Every reporter knows that good stories hinge on good sources. Where would Woodward and Bernstein have been without Deep Throat, for example? As a “reporter” of your family’s history, you’ve surely discovered the importance of this principle in your genealogical investigations: You’re constantly searching for good sources to give you the inside scoop on your ancestors.
Enter this brand-new special issue from the editors of Family Tree Magazine. We know it’s tough to keep tabs on all the books, Web sites, indexes, abstracts and other resources that simplify your family tree search especially with new research aids popping up all the time. So we used our genealogical and journalistic sleuthing skills to uncover the best tools for accessing key family history sources.
Looking for your fourth-great-grandfather’s Revolutionary War pension application? Turn to our military section (starting on page 48), where you’ll find such resources as Revolutionary War Invalid Pension Claims 1792-94 (Byron Sistler & Associates, $12.50)and Revolutionary War Pensioners Living in the State of Ohio in 1818-1819 <php.ucs.indiana.edu/∼jetorres/ohiorev.html>. Trying to track down Grandma’s birth and death data? Our vital-records section (page 12) points you to online indexes from more than a dozen states. We’ve got census, court, immigration and land records covered, too, along with published sources such as newspapers, local histories and genealogical journals.
Though we’ve crammed our Family Tree Sourcebook with hundreds of resource listings, we haven’t left out the hallmark how-to advice you rely on from Family Tree Magazine. You’ll find research tips sprinkled throughout each section, plus brief articles that take a look “Inside Sources.”
And to kick off the issue, we’ve compiled a brief research primer, based on the expert guidance and tips in every edition of Family Tree Magazine. Whether you’re just getting started or trying to break through a brick wall, you’ll make the most of the Sourcebook‘s resources if you adhere to these 10 genealogical fundamentals.
1. Record everything you know.
2. Seek sources around the house.
3. Interview older relatives.
They’ll know the stories behind the photos and documents you’ve collected, as well as other family facts. Asking at the outset will save you time trying to find those details on your own. Don’t wait till after you’ve checked a dozen Web sites to discover Aunt Myra had the answers you’re after all along.
As good as you may be at multitasking, it’s too hard to keep so many names, dates and family relationships straight. Focus on one ancestor or family line at a time.
People weren’t as finicky about spelling in the past; consequently, you’ll find your ancestors’ names spelled different ways. So try variations Essel, Essle and Esel, for example whenever you search an index or database.
If you’re tracing an immigrant ancestor, you’ll need to determine her “native” moniker: the one she used in the old country. After settling in America, many Schmidts became Smiths, and Johanssens became Johnsons. Immigrants often adopted the English equivalents of their original name, altered the spelling to appear more American or took new names entirely.
Just as your birth certificate comes from the county where you were born, your family’s records were created by the jurisdictions where they lived. In the United States, counties, not cities, keep records of their citizens. Plus, most libraries’ and archives’ record collections get filed geographically. For instance, to find microfilmed records in the Family History Library catalog <www.familysearch.org>, you can perform a place search for the county and state.
It can be tempting to try to hook up your line to a famous figure or leap from census to census without filling the blanks in between. But don’t let your eagerness to extend your family tree supersede thorough research you might end up tracing the wrong people. Be sure you have the right ancestor, and not someone else with the same name.
Someone might have already researched a part of your family tree, or possess documents you won’t find in a library or archive. So post queries on Internet message boards and mailing lists huge networks where genealogists unite with distant kin and help one another. The most popular networking spots include GenForum <genforum.genealogy.com>, Ancestry.com’s message boards <boards.ancestry.com> and RootsWeb’s mailing lists <lists.rootsweb.com>.
Can’t get enough coverage of genealogical sources? To supplement the books and Web sites listed in our Sourcebook, consult these three references: