Getting Started In Genealogy Seminar
Nacogdoches Genealogical Society
Note: This is a basic introduction to genealogy with the information
that could be presented in a short 1 to 1.5 hour session. Links to
additional information resources can be found at the end of this page
following the bibliography that lists many resources to assist you in
What is Genealogy?
Genealogy is the recorded history of the descent of a person or family
from an ancestor or ancestors; the science or study of family descent
(relationships, names, dates, places).
"Who are the parents?" is THE genealogical question! Your
goal is to identify and link each generation one to the other so that
you know you are claiming the right ancestors.
Remember the times our ancestors lived in were not like our times;
don't judge your ancestors by your standards.
Name collectors will just take genealogies from books and off the
internet without worrying about sources or correctness of the
information; genealogists research in original sources to prove links,
until a link is proven use words like possibly, probably, etc.
Why Do Genealogy?
Some of the many reasons to do genealogy are to:
1. learn more about your family and ancestors - are you really related
to Quanah Parker or Sam Houston or whoever?
2. understand your place in history.
3. learn about your family health history.
4. join a lineage society such as SAR/DAR, DRT, Colonial Dames, etc.
5. or for a school project.
Ancestry Magazine, in February 2004, on page 6 says:
A few years ago there were:
- 113 million Americans withsome interest in genealogy,
- 19 million have a strong interest.
- 13 million people visited family history-related websites in January
- MyFamily.com websites had 10 million viewers per month in 2003,
- 29% of internet users have engaged in family research.
Genealogy is one of the fastest growing hobbies in America.
What Records Can I Find At Home?
Genealogical research should be started with the information you can
find at home. Write down as much as you know about each ancestor then
interview other family members to add additional information. The
pedigree charts and family group sheets discussed below are good forms
to start with but you can start with a plain sheet of paper.
Write down the full name, birth date and place, marriage date and
place, death date and place, burial date and place, and any other
information about each ancestor such as religious or political
affiliation, and interesting facts about that person. Allow blank
spaces for information you don't know yet - those items will be your
first research tasks.
Start with yourself or your children, then go to the previous
generation, your parents or yourself. Then to grandparents,
great-grandparents and so on. Some of the records you can find at home
to help fill in the blanks are:
A. Vital records - birth, marriage, death, etc. certificates.
B. Military awards, business records, checkbooks, bank statements
C. Baby books, baptism and confirmation certificates, wedding albums,
deeds, wills, estate papers
E. School, employment, military, church records
F. Bible - family records
G. Diaries, journals, letters, scrapbooks, newspaper clipping,
H. Photographs (check for captions)
I. Records of other family members who have done previous genealogical
J. Family members to interview (audio/video tape sessions)
What Records Can I Find In Other Places?
After you gather all the information from home you will have
to expand your research to include other repositories of information.
Some of these and the records you can find there are:
- know what you are looking for before you go, find out about business
hours, do not take children, be nice to the workers - some records
available on microfilm via ILL or from FHL or RHRDs
1. Vital Records (often not kept until 20th century in the South so
may have to search for Bible records or newspaper accounts - records
usually also available at state level)
2. Will / Probate
3. Court Records - Jury lists and lawsuits / petitions / etc.
4. Land Deeds - land transfers after the initial patent/warrant from
the state or federal entity
5. Tax Records
1. Names, dates, etc. from headstones, check both sides of headstones
as many have information carved into the back side
2. More from cemetery records in office or records repository
3. Nearby burials may be relatives
1. Birth, baptism, marriage, death, removals, etc. kept by SOME
denominations but not all
D. Libraries and Archives
1. Manuscript collections (Local and business histories, diaries and
journals of local citizens who lived at the same time as your
2. Inter-Library Loan may become your best friend
3. FHL - millions of records on microfilm can be borrowed and viewed
at local FHC
4. Census Records - US census every 10 years since 1790, cannot be
accessed until 72 years old, remember county boundaries have changed
over the years so records of ancestors can be found in several
counties even if they never moved
5. Some state censuses also
6. Military Records
7. Land Patents and Deeds
8. Newspapers - birth, marriage, death notices; obituaries; and more
Organizing Your Family History Research
Note: Many people use genealogy software on their computers to help
organize their research. Most programs will print genealogy forms and
charts for you. Some of these programs have ways for you to enter
information to indicate how sure you are of the validity of the data.
If you are using genealogy software you should learn how to use these
information on genealogy software is available here.
A. Supplies - Simple and Inexpensive
1. Three-ring, loose-leaf notebook binder and three-hole notepaper
2. Three-hole dividers, one for each surname; one for each sibling in
3. Pencils with good erasers; black ink pens (some libraries ban ink
4. File folders and box or drawer for storing them
5. Current road map for states of interest showing county boundaries;
maps specific to timeframe (See Thorndale and
Dollarhide in Bibliography)
6. Nice but not necessary - magnifying glass, sticky notes, three-hole
7. The HandyBook for Genealogists (see
B. Charts - Tools for Saving Your Sanity
1. Pedigree or Ancestral Chart - Basic precept is to start with
the known and work back to the unknown; contains vital life events.
Free printable charts are available at Ancestry.com:
a. Start with yourself - print legibly or type
b. Use complete names and always use women's maiden names
c. Dates are written as 13 April 2004 - never 4/13/04 - estimated
dates must be preceded with abt (about) or ca (circa)
d. Males are even; females are odd unless in #1 position - each column
represents a generation
e. Continuation - for example, #8 on Chart 1 might become #1 on Chart
f. Complete and place in front of your notebook binder
g. Analyze to determine what information you need to find and where
you might look for it -i.e. 1st child likely born near where couple
married; marriages usually in the county of the bride so look there
for her parents
2. Family Group Record - Basic precept is to complete the
entire family picture. Free printable charts are available at
a. Use pencil for undocumented information; black ink when proven
b. Write name "first - middle - last" as it will appear in
documents; avoid nicknames unless shown in quotation marks or
parenthesis; avoid abbreviations in names but can use in county,
states and dates
c. Location, location, location - most records found at county level
d. List place as it was at time ancestor lived there; county borders
change i.e. Talbotton, Muscogee (now Talbot), Georgia, USA
e. List children in birth order; put an "*" by the number of
your direct ancestor - take care in listing the sex; put "Unk"
f. If given name is unknown, list as "daughter Price" or
g. List only child's first spouse; other marriages appear when child
is shown as a husband or wife on his own Family Group Sheet
h. Can provide Pedigree Chart number as cross-reference in last column
i. Prepare a Family Group Record for each marriage; be sure that
children are entered under correct father and/or mother; gaps of four
years or more may signal new wife
3. Ahnentafel Chart - German for Ancestor Table - same
information as Pedigree Chart but different format
4. Narrative Reports - Allows inclusion of more information and
prose format makes for easier reading - can include notes and sources
C. Basic Research Techniques - Basic precept is to identify the
source of each piece of information entered on your charts; document
so that others could locate and verify that same information.
1. Research Calendar - Do leave a paper trail so that you won't
duplicate your efforts later. Free printable charts are available at
a. Write down nonproductive searches, i.e. books with no information;
denials on requests for vital records; family correspondence
b. For books provide title, author, publication date, publisher, page
numbers (can photocopy title page); library location with call number
c. For vital records, land records, probate records - note Vol. &
page nos. and/or certificate numbers, dates and jurisdiction of record
d. For personal knowledge information, provide name of interviewee or
correspondent, date information acquired; title page of Bibles (See
Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian in
2. Timeline - Chronological list of life events makes excellent
a. Can place ancestor in context of world events such as war,
migrations, epidemics, economic upheavals, etc.
b. Can assist in finding possible discrepancies, i.e. child born when
parent was too young/old
c. Analyze to determine what information needs further documentation,
what information is missing, what type of document might contain that
information and record availability (See
HandyBook for Gen.)
3. Generations must be linked with documentation; do not
attempt to skip a generation or you may be out on a limb of the wrong
4. Focus on one ancestor or surname at a time
5. Identify all possible spellings for a name - try writing the
name phonetically which is exactly what the early census takers often
did Some old deeds may have a surname spelled two or three ways on
same page i.e., Wear/Ware/Weer/Weir/Whare/Weare, Wier/& Others
6. Learn how to read and interpret the curiosities of old-style
a. Double "s" was written as if it were "fs" or a
b. The capital "S" and "L" are very similar and
the "T" and "J" and "I" are similar as
c. Common name abbreviations: Jos or Jos. - Joseph, Joshua, Josiah;
Jno or Jno - John, Jonathan; Jas or Jas - Jason, James; Thos - Thomas
(See Sperry in Biblio. or online at http://www.english.cam.ac.uk/ceres/ehoc/)
d. Most deeds, wills and other records from County Clerks are in the
hand- writing of the current clerk, not your ancestor.
7. Use common sense and common courtesy in correspondence and
a. Don't ask a person to send you "everything you have
b. Limit queries to one or two events; send relatives or
correspondents a copy of a Family Group Sheet with known information
completed and invite them to add, change, correct or comment and
return form to you; include SASE
c. Include full name, specific location if possible and date range
with queries i.e., "I'm searching for the parents of John Smith
who was born about 1812 possibly in Alabama. He married Joan Jones in
1839 in Nacogdoches, TX"
d. Offer to pay for copy costs and/or expenses incurred
e. Log your correspondence. Free printable charts are available at
8. Avoid two major pitfalls
a. " I found it online...I can trace my family back to
Adam!!!" - the sad fact is that many online, and printed,
genealogies and family histories contain grossly erroneous statements
because the compiler has accepted undocumented previously published
material and did not go to the original source. Any information
online, or printed, is only as good as the researcher who put it
there. There is no sanctity to the printed word; use this information
as clues to conduct your own search.
b. "Same name - Same man" - Maybe not! It is not
uncommon to find two men of the same name in the same county in the
same period of time. Research both to find evidence to confirm which
one is "your" man.
Reference Books For Getting Started In Genealogy
** Should be mandatory for every genealogist's bookshelf.Burroughs, Tony. Black Roots: A Beginner's Guide to Tracing
the African American Family Tree (New York: Fireside/Simon and
Croom, Emily. Unpuzzling Your Past: A Basic Guide to Genealogy, 4th
edition (Cincinnati: Betterway Publications, 2003). (Excellent
beginning genealogy book.)
** Dollarhide, William. The Census Book: A Genealogist's Guide to
Federal Census Facts, Schedules, and Indexes (North Salt Lake, Utah:
Heritage Quest, 1999).
Evans, Barbara Jean. A to ZAX: A Comprehensive Dictionary for
Genealogists and Historians, 3rd edition (Alexandria, VA: Hearthside
Everton's Handybook for Genealogists, 10th
edition (Draper, UT: Everton Publishers, 2002). (OR Ancestry's Red
Book as an alternative.)
** Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd
edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000).
Hone, E. Wade. Land & Property Research in the United States (Salt
Lake City: Ancestry, 1997).
Howells, Cyndi. Cyndi's List, The Book, 2nd Ed. (Baltimore:
Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001). This book has the links on Cyndi's
at the time of publication. The website is more up-to-date but some
users may find the book form useful as a reference.
** Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence! Citation
and Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical
Publishing Co., 1997). (New version being written in 2003/2004.)
Meyerink, Kory, editor. Printed Sources, A Guide To Published
Genealogical Records (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Inc., 1998).
Ryskamp, George R. Finding Your Hispanic Roots (Baltimore:
Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997).
Sperry, Kip. Reading Early American Handwriting
(Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1998).
Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, editors. The
Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, revised edition (Salt Lake
City: Ancestry, 1997).
** Thorndale, William and William Dollarhide.
Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920 (Baltimore:
Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987).
Magazines and Periodicals
Ancestry Magazine (bi-monthly) - Ancestry / MyFamily.com
Inc., 360 West 4800 North, Provo, Utah 84604; Toll fee 800-ANCESTRY;
Genealogical Computing (quarterly) - Ancestry / MyFamily.com Inc., 360
West 4800 North, Provo, Utah 84604; Toll fee 800-ANCESTRY;
Heritage Quest (bi-monthly) - Heritage Creations, 425 North, 400 West,
Suite 1A, North Salt Lake, Utah 84054; Toll free 866-783-7899;
National Genealogical Society (bi-monthly NewsMagazine & quarterly
Journal) - National Genealogical Society, 4527 Seventeenth Street
North, Arlington, Virginia 22207-2399;
Genealogy Research Tips at Other Web Sites