Research the Life of a Chosen Ancestor
or Ancestral Family
is a week-by-week list of tasks for you to do to research the life of
your ancestor and prepare to write their life story. Some of these
may not apply to your project. Complete every task that does apply.
Remember to keep a journal of your progress, your experiences, and
your feelings about completing this challenge. If you get behind
a week, no worry, just pick up where you left off and go on!
at least a four-generation pedigree chart (five-generations if at
least two of your grandparents were born in the 20th
century) of your family with you on line one. You may do this task
and the next on computer using Personal Ancestral File (PAF) or another
an ancestor or a family from your chart (one who is now deceased and
who was born before 1908) that you would like to learn more about.
It does not have to be a direct-line ancestor.
your charts and records in a sturdy folder or binder or on your
a timeline of your ancestor’s or family’s life and add to it as
you progress with your research.
you have living relatives who would have known your ancestor, or
would know more about him/her than you, interview that relative
about your ancestor. Write down a list of questions before the
interview. You may want to make an audio recording of their answers
and comments. Interview more than one relative if possible.
out if anyone knows of any personal writings of your ancestor, and
if they do, obtain copies of those writings.
for compiled family history. A compiled family history is one which
has been researched by someone else and compiled or published into a
book or a searchable computer database. Visit the Family History
Library and see what compiled information the library has on your
chosen ancestor or family. Published histories are listed in the
Family History Library Catalog which is available at the library as
well as online at www.familysearch.org.
You can also look for databases of compiled information on the
Internet. Start with those on the www.familysearch.org
website. Ask the library staff for assistance. Do any of these
compiled sources contain more information than you already have?
Print copies of any documents
you find, then file
them in your folder or binder or computer files. To avoid punching
holes in document copies, you can use archival-safe sheet protectors
with holes on the side.
for distant cousins you can write to or email, and find out if they
have "inherited" any photos, letters or family Bibles (etc.) pertaining
to that family. You can find "distant cousins" at www.rootsweb.com Click on the "Family Trees" tab then search for the name of the ancestors you are gathering information on.
are a great source of information about everyday life. See if the
Family History Library has a newspaper for the area and time period
where and when your ancestor lived. Choose dates of key events in
your ancestor’s life, such as their birth, marriage, or death and
see if you can find information relating to your ancestor. See what
was going on in their community at the time. Ask for assistance
with this task. Add new information to your notes and record the
source on your research log.
If the library does not have a newspaper you need, you may be able
to find a digital copy online. One resource for finding digitized
newspapers is http://digitalnewspapers.org/
your ancestor in census records—for every available census during
their life time. Censuses have been taken in the U.S. every ten
years since 1790. They are available to the public through 1930.
Indexes and images of U.S. census records are available online at
the Family History Library through www.heritagequest.com.
This is a subscription service that is FREE at the library through the
"Family History Portal" but costs money to use at home. Make
copies or digitally save copies of the census entries,and file them in your
folder. If you need census records for other countries, ask for
if the Library has a published history of the town or county where
your ancestor lived and browse through the history for information
relative to the time in which they lived there. What was going on
in the town, county, state or country that would have affected their
lives? Does the history contain biographical information on your
ancestor? If your ancestor moved around, check for histories of the
different places where they lived. Add information to your notes
and new sources to your research log. Some
of those historical books are available online (digitally) at
www.familysearch.org. Click on the "Search Records" tab and choose
"Record Search". Search by the name of the town or county your
ancestors lived in.
your ancestor or family members in other official records available
for their locality and time period. These can include vital records,
church records, court records, land records, military records,
probate records, and tax records. Make copies of the records, note
them on your research log, and file them in your folder. Organize
your folder as your collection grows. Ask for assistance with this
task at the Family History Library.
to work on any unfinished tasks from a previous week.
the timeline you have created of your ancestor’s life, write an
outline for you to follow as you write of their life.
at all the information you have collected on your ancestor and begin
to see how and where information will fit into your outline and
your outline, and incorporating information from all the sources you
have found, write a brief history of your ancestor’s life. Make
copies of the history to distribute to family members.
At the ward summer social,
bring your journal and a copy of your story for the concluding awards ceremony