those they knew from the prior location.
4. See who witness probates and deeds, administrators, live nearby, join
same church or purchase land at the same time.
1. List names of passengers who arrived at ports on East Coast, West
Coast, Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico, consists of passenger lists,
transcripts, abstracts, baggage lists, and manifests.
2. Information available from Passenger Lists depends upon time period
- 1565-1819 usually provide little
personal information; no central location for lists; locate by
- 1820-1893 captains of ships required
by Congress to prepare lists of passengers contain name of ship,
name of master, port left, date and port of arrival; name, age, sex,
occupation and nationality of each passenger. Available through the
National Archives and in the Microform Room of the Library.
- 1893-1954 useful personal
information was requested from each passenger; available through
National Archives and some on Microfilm in Library.
3. Check all available indexes first;
unless you know port, and approximate date.
4. Can be a long and tedious search unless you have some specific
information such as port, date and⁄or ship.
5. If you locate your ancestor, make a copy of the entire list, may be
relatives and friends who came from the same location and settled in the
6. Immigration through Canada and Great Lakes - prior to 1895 no records
kept by US. Government. From 1895 to 1954 records available through
7. National Archives - Use GSA Form 7111, Order and Billing for Copies
of Passenger Lists, order from Correspondence Branch, National Archives,
Washington DC 20408.
1. What you need to know:
a. Place of origin, the small village or area.
b. Name of immigrant (original surname).
c. Time of immigration - clues about from where and why the person came.
d. Religious preference - what church records to search.
e. Other information about family, names of other family members or
2. Find out what was happening in the area that your ancestor came from
for clues about his⁄her background.
3. Find a good publication on resources available in the area and how to
4. Check the resources available through the LDS Family History
a. Look for microfilmed records for your area of interest.
b. Microfilmed records can be ordered from the library in Salt Lake
5. Correspondence - Write in simple English if you do not know the
language. Always include 2 International Postal Coupons available from
the Post Office.
ORGANIZING YOUR INFORMATION
1. When you start, you may have little information and it may seem
easier not to organize. However, as you continue to collect data, it
will become impossible to deal with unless you keep it organized and
2. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to organize; you may want to use
notebooks, files, or hanging files.
3. Organize around surnames or family groups based on the amount of
information that you have collected.
4. Limit size of each file to a manageable amount of information.
5. Keep updating family group sheets and pedigree charts so you know
what information to look for.
6. Document where your information came from:
- Give enough information that another
researcher can locate it.
- Guide - Evidence! Citation &
Analysis for the Family Historian by Mills.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU HIT A BRICK WALL
- Do a simple narrative of the
information that you have.
- Chronological Chart with dates,
ages, and sources.
2. Look for new solutions - keep asking
- Pronounce name out loud with accent
- Don't think of your ancestor in
isolation, identify other people who came at same time and were
friends and⁄or relatives.
3. Broaden your research
- Back up a generation, research other
- Read some history of the time and
- Look at patterns of migration.
4. Census - 10 up and 10 down rule -
expand research to neighbors of your family for possible relationships.
5. Share problems and research with others.
6. Hire a professional researcher.
7. Let problem sit for a while and then go back to it.