Filling out a Pedigree Chart
Like most people, I began by filling out a pedigree chart starting with what I knew---information on myself, my parents & my grandparents. In some instances there will be special circumstances such as divorce, early deaths or adoption that can make your research more difficult but not impossible. Check out Cyndislist--Adoption for more research helps in that case. Remember if there was an early death or divorce then its most likely on record and just a matter of you searching in the right place, finding it and getting the additional information to apply to further research.
Civil War Research
Don't forget Civil War Research. Even if you do not have a direct line who served you may be able to find out more about your lines by researching a sibling of your direct line who did serve. With southern research finding pension records may be the only way which you will find some of your ancestors maiden names and dates recorded. During the war between the states many courthouses were burned and/or records destroyed. Confederate Soldiers Pension applications were handled on a state level and were filed in the state of residence at the time he was applying. While your ancestor may have enlisted and fought an AL unit if he was living in the state of Texas when that state began processing confederate pension applications then his application will be found in that states records. There is no exact date in each states board of pension began processing the applications. The dates and who was eligible varied from state to state. NARA has more about this at their Confederate Pension Applications site. The states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia had pension boards which processed these Confederate Pension Applications.
The Confederate Soldier's Pension Applications tend to contain information about the soldiers unit....what battles he was in...if he was injured....his current family status etc. If he preceded his wife in death, be sure to check to see if she applied for a Widow's pension. Widow's pension files normally contain copies of information pertaining to the marriage of the soldier. You may find a copy of their marriage certificate or sworn statements from person(s) who witnessed their marriage. To get an idea of what can be found you might want to check out a webpage I made that contains abstractions from the Confederate and Widows Pension Applications of some of my lines.
Your ancestor may have lived in the south....but did he fight in the Confederate Army or the Union Army? Be sure to check both. Occassionally I have found where a soldier has fought on both sides. Cyndi Howells has a page with info on how to go about ordering Military & Pension Records for the Union Civil War Veterans from the National Archives
After I filled out my chart I decided to try finding my grandparents in the US Census records. At that time, the latest census records available was the 1910 Census. The 1920 Federal Census became available to the public in April 1992 and the 1930 Federal Census was released to the public in April of 2002. In order to protect the privacy of individuals, the US government holds census information for 72 yrs. Since my Grandparents were born between the yrs 1888-1899 I was able to find them on the 1900 Census living with their parents. When transcribing census records from microfilm I've always made note of about 4-5 households on either side of the household I'm researching. Sometimes these people will marry into the family in the next generation. This has helped me out on numerous occassions.
Make yourself aware of what information is available in each census. Census records prior to 1850 only listed head of household's full name and the age and gender of each person in the household. The 1890 census is for all practical purposes lost. There are a handful of exceptions that were saved. You can find info on the surviving rolls at the previous link. When researching in the 1880-1920 Census records you will probably use Soundex which is a form of indexing that will identify and group together spelling variations for a given surname. In some cases all people that were on the census were not listed in the Soundex Index for that census. Note that only households with children under the age of 10 are listed in the soundex for the 1880 Federal Census. For the 1910 Census Soundex is refered to as the Miracode. Not all states were indexed. Only the following states were indexed for this particuliar year. Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi,Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. Rootsweb has a Soundex Converter.
Land Research and Boundaries
In the search for your family make sure not to forget to check surrounding counties. It's important to be familiar with the area and boundary lines for the counties in which you are researching. In some cases your ancestors could show up in different counties and maybe even different a different state without even having moved.
There are many ways to become familiar with the area. I recommend visiting the county/state pages of the USGENWEB for information on the county where your ancestors lived. Most county sites provide a history of the area giving such data as formation date, any parent counties (one whose areas were taken to form the county) and in some cases names of early settlers. Many of the county sites also have a list of people who are researching in the area as well.
Also, another feature which I think is greatly overlooked is the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS). This site has helped me to search for place names which no longer exist (historical communities) It will allow you to search the US or an individual state for specific place names. The results are a description of the area that gives the county where the place is located. Other details include what type of area it was ..for example old school, historical town or a lake. It will also give you the Latitude & Longitude so that you can locate it on a map. In some cases there will be a map available for the area.
The US Bureau of Land Management is also a good place to check out if you had ancestors in any of the public land states Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. They don't have every record online but they are adding as they can to their search site. The TNGENWEB has what I feel is one of the most informative pages dealing with land history. It is called "The Land of Our Ancestors".
State, Public & University Libraries
State Libraries & Archives can be most helpful especially if you do not live in the area or don't live close enough to do a lot of "exploring". Most of the state libraries and archives have online sites or at the least offer some form of assistance by regular mail. If you are researching in the Tennessee area, the TN State Library & Archives (TSLA) is a must. Another place to check would be the local public library in the county where your ancestors lived. Often times they will have biographies of local families. If you are lucky there will be a volunteer or staff who oversees the genealogy section of the library. In most cases, it will be volunteers who do this. If you write requesting a lookup remember that most likely the people who will be answering your inquiry is a volunteer so be sure to thank them for any assistance ahead of time. If there is a University near the general area you are researching you may be able to find info in their library provided they have a genealogy program offered at their institution.
LDS & Family History Centers
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has gathered genealogical records from all over the world and makes these records available to everyone at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, and at Family History Centers located throughout the world. You can also check their records online and search for others researching your ancestors by going to their Familysearch site. I must caution you that not all of the information found here is proven. The LDS itself is not the one doing the research. The info is submitted by researchers from all over the world on their family research and is only as good as its sources. While I'm sure that there is alot of good proven sources here I would only recommend using the info here as a guide. In some cases you will be able to get contact information for submitters. You can attempt to contact the researcher and see what sources they used to draw their conclusions.
Cemeteries, Obituaries & Old Newspapers
As you study the area in which your ancestor lived, don't forget to check and see what newspapers were in print there during the time which your ancestors lived there. Old newspapers may have printed marriage or birth announcements as well as obituaries. The area's current newspapers may be able to give you some background on local publishing history. For example, in an area that I'm researching, two competitive newspapers were both bought by the same person and then combined into one paper which today is still publishing in that area. Several of the states have a Newspaper Project aimed at preserving these newspapers and their historical content. US Newspaper Links is a good source to check when you are looking for newspapers in a specific state or city. Often times you will find that other researchers have compiled books of obits printed in the older newspapers(those prior to 1923 are not protected by copyright law). There may also be books about cemeteries in specific counties. Cemetery and Obituary Research can also give you clues to help map your family tree.
Most of us in our research will decide to send off for the birth death or marriage records of ancestors in hopes of finding more pieces to our puzzle. These vital records are handled by the state in which the event occured and in some cases...by the county. The laws will differ from area to area. Most cases unless you are the next of kin it will be difficult to get a copy of a birth certificate. Availability and location where the records are stored also differs from state to state as does price. Consult the Vital Records website.
Mailing Lists(email) & Message Boards
Genealogical mailing lists and Message Boards can also be a great resource as you can use these to find others researching similar topics. There are many mailing lists available covering surnames, areas and other genealogical topics. A detailed list is available at Genealogy Resources on the Internet. There are also Message boards and Groups with message boards available at sites such as Yahoo and MSN. You would need to check the group listings for those dealing with Genealogy. Genforum and Rootsweb both have genealogical message boards and chat rooms.
Organizing your work
As you get more information you will want to put this into a genealogy program. I use two different programs. I would recommend that you find one that you feel is easy to use and provides what you want. The two I use are Family Treemaker and Personal Ancestry File. You can download PAF free from the LDS site. It's located under the Download section of their web page. I believe that about all of the genealogy software programs will print out a variety of Genealogy Forms for you ---Pedigree Charts, Family Group Sheets Descendent Charts etc. There are many places online where you can print off free charts. I like to keep blank ones on hand to take with me when I go to the library. I use them for note taking. I also print out my pedigree sheet so I can use it as a reference. Keeping your research organized on your computer as well as in your notebooks and files can be time consuming. However, if you will get in the habit of updating your files often, citing your sources, and making a backup of your files you should be able to keep your Computer Data fairly organized. Your actual paper data might take some more work. I think the trick is finding a system that works for you. I highly recommend reading and following a class, which was taught by Rita Lace, called Piles of Paper. It is a three-part lesson--Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3. It is the system I use to organize my paper research.
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