Tracing your Ancestry

"no matter what their race or color; be they Prince or pauper, Regent or rogue, they are OURS-- and we should seek them out and honor them for their giving us the life that we now enjoy"

Every family, no matter what its station in life, deserves to be documented for the posterity of its descendants. This guide presents the basic steps in tracing your family tree. Following them is the beginning of a very interesting journey into the past.

Tracing your family's tree, no matter what their race or color,  is an enjoyable, eye-opening experience. You are who you are today because of the bravery, tenacity and fortitude of those who have gone before you. It brings an understanding of what it must have been like to have been alive during those early years. In addition, the history books come alive with real meaning for both you and your children when you realize that your ancestors weren't just bystanders-- they were the participants.

But there are pitfalls! You have heard all of your life that some of your ancestors were native Americans! How do you start to look for them? Actually, the Cherokee records are quite extensive and after about 1825, the tribal members are better documented than most of the non-Indians of the same time period.  The Cherokee Tribe had thirty-six enrollments between 1817 and 1924, and many of these required verification as to the enrollees ancestry.  In addition, the missionaries who lived with the tribes had filed their reports with their mother church, and there were any number of claims filed- by both the Cherokees and the settlers, concerning various losses suffered by each.

How To Start

In order to know who your ancestors were you must start only one way -- with yourself! From there you must go to your parents, your grandparents (etc) -- back generation by generation, through the available records. This site will help you do this, and when you do reach the point to access the Indian rolls, then there will be no doubt if those people who are shown on the rolls are your families -- or not. By starting with yourself and working backward in time, you will discover that you actually know quite a bit. Completing these forms will get you started:

PEDIGREE CHART. First, you will need a  Pedigree Chart . Fill it in with your name in the first position, and your father in the number two position, and your mother in the number three position--- then stop!

FAMILY GROUP SHEETS (FGS). The other forms that you will need are called Family Group Sheets. Enter the same information that you listed on the Pedigree Chart on the first FGS, listing your father's name as "husband", your mother's complete birth ("maiden") name as "wife", and you and your siblings (your brothers and sisters) in the order of their birth, listing the oldest child first.

Continue on with the Pedigree Chart to the next generation;  your grandparents. Your father's father should be entered in position four on the pedigree chart, his wife (your father's mother) should be in position five. Now, stop and create the second FGS showing this new family.

You should then go to your mother's parents. Her father should be listed in position six on the chart, and your mother's mother should be entered in position seven.  Create a new FGS for this family. If any of these parents had more than one marriage, then that would be a different family and a new FGS should be created for each.

At this point do not worry if you do not know all of your parents brothers and sisters-- this information can be entered later.  Always include the maiden names for females (if known), and do not list them by their married names-- EVER. If the name is unknown, specify this with (unknown) or (unk). Try to include dates and places for births, marriages, and deaths and list them (ALWAYS!) by "dd-mmm-yyyy" (example: "10 Sep 1890"). Write in the names and details using your memory only. After doing this, you should have a pretty good idea of what you know and, more importantly, what you don't know about your ancestry. You should now have one Pedigree Chart and three Family Group sheets. This will be the basis for all of the other research that you will do.

Go back generation-by-generation the same way as above, for as far as you can go. By now the Pedigree Chart should be pretty self explanatory.


Select from the pedigree chart the persons who were born or died after *about 1910 .  (*date variable- according to when that state started requiring these documents). You should then order that person's birth and/or death certificate.  You may think that you know the information- but we have found that this is not always true.

Order these document from the Bureau of Vital Records, from the state capital where "the event" (birth or death) took place.

(IMPORTANT!) Specify on that request that that the document must be  "A Full-Image Copy of the Original Record-  NO computer generated or transcribed copies are acceptable".  There are several reasons for this-- one of which is that either version costs the same amount but many of the computer generated copies do not have all of the information that will be important to you, such as the name of "the informant" of the information listed on the document and the place of burial. If properly completed, the death certificate should have almost as much information as a birth certificate, but if "the informant" was a new grandson-in-law, the information as the the deceased person's parents names may be incorrect or may not even be shown.  If you know where the person was buried it may be possible to access the cemetery records or contact the nearby monument company or newspaper for more information. When these documents are received, add this information to the group sheets and pedigree chart.

The birth/death certificates can get rather expensive, but this is usually the only way that you can get back to the 1930 census and be confident that the information is correct. Your parent's birth certificates should show their parent's names, the maiden name of the mother, their ages at the time of this birth and at least the state where they were born. By doing a bit of math you can figure out if their birth certificates would be available and where you should order them from.

 There are any number of ways to go from there! For example-- if the parents aren't listed on a death certificate ("informant" was the new grandson-in-law who didn't know) but a social security number is listed, then you can order a copy of that person's original application for a social security card where they had listed their parent's names and exact place of birth, themselves. Yet another possibility: if you know the names and date of death of a sibling (brother or sister) of your ancestor who died earlier, then it is possible that your ancestor was "the informant" on their death certificate- and may have listed their parents' names.

If the person you are seeking died after (about) 1965 and you don't know exactly when or where,  then you should check the Social Security Death Index  which shows when a person died (month/year) and what zip code the $255.00 Social Security benefit was sent to-- (usually to the mortuary) which will show the most likely location of death or burial.

There are various places on the net (example here) that have more detailed instructions and listing many other resources which are available.

Federal Census Search

Your next step should be a search of the U.S. census. The United States Constitution has a provision that a nationwide census of the population shall be taken every ten years.

The original population schedules from the 1790 through 1930 census (not including the 1890) have been microfilmed and  have become a major source for locating the place where an ancestor lived at a specific time in history. After 1840 they also list each persons age and the state/country of birth, occupation, personal wealth, education, spouse, children, hired hands, and the later ones lists immigration/naturalization information. You should be able to access these census records at a library near you through rental film, but the best place to find them all is at one of the regional branches of the National Archives, which have microfilm for all censuses from 1790 through 1930. The actual census records that you must have are available on some of the Internet sites (for a fee). I prefer the versions-- much easier to read and print off.

Since the privacy of person shown on the federal census schedule is protected by "The U. S. Privacy Act" for a period of 72 years,  the latest census that is available to us is the 1930, and the 1940 census will not become available to the public until 2012.

The starting point for your census research will be the 1930 schedule. If you know from compiling the family group sheet information what county/state your ancestor was in at the time of the 1930 census, then you can go to your own Public or "LDS" ("Latter Day Saints" Church) library to see if they have the microfilm of that county/state or (if not) ask them to order it for you.  If you do not know what county they were living in during that census year, you will need to use the statewide index- called "the Soundex". The Soundex uses a unique code to identify each head of household by the sound of their surname. Grouping the names in this manner allows you to find a person in the census whose surname may be spelled in a number of different ways. The Soundex cards appear one after another on a roll of microfilm, organized by state and arranged alpha-numerically by the Soundex code, and then alphabetically by the head of household's first name. It will show the county location, many times the sheet and line number of that entry. It is available for the *1880, 1900, and 1910 census schedules. (Note*: the 1880 Soundex only lists families who had children ten years of age or younger residing in the household).

After you locate the family on the Soundex, then you should view the entry on the actual census. Use the information gleaned from the 1930 census (as to when and where each family member- including the children-  were born) to locate them on the 1920 census. Use the information shown on the 1920 census in the same way to locate the family on the 1910 census  (etc).

The specific instructions for using the 1900 U.S. census and Soundex for the area that became the State of Oklahoma can be seen here. This is the first complete U.S. census taken of this area.

IMPORTANT NOTE: There are a number of census indexes available, which can be very useful. But, of course, it is still only an index. Any genealogist will want to see a copy of the original census page in the census enumerator's own handwriting. Only by looking at the original page can you find vital information such as age, birthplace, occupation, immigration date, naturalization date and more. None of that is available in the index. You especially will want to check for transcription errors.

By now you will know exactly where your ancestors were living in 1930, 1920, 1910 and 1900, have recorded all of this information on the Family Group Sheets and have listed all of their known children. Using this information you can now check five of the thirty six Cherokee rolls.

NOTE: If you do not have this information-- then there is no need to go further.

The information is out there-- waiting for you, but if you do not want to make the personal effort and commitment to find it, then my advice would be to either hire a professional genealogist to do it for you, or just abandon the entire project!

There are no shortcuts!

When you do have this information, then go to the next step.


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J. G. Chasteen 2002
No reproduction of any kind, by any media, allowed except by written permission of author.