How to Use Federal Records

By Emily Anne Croom Premium

Confirm the parents and children of each generation as you work back in time, beginning with yourself. Don’t skip a generation because you think it’s not important.

  • One purpose of articles, how-to books, classes and seminars is to help you learn about federal and other resources&#151where to find them, how to use them and how they can help you.
  • Although federal records reference millions of individuals, you won’t find all your ancestors mentioned in all the record groups. Some ancestral names may appear in several kinds of records; others may not be there at all.
  • Because ancestors lived in specific places at specific times, seek records appropriate to each ancestor’s time and place.
  • Focus on only one or two ancestral lines or surnames at a time. Trying to find all your ancestors at once dilutes your concentration and can cause careless mistakes.
  • Look for records that can serve as second sources and prove connections between parents and children.
  • Don’t believe everything you see in print or in electronic databases. Any family tree that doesn’t name its sources should be considered clues for your research, not facts. And even original records can contain mistakes.
  • Write down the sources you use to get your information and prove your lineages.