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Monday, June 15, 2009

Is Computer Genealogy For You?

Now that you have an idea of the basic genealogical source documents you'll be researching, you need a place to gather and organize your information. The big question is how will you proceed: by old-fashioned paper files or hi-tech genealogical programs? 

The answer may be both. You may want to initially start with paper files and move to computer genealogy or, depending on the nature of your primary records, you may wish to preserve certain documents and photographs for future generations.

Personally, I use both. I like having the original documents stored in a file cabinet for comparison sake, but I back up all my records and photographs on computer and back up the computer data again. In essence, I have three sets of records. 

That said, computerizing your genealogy brings with it several advantages. It takes the place of massive amounts of paper and reduces the footprint of having to store all that data in bulky, large file cabinets. The computer also provides a space in which to neatly combine your genealogical pedigrees, your photographs, your videos, and your family stories in an organized fashion. And, if you use a laptop, your entire ancestry is available in a nice portable vehicle that you can transport to libraries, genealogical societies, or state archives where documents are not available online.

The computer also opens up the world of internet genealogy. Amateur genealogists and family historians gain access to records previously unavailable to them. Genealogical forums help reconnect families and sort out pedigree problems. Website development creates a new media to display family history and share ancestry among relatives. 

So, is computer genealogy for you? Yes, it just makes sense. Computers are much more affordable and you can safely keep your ancestral records on your preferred storage device or post to your own website. With backups of your ancestry, it's a no brainer. Computerized genealogy is the way to go.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What Military Records Can Tell You About Your Ancestry

Have a soldier in your family tree? Did you know that military records can provide you with a whole host of information about your ancestry? Whether it's draft registration cards, pensions, enlistments, or muster rolls, the vast number of military records out there provide a wealth of information on your ancestry to help populate your genealogy.

For example, don't know anything about your great-uncle. A well-placed search for WWI draft registration cards might reveal the next of kin, parents or a spouse, the occupation of your ancestor, where he worked, where he lived, birthplace and birthdate, and even a brief description of your ancestor. A complete search of Civil War military records unveils not only any military engagements of your ancestors, but a medical history, and if you are very lucky, perhaps a photograph of his military company. Especially valuable to genealogists are the pension records which include spouse's name (if any) and any minor children. In lieu of a spouse, a pension may also have gone to a parent.

It pays to explore the military heritage of your family history. Fantastic glimpses into the past offer the family genealogist an insider view to American and world history on a personal level ... and you never know what you will find. In my case, it turns out one of my ancestors fought in the War of 1812 and was a very vocal veteran advocate. My personal search uncovered a long forgotten speech of his that was published first in a newspaper and later in a book. It turns out that veterans affairs sadly haven't changed at all over the years. It also made me realize just how much of a debt we owe to our military families.

Over the course of this blog, I'll be exploring military records in depth. For now, this brief overview gives you an inkling of what's yet to come.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gateway to Your Ancestral Roots - How Passenger and Naturalization Records Transport Your Genealogy Across Borders

One of the major problems family historians and genealogists have is finding the ancestral home of the immigrant ancestor. While census records and often vital records narrow down the country of an ancestor's place of origin, that may be the only clue provided. Fortunately, there are additional genealogical primary sources: passenger records and naturalization records. 

If you are lucky with your census search, you may discover the date your ancestor immigrated and if he and/or she was naturalized. Armed with these discoveries, you can then look at available passenger records. Passenger records list the name, age, and sometimes place of origin of the immigrant ancestor as well as any family members. It also lists places of departure and destination, ship name, date of arrival. Naturalization records may contain more detailed information about the ancestor's homeland including town or city, county, and country as well as an exact birthdate.

Armed with such information, passenger lists and naturalization records, serve as a gateway to your ancestry beyond borders and ultimately a look into the many cultures that have contributed to make your family what it is today.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Census Records Can Do For Your Genealogy

Some of the most useful, though not always accurate, genealogical resources for your family history, are the state and federal censuses. Why? Because they help flesh out your family tree by adding more branches and leaves. In other words, they help to broaden your ancestry by including collateral lines — your extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins to the "n"th degree.

During George Washington's term as President of the United States, an act of Congress established the first federal census, taken in 1790, as a means of determining the proper representation for each state in the federal census. To put it simply, the population determined the number of government representatives and electoral votes a state received in the federal government. Since then, the census has been taken every 10 years to measure the population and states have added their own censuses.

Over the years, the census recorded more and more information, gathering numerous other data to provide a statistical snapshot of our growing population. Fortunately, for the family historian, this wealth of information not only includes the names and numbers of people in the household, it also includes ages of residents, addresses, when they immigrated to America, if they were naturalized, where they and their parents were born, occupations, and more.

All this information helps to fill out your genealogy and reveal the clues of your lineage. In future posts, you'll learn where to find and to use the census to discover your ancestral roots and how collateral lines can help you bypass genealogical roadblocks.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

How Vital Are Vital Records to Your Ancestry?

Vital records are the framework of genealogical house. They allow you to link one generation to the next. From your own birth certificate, you learn your parents' name and their age and if you are lucky, their birthplace. In turn, this sets up an approximate search time to hunt for primary information about your parents. Since your parents generally provide most of the information contained in your birth certificate, the information is most likely pretty accurate. However, do keep in mind that what is contained in a birth certificate does vary from state to state and errors do happen when recorded into state records. For example, parents could name their son, Charles Nicholas, and the state has actually reversed the names on the birth certificate to Nicholas Charles. There are also cases in which only the parents' names are given and there is no further background information on the parents.

Finding genealogical information on the parents broadens to includes some if not all of the following: death certificates, marriage certificates, census records, and birth certificates and/or baptismal records.

The death certificate (if your parents have died) contains date of death, cause of death, full name, residence at time of death, place of death, and martial status. It also provides birth information — date of birth, birthplace, names of parents and the bonanza, place of their parents' birth. Again, not all states provide the same information. In addition, an informant, most likely a relative, gives much of this information to the proper authorities before the actual death certificate is made. 

Marriage certificates provide the names, ages and birthplaces of the bride and groom. It always lists the date and usually the place of marriage. In addition, these documents may also contain the bride and grooms parents' names as well as their birthplaces. In some cases, they also list the priest or minister who married them as well as their religion.

The introduction of the marriage and death certificates now establishs a relationship between your parents and their parents. Based on the information you gleaned from these documents, you now can seek the birth certificates of your parents.

Once you have all these documents, analysis of the information connects the evidence to confirm the parentage of your parents and by direct descent, to your grandparents. You have now established the frame for your house.

This process can be repeated ad infinitum.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Difference Between Primary and Secondary Sources

Collection of genealogical material divides into two main sources: primary and secondary. Primary sources include vital records, church records, censuses, wills, military records (muster rolls, enlistments, discharges), land deeds and grants. Secondary sources come from published town histories, published family genealogies, hearsay information gathered with no supporting documentation.

The strength of any genealogy is the documentation. Primary records are always preferred over secondary sources. That's because secondary sources are just that — secondary. It usually comes from a third-party source. The information could be accurate or inaccurate, but may be "unsupported" — that is, not proved with vital records, wills, etc. Primary records usually have a direct link to the ancestor. A child's birth certificate contains information provided by the parents; marriage certificates includes information supplied by the bride and groom; information reported on death certificates usually comes from a close kin member.

Even primary records may contain errors so it's important to gather and compare additional primary source information. The more supporting evidence you collect, the stronger the facts become in our own genealogy. This is especially important if you intend to join a society such as the "Daughters of the American Revolution." Primary records become the key to your acceptance. In you cannot prove, for example, that your ancestor fought in the American Revolution, then your application would be denied.

So take the time to analyze the details of the information you research or you will be barking up the wrong tree.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How to Begin!

If you are like most people at some point in your life, you want to know more about your personal family history. I did. ... And like most people, you learn that you know next to nothing about your own family. For example, many people don't even know "grandma's" or "grandpa's" real names. So the question becomes "How do I begin?"

For the budding family historian, the answer is simple. Begin with "what you know" — yourself! You know your name, your birthday, your parents, and where you were born. All this information is contained on your birth certificate, which if you don't have one, you can request from the town or state in which you were born for a fee.

From yourself, you begin to work backwards — to your parents to your grandparents and so on. Hopefully, your parents are still alive and can provide you with copies of the own birth and marriage certificates and clues and facts about your grandparents. If not, the hunt begins and you'll begin the most surprising adventure you've ever undertake. The fields are rich with knowledge and sometimes as elusive as a fox, but the end result of the mountains of vital records, family letters and photos, is well worth the time and effort.

Over the course of this blog, you'll piece together the greatest jigsaw puzzle and discover the most important treasure of all — your family. And that's what it's all about, isn't it?