Every Family History Center has dedicated, experienced staff who are ready to help you plan out and conduct your search. Each center has its own collection of local materials and access to billions of digitized records online.
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For more information about the Family History Library and to search their online collections, visit FamilySearch. The U. Examine the online indexes ahead of time to see what records you will want to access. This will save you lots of time and headaches during your visit. There are also several Federal Records Centers associated with the National Archives around the country. Most state libraries have special genealogy sections and staff members to help with your research. Your local library may have more than you think, especially if your family has lived in the area for several decades.
While you may not be able to travel there, if you find something they own that you need, you might be able to access it through interlibrary loan. The county courthouse where your ancestors lived likely contains some valuable records that may not be found anywhere else, such as:.
They are also the place to look for court cases, too, whether your ancestor was a plaintiff, defendant, or witness. In many cases, especially before the middle of the 19th century, churches were the only repository for certain records, including baptisms and marriages.
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They may also include when your ancestors became members or transferred to a different church, helping you trace what years they lived in the area. Best of all, local societies have local experts, folks who may recognize your family name, and may even have done research on it. Chances are at some point you are going to trace your ancestors back to when they arrived in the United States. Some of them, such as county courthouses, local libraries, genealogical societies, and churches, are going to be nearly identical in what records they hold. There are too many national archives to list here, but a web search should quickly pop up the ones you need to keep digging further into the past.
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Over the last ten to fifteen years, DNA tests have become a popular way to pursue ancestors and locate long-lost family branches. If you are trying to verify that you are related to a specific ancestor, then the YDNA for a male ancestor or mtDNA for a female ancestor are the way to go. Note that since only men have a Y-chromosome, women who want to use the YDNA test will need to have a close male relative, such as a father or brother, take it for them instead.
Y-DNA tests are particularly useful for people whose ancestors changed their surname at some point in time. The test used most often in genealogical research is the autosomal DNA test, because it is the most useful for linking you with close living relatives. Because of that, an autosomal DNA test is only useful for those related within about five generations third cousins or closer. For the purposes of this guide, we'll mention three companies that do genealogical DNA testing. In fact, there are several.
Watching the methods and resources used in these shows can be a great introduction for beginner genealogists. Finding Your Roots can give you a good overview of different methods genealogists use in tracking down information. Not only that, it has gone on to ten other countries as well, including the U. Like Finding Your Roots, Who Do You Think You Are features a different celebrity guest on each episode and uses a range of genealogical methods and resources to trace their family histories.
The people featured in the show are not celebrities, but everyday folks who have been searching in vain for years for their missing relatives. Another PBS offering, Genealogy Roadshow visits historically important locations, where the hosts help those with specific genealogy problems find their answers. Get one good basic guide, such as Genealogy for Dummies. If you know you are going to be doing a lot of research on a specific area, consider picking up a guide for that area. Here are a few books that I highly recommend.
There are many other good sources out there, but these are ones I know are great. Genealogy for Dummies : a good overall guide, easy to use, and covers all the basics. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills - documenting your sources is essential in genealogy, and this comprehensive guide shows you how. Organizing Your Family History Search by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack - helps you plan out your genealogy searches in advance, saving countless hours of wasted time. Long Distance Genealogy by Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer - find and obtain documents and family records from libraries, archives, family history centers, microfilm, and the internet, all without leaving home.
Courthouse Research for Family Historians by Christine Rose - helps you navigate the often confusing but vitally important records located in county courthouses. They are often available at your local library as well, especially if it has a genealogy section. In most cases, the only time you should need to hire a professional genealogist to help you is if:. If you do decide to hire a professional, you should look for one who has been accredited by one or more bodies.
So there you have it, everything you need to get started on what for many is a lifelong hobby, and for some even a profession. Genealogy is all about understanding the history of your family. People get started with genealogy for a variety of reasons:. Offline Resources: Records Repositories. Genealogy is the study of our ancestors: our parents, their parents, and on and on. Genealogy vs. Family History Some people will tell you genealogy and family history are the same thing.
Both genealogy and family history rely on the same records and the same research methods. Why You Absolutely Have to Start Today When I was 13 years old, all four of my grandparents and five of my great-grandparents were still alive. By the time I was 23, every one of them was gone, together with their stories and memories. The longer you wait, the more will be lost. Records get destroyed, on purpose or accidentally; people pass away.
Organize Your Findings Ready to jump right in? On Paper Regardless of what else you do, you should have a way to file physical documents. On the Computer There are a variety of computer programs you can use to organize your genealogy, too. Always use the surname she had at birth. Start with the Census Many folks just starting out in genealogy start with census records, and for good reason.
When it comes to genealogy, you cannot ignore the world that your ancestors lived in, either. Was there a war, civil unrest, famine, religious persecution? Why did your ancestors settle where they did? Why did they move when they did? For example:.
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Bonus Tip. Always be learning One of the best things about genealogy is that you're constantly a student. Census Records What Is the U. Information Available from the Census From to , census takers listed the name of the head of each household, together with the number of people living in each household divided into age ranges and by sex.
Click to enlarge. S census click to enlarge.
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In general, the later the census, the more information it includes. How Information Was Gathered One of the most important considerations in using census records is understanding how the information was gathered. One of the most common reasons was that no one was home.
Census Date One thing to keep in mind is the date that the census was taken. S census residence section.