April 18, 2014

Genealogy Crowdsourcing: 4 Strategies and 4 Tips for Your Brick Wall!

While at RootsTech 2014 I had an opportunity to talk with my friend, author and genealogy podcaster Drew Smith (The Genealogy Guys) about the how to conduct effective crowdsourcing of genealogical ideas and solutions, a technique he covers in his new book Advanced Genealogy.

Genealogy Crowdsourcing Strategies
1. Facebook – Search for a Facebook Group
2. Mailing Lists on RootsWeb
3. Message Boards on Ancestry
4. Search Google as message board posting will appear in results

Genealogy Crowdsourcing Tips:
1. Tell people what you already know.
2. Be specific about what you are looking for.
3. Take what you already have and go back and review it. You may notice things you missed.
4. Vocalize the problem to a person with a fresh set of eyes.

If you’d like to pick up a copy of Drew’s book and you use this link Advanced Genealogy Research Techniques to purchase it from Amazon, you’ll also be supporting the free Genealogy Gems Podcast- thank you!

How to Find Enumeration District Maps

enumeration district maps

1940 Census Enumeration District Map, Oklahoma, Wagoner County, http://research.archives.gov/description/5836456

Looking for enumeration district maps for the U.S. Federal Census? You’re not alone! Recently Genealogy Gems podcast listener Michelle in Denver, Colorado, wrote in with this question:

“Where can I find individual enumeration district maps? I don’t need a state-wide map showing the divisions between enumeration districts, but a map showing the numbered households within a single enumeration district.”

My answer: How to find Enumeration District Maps

First, here’s a little back story from the National Archives (U.S.) website:

“An enumeration district, as used by the Bureau of the Census, was an area that could be covered by a single enumerator (census taker) in one census period. Enumeration districts varied in size from several city blocks in densely populated urban areas to an entire county in sparsely populated rural areas.

Enumeration district maps show the boundaries and the numbers of the census enumeration districts, which were established to help administer and control data collection. Wards, precincts, incorporated areas, urban unincorporated areas, townships, census supervisors` districts, and congressional districts may also appear on some maps. The content of enumeration district maps vary greatly. The base maps were obtained locally and include postal route maps, General Land Office maps, soil survey maps, and maps produced by city, county, and state government offices as well as commercial printers. Census officials then drew the enumeration district boundaries and numbers on these base maps.” (Check out the full article here.)

Enumeration district maps are not available in all years and all locations. 1940 is the most accessible. These are available on the National Archives (U.S.) website. (Scroll down to item 3 for instructions on getting to these through the Online Public Access search.) You’ll see that only the enumeration district numbers and street names are marked on the maps. Individual homes are not.

What about enumeration district maps before 1940? Consult Cartographic Records of the Census Bureau for maps in the National Archives. For censuses before 1900, the government used voting districts as enumeration districts. Find voting district maps in the Library of Congress book, Ward Maps of the United States : A Selective Checklist of Pre-1900 Maps in the Library of Congress.  (The links here lead to WorldCat search results for these titles. WorldCat will tell you about libraries that have these books.) If you just want to find the enumeration district number of an address you already know, go to the Unified Census ED Finder at Steve Morse’s One-Step genealogy website.

Here are a couple more thoughts:

  • In cities,  there are often two columns of numbers in the census population enumeration (typically on the far left of the page). There’s house number and the number representing the order in which the enumerator visited the house (which has nothing to do with the house number). If you can’t find a relative in once census, pull the address from one census and use it in the Steve Morse database above to pull up the enumeration district for your missing decade.
  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for GenealogyDepending on the year you are researching, try to locate a Sanborn fire insurance map for the area.  Sanborn maps do include drawings of individual homes and include their house number. Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 47 is all about Sanborn fire maps. On the show notes page I even include a list of links to many Sanborn map collections, organized by state.

(Image right: Sanborn
Fire Insurance Map)

 

I’ll be at FGS 2014 in San Antonio: Will you?

FGS 2014 San Antonio TexasNow that I’m a proud Texan, it’s even more exciting that I’m speaking at “FGS 2014!”

The annual meeting of the Federation of Genealogical Societies is in San Antonio, Texas, this year on August 27-30. Online registration is now open: register here by 1 July 2014 for an early-bird discount.

This year’s conference theme is “Gone to Texas. “This conference will offer over 160 educational sessions on records, strategies, and tools for genealogists of all levels,” says Josh Taylor, FGS President. “Sessions will be presented by some of the leading genealogists from the United States. Ten different sponsored luncheons will provide opportunities for networking.”

FGS 2014 Conference Highlights

I’ll be giving three talks at FGS 2014 and I’ll be in the vendor hall, too. Here are the session numbers and descriptions. I hope you’ll come by and say hello!

FGS 2014 San Antonio Texas Lisa Cooke

Here’s more of what you’ll find at FGS:

  • Conference Sessions:  A wide variety of genealogy-related lectures and workshops for all experience levels. Attendees will be able to learn about Texas and neighboring states research, African-American and ethnic origin research, military research, genetics, technology, migration, methodology and more.
  • Exhibit Hall: The large exhibit hall will feature the latest software, books, maps, databases and gadgets on the market for genealogists and family historians, as well as information about genealogical organizations. Representatives of FGS member societies will staff their booths in the special Society Showcase area.
  • Special Events: On Wednesday evening, local hosts San Antonio Genealogical and Historical Society and Texas State Genealogical Society invite registrants to an evening at the Institute of Texas Cultures, an amazing museum located directly behind the convention center. On Friday evening, The San Antonio Conservation Society hosts a festive evening with strumming guitars, shining horns, a capella voices of mariachis and local artisans at work at La Villita. The Conservation Society only hosts 10 of these events each year and FGS is excited to able to offer this. Details can be found at www.fgsconference.org.
  • Focus on Societies: On Wednesday, August 27, 2014, sessions are jam-packed with ideas and tools to help societies promote themselves, increase membership, and develop sources of revenue.  The day kicks off with a first ever, half-day workshop to develop a plan and tools to use to enhance and guide their society forward.
  • Librarians’ Day: On Tuesday, August 26, 2014, ProQuest will sponsor a full-pre-conference day of sessions designed for librarians, archivists, and other information professionals serving family history researchers.

Family History Episode 25 – Using Civil Birth Records in Family History Research

Family History Genealogy Made Easy PodcastFamily History: Genealogy Made Easy

with Lisa Louise Cooke

Republished April 1, 2014

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 25Using Civil Birth Records in Family History

In our last episode we covered marriage records. We finish up vital records in this episode by going back to the beginning: birth records.

There are two major categories: civil and church records. Today I’m bringing in professional genealogist Arlene H. Eakle, PhD, who will helps us to see the challenges we face and the success we can have locating civil birth records. (In Episode 26, Arlene will join me again to walk us through the world of church birth records.)

Here are some take-away tips from our discussion in this episode:

  • When you start researching in a new area, learn when government birth records began to be kept. Every state and some cities began birth registration at different times. Today, in some states you order records before a certain date from the local government and more recent ones from the state vital records office. Do your research! Start with this Vital Records Chart from Family Tree Magazine.
  • In the U.S., most government birth records were kept by the county, except in New England and independent cities. In the 20th century, the state took over jurisdiction of vital records in most states.
  • Birth records often have the names of parents and child and the place and date of birth. You may also find parents’ birthplaces, marital status of parents and even the date of marriage.
  • A single locale may have logged births in multiple sources, for example, for those who lived in or outside the city limits, or segregated records for blacks.
  • The actual birth record may have been logged as part of a list of names on a columned form. Birth certificates are a modern thing!
  • Some records have been digitized and indexed or microfilmed. Check the Family History Library catalog on FamilySearch.org first. If they have birth records, they’ll tell you whether they’ve been digitized or indexed on their site, or whether they’re available on microfilm.
  • Of course, many birth records are also available on subscription websites like Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com, MyHeritage.com and more. If you are a subscriber, check their online holdings, too.
  • When ordering a birth record from a government office, they may type up a certificate to send you. That’s nice, but also ask for a photocopy of the original birth entry or record. There’s often more on the original record than the certificate—and you’ll minimize errors by looking at the real record.

Arlene H. Eakle, Ph.D., is the president and founder of The Genealogical Institute, Inc. and a professional genealogist since 1962. She holds both MA and Ph.D. in English History and an Associate degree in Nursing.

Midwestern Roots Registration Starts Today!

Midwestern Roots Genealogy Conference 2014I have roots in Indiana and have longed to travel to Hoosier state to conduct some much needed genealogy research. So you can imagine how happy I was to be invited to keynote at the upcoming Midwestern Roots 2014: Family History and Genealogy Conference being held August 1 and 2, 2014, Indianapolis, IN, at the Indianapolis Marriott East.

This year’s theme is a timely one: Exploring Frontiers: What Would Your Pioneers Have Tweeted? This conference promises to be a glorious melding of old and new with deep history sessions and the latest technology.

Here’s the scoop on the Midwestern Roots Conference:

Registration Opens March 26 with a $99 registration special price March 26-29, 2014.

Includes the two day conference and lunches.

Additional fee for banquet and some pre-conference activities.

Register online at www.indianahistory.org/midwesternroots or

call (317) 232-1882 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday during the special offer.

The Midwestern Roots 2014 Conference is your chance to get updated on the latest technology changes in family history research, resources and methodology, and I’ll be exploring that in my keynote  Future Technology and Genealogy: 5 Strategies You Need. You’ll also experience:

• More than 30 stimulating lectures from nationally known speakers Warren Bittner, Lisa Louise Cooke, Joan Hostetler, Amy Johnson Crow, Thomas MacEntee, James H. Madison, Anne Gillespie Mitchell, Daniel S. Poffenberger, Curt B. Witcher and more

•  The Great Google Earth Game Show presented by Lisa Louise Cooke (this will be an interactive, FUN, outside the box kind of session topped off with prizes!)

Hoosiers and A New History for the Twenty-First Century presented by James H. Madison

A Guided Tour of Ancestry computer lab taught by Amy Johnson Crow and Anne Gillespie Mitchell from Ancestry.com

• Genealogy Resources Library Workshop

• Writing, document preservation and photo preservation workshops

• Family History Market and Book Fair – open to the public

See you at the Midwestern Roots 2014 Conference!

Which Way Do I Go Now? Organize a Genealogy Research Plan

Recently I heard from Jane, a Genealogy Gems Premium subscriber Genealogy Research Plan Get Organizedin Canada, who needs a genealogy research plan! She’s researched on Ancestry.ca, Scotland’s People, the Free English BMD Index, FamilySearch and joined her local society. But she’s not sure where to go next with her research–there just are SO many options! If this sounds familiar, check out her question and the advice I gave her:

“I often end up wandering around in circles and mazes as one thing leads to another, and another, and …   I am sure you know what I am talking about.  I seem to be jumping back and forth between my Dad’s family, my Mom’s family, their families, etc. until there are times that I find myself at a certain point, only to wonder ‘Where was I going with this?’  I’m now wondering if I would be best to take it one person at a time – to find out as much as I can about that person in that point of time, before going on to another. I have started trying to make notes…but find that I end up hopelessly out of order and lost. Any advice would be appreciated! Help!!!”

My Answer: A Genealogy Research Plan to Deal with the Chaos

“You are not along in this genealogical dilemma! It’s easy to let the records start to take over and lead you around. Set a goal or a genealogy research plan – define what it is you want to know. It might be something very specific about a particular ancestor, or it might just be to fill in the blanks on one particular family. Early in my research I focused on one grandparent, and working backwards, I would strive to fill in all the blanks on that person, then their parents, then their siblings. I wouldn’t “leave” that family until I felt that I had filled in as much of the family group sheet as possible. (We have sort of lost track of the “family group sheet in this technological age. But it is an excellent tool for keeping you on track and focused on the blanks that need to be filled.)

An additional strategy is to have a process for dealing with information that is a bit off your current track. Often we feel like we have to pursue it or we’ll lose it. I like to use Evernote (free at Evernote.com) to capture data that I’m not ready to deal with right now, but definitely want to pursue later. I create an Evernote “notebook” for that family surname, and a note book called “future research.” Drag and drop “Future Research” onto the family surname notebook which will create a “stack.”  Now you can create notes and drop them into the “Future Research” notebook which is inside the applicable family. Add tags to your note like “newspaper,” “death record,” etc. and some good searchable keywords so that the note will be easy to find when you need it. Now you can capture the item, file it away, and stay focused on the task at hand. Whenever you’re ready to ask a new question, open that Future Research notebook. Use what’s there to inspire the next phase of your genealogy research plan.”Evernote Quick Ref Guide

If you would like to learn more about using Evernote for genealogy, I have a quick reference guide in my store that will work wonders in keeping you organized. It’s available for both Windows and Mac, and in both PDF and laminated print format.

Mailbox question from Beginning GenealogistYour questions are always welcome! Contact me by email, or leave a voice mail at (925) 272-4021 and you may just hear yourself on the show.

 

Family History Episode 24 – Using Marriage Records in Family History

Family History PodcastFamily History: Genealogy Made Easy

with Lisa Louise Cooke

Republished March 25, 2014

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 24: Using Marriage Records in Family History

So far in this podcast series you’ve made a lot of progress. You’ve set up your genealogy database, talked to your relatives, gotten familiar with the Family History Centers and you have your research worksheet to lead you in your investigation backwards in time, through death records and the census.

In today’s episode we’re going to continue working backwards down the records aisle looking for marriage records. Marriage records are a type of vital records, meaning they provide vital statistics for a person’s life. They can be a rich—even vital!—source of genealogical information.

Marriage records, like death and birth records (which we’ll be covering in an upcoming episode) are primary sources. This means that the record was completed at the event or very close to it by someone who was present at the event. That means it’s a pretty reliable source.

There are two types of marriage records: civil records which are recorded with the local government, usually at the county level, and church records, if the marriage took place in a church

Update: Many government and church marriage records have found their way into major genealogical databases (www.Ancestry.com, www.FamilySearch.org, www.FindMyPast.org, www.MyHeritage.com, etc). Look for indexed records and—if you’re lucky—digitized versions of the actual record. (If you find only indexed records, use the process below to find copies of the actual record.)

Civil/Government Marriage Records

You need to determine where the marriage took place in order to figure out the proper civil authorities to contact. Usually that’s the clerk in the town, county, district or parish where the happy couple said “I do.” In the U.S., chances are it was at the county level, but if you’re not sure, do a Google search on the name of the county and the phrase “vital records” or “marriage records.” Chances are one of the first search results will be a link to the website for that county and hopefully the specific page that will tell you how to request vital records. There you should find specific instructions about how to make the request and any fees involved.

I have three tips for you:

  • Tip #1: Be sure and follow the instructions to the letter because otherwise you will likely have your request returned to you unfilled and asking for more information which just wastes time.
  • Tip #2: As with Death Records, it isn’t necessary to order a certified copy because you are not using it for legal reasons, just information reasons. Certified copies cost more and usually have more requirements to applying for them.
  • Tips #3 Request a complete photo copy (which is sometimes referred to as a LONG FORM) rather than a SHORT FORM which can be a brief transcription of the record. There may be clues in the original record that may be left out (or mistranscribed) in the SHORT FORM.

If all this sounds cumbersome there is an easier to request marriage records and that is through Vitalcheck.com (see below). While it costs more you can order the records quickly and easily online.

If you’re looking for civil records in England or Wales, those records have been officially recorded by local District Registrars who reported to the General Registrar Office since July 1, 1837. These records are probably easiest to access, particularly if you are not in the UK, through FindMyPast (www.findmypast.com), which does charge a fee for each record.

Types of civil records:

  • Marriage application. I can’t guarantee they’re available in every county, but it’s definitely worth asking!
  • Marriage license. This record often holds the most genealogical value. It will include their names, ages, residences as well as perhaps their race, occupation, age, and perhaps their parents’ names.
  • Marriage register record. This confirms the marriage actually took place. This may be just a signature and date from the official who performed the marriage, and may be a small section at the end of the marriage license information. (The latter type of record may also be called a “marriage return” or minister’s return.”
  • Marriage certificate. While this record is part of the process it isn’t available through the vital records office. It would have been kept by the couple and will involve some looking around and asking relatives to see if it still exists.

Tip: A marriage license alone does not prove a marriage. A couple could easily apply for a license but never go through with the big day.

Church Marriage Records

Start looking for these records at the Family History Library (www.familysearch.org).

Other places to look:

  • The church if it still exists. Search for their website. Contact the church office and ask if they have records for the time period you’re looking for. If they no longer have the records ask where they are being archived.
  • Check in with the closest local library and ask to talk to the reference desk.
  • Search the WorldCat catalog (see Links).
  • Check the US Gen Web site for the state and county where the marriage occurred (see Links). These sites are run by volunteers and each county has a different variety of records and resources available. Contact the local genealogy or and historical societies and ask for their help.

Other records to look for:

  • Banns of marriage records. Look for a record of the banns in the church minutes or church bulletins.
  • Newspaper marriage announcements. Tip: Keep in mind when you’re searching a newspaper database and you find a listing for what appears to be the right family in the right area but the date is way off, be sure and check it out because it just may be a republishing of the news you were looking for! (Learn more about newspaper research in my book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers.)

Links/Updates

FamilySearch. To search for marriage records by place, click on Search, then Catalog, then search by location. You’ll find both government and church marriage records listed here. Look at the county level for U.S. government records; look at the municipal level or under the Church records category for church marriage records.

USGenWeb

WorldCat

VitalChek

Abe Lincoln and Elvis Presley Have This in Common: Mystery Photos!

Daguerrotype of a Photograph of Abraham Lincoln, used for the $5 Bill. Original taken on February 9, 1864. Photographer unidentified [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Mystery photos are one of a family history researcher’s biggest frustrations. We find them in old albums, between the pages of books or in loose files. It can heartbreaking to wonder whether we’re looking at the face of an ancestor–and to know we may never know for sure.

Well, we’re not alone. Two news stories ran recently about old mystery photos theorized to be two icons of American history: President Abraham Lincoln and singer Elvis Presley!

(Image Right: Daguerrotype of a Photograph of Abraham Lincoln, used for the $5 Bill. Original taken on February 9, 1864. Photographer unidentified [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Mystery Photos: Abraham Lincoln Funeral

The Washington Post recently posted a story about the possibility that some unidentified photos at the National Archives (U.S.) show rare images of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession in New York City.

The article gives some great back story how Lincoln’s 2-week+ funeral procession. His body traveled by rail and horse-drawn hearse for 1600 miles from Washington, D.C. back home to Springfield, Illinois. Along the way, there were stops for elaborate funeral processions in several cities. Millions of mourners turned out. The article quotes the man who put together this theory – a retired government accountant who loves historic photos.

Mystery Photo: A Young Elvis Presley?

The Blaze recently reported on an Elvis sighting: well, at least a photo sighting of Elvis. The image in question shows a young teenage boy. There are lots of questions about whether this is really The King before fame changed his life – and American pop music – forever.

These remind me of a genealogy blog post by Lisa Frank. She shares how listening to the Genealogy Gems Podcast led to the discovery of an online video that may belong to her family story. Read her post Could It Be My Ancestor? and chime in with your opinion.

What surprising, poignant or fascinating mystery photos have you found in your family history research? Share them on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page and tell us about them! I look forward to seeing them!

Obituaries in Newspapers are Going Online

custom_classifieds_12091 (1)More obituaries gleaned from newspapers are going online. This is welcome news for those researching their  genealogy.

Recently I blogged about BillionGraves’ new Supporting Records feature that allows users to upload documentation relating to ancestors’ deaths. This paves the way for more obituaries to be paired with ancestral tombstones and other resources. At RootsTech we learned about 2 more online obit projects:

Newspaper Obituaries at FamilySearch

1. FamilySearch is spearheading the indexing of millions of obituaries from the U.S.,  followed by other nations. CEO Dennis Brimhall announced this initiative in his keynote speech at RootsTech. “Estimates claim over 500 million obituaries exist in the U.S. alone,” said Dennis Brimhall, FamilySearch CEO. “The average obituary can contain the names of about ten family members of the deceased—parents, spouse, children, and other relatives. Making them easily searchable online can be an enormous future source for creating our family histories. The number of people who will benefit is incalculable. It could very well be the single largest preservation and access project of its kind, and will no doubt be one of the most used online collections worldwide as it grows.”

The timing of completion depends on volunteer efforts, Brimhall says. He hopes to see 100 million names indexed in 2014, but that will require “tens of thousands of additional volunteers.”  (Want to help? Go to FamilySearch.org/indexing.)

Upload Newspaper Obituaries at ObitsAncestry

ObitsAncestry2. A new website, ObitsAncestry.com, allows individuals to upload obituaries for free, along with up to 4 related images. The obituary webpage is like the memorial pages hosted by many funeral homes, where loved ones can post comments and memories. But there’s no advertising, so it’s very respectful and “quiet.” Anyone searching for that loved one’s name will find the obituary indexed by major search engines. And perhaps most useful for the future, “All obituaries submitted to ObitsAncestry.com will be indexed and linked by familysearch.org for family history and genealogical purposes.” That gives me a little more confidence in the “staying power” of obituaries I would post there. The site just launched during RootsTech, so their database is growing now.

Available at http://genealogygems.com

Available at http://genealogygems.com

Of course many obituaries are already searchable through digitized newspaper websites. But the accuracy rate for searching these isn’t as high–I’ve seen it reported it as about 60%. Which is a great start, don’t get me wrong, but I’m so pleased that better searching of obituaries is in the works!

Want to learn more about using newspapers and obituaries in genealogy? Check out Lisa’s book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers.

How to Find Your Family History for Free – Getting Started

stick_figure_walking_up_custom_books_12762Free Family History has a nice ring to it!

Did you know you don’t have to pay for a subscription to anything to be able to start learning more about your family history?

Start to find your family history for free by asking the four questions listed below.

1. What do you already know?

Chances are that you know something about your family already. The most important facts we start with are our relatives’ names and their dates and places of birth, marriage(s) and death. These facts can help you later to distinguish between records about our relatives and others with the same name.

Write down what you know about your “direct ancestors”–your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.–on a family tree chart like this free fill-in pdf format (these are also called pedigree charts).  Then use family group sheets like this one to organize facts about each individual couple (this is where you can list all the children your grandparents had, for example).

2. What do your relatives know?

After filling out what you can, show your family tree chart and family group sheets to other relatives. Ask them if they can fill in some blanks. Remember these tips:

  • Try to include a little note about who tells you each piece of information.
  • Someone may dispute what you find. Everyone’s memory of an event is different. Don’t argue. Treat their information with respect:. Write it down. Then ask politely if they have any documentation you could see, or why they believe something to be true (who told them, etc).
  • Ask whether anything is missing from your charts: a grandparent’s second marriage, a stillborn child or even whether someone’s name is accurate. You or others might know someone by a nickname or middle name.
  • Be sensitive to information that might be confidential or not generally well-known, like a birth date that doesn’t appear more than 9 months after a wedding, or a first marriage. Consider asking living relatives if it’s okay for you to share certain facts. Consider only showing part of your charts to a relative.

3. What’s in the attic (or anywhere else)?

Closed_AlbumWe can often find family documents in our own homes and those of our relatives. Look in attics, basements, storage units, safe deposit boxes and safes, filing cabinets, photo albums, scrapbooks, shoeboxes and other places where papers and memorabilia may be tucked. You’re looking for things like:

  • certificates of birth, baptism, marriage or death;
  • obituaries or other news articles, like anniversaries;
  • funeral programs, wedding and birth announcements;
  • photos with names or other notes on the backs;
  • insurance, pension, military or other paperwork that may mention births or deaths or beneficiary information;
  • wills and home ownership paperwork–even outdated ones;
  • a family Bible.

When you find family names, relationships, dates and places in these documents, add them to your charts.

4. What’s available online for free?

There are two major types of family history information online: records and trees. Records are documents created about specific people, like obituaries, birth certificates and all those other examples I just mentioned. Trees are a computerized form of other people’s family tree charts and group sheets. It can be tempting to just look for someone else’s version of your family tree. Eventually you will want to consult those. But other people’s trees are notoriously full of mistakes! Instead, start by looking for records about the relatives you already have identified.

Capture FS SearchI suggest that you start your search at FamilySearch.org because it’s totally free. At most other sites, you’ll have to subscribe or pay to see all the search results. At FamilySearch, you just need to create a free user login to get the most access to their records.

After logging in, click Search. Choose a relative you don’t know a lot about. Search for that name. Use the different search options to add more information–even a range of dates and a state/province or country–so you don’t have to wade through thousands of near-matches.

The most common records to find on FamilySearch for many countries are census and vital records.

  • A census is a tally of residents, voters or another target population. Entries often include details about a household: who lived there, how they were related, how old they were, where they were born, etc. You can often extract family information from census listings, though some things (like ages or name spellings) may not be totally accurate.
  • Vital records are official records of someone’s birth, marriage or death. In these, you’ll often find important dates and places as well as names of parents, spouses or others important to the family. They aren’t always totally accurate, and you may only be able to see an index of the record (not the actual document).

As you find search results, compare what they say to what you’ve already learned. How likely is it that this record belongs to your family? Consider how many people seem to have the same name in that location and time period (for example, how many are mentioned in the 1880 U.S. census in that state?). Don’t just look at the search results list: click through to look at the full summary of the entry and, if you can, the original record itself. You may find additional details in these that can confirm whether this record belongs to your relative. You may even find out about new people: your great-grandparents’ parents, for example. Write it all down or begin building a family tree right there on the FamilySearch website (because it’s totally free: learn more about that here.) And one of the greatest keys to long term success is citing your sources. It’s imperative that you make careful note of where you got the resource so that you can find and refer to it again later, and back up your research if it is ever called into question.

puzzle_pieces_custom_11467People who research their family history often describe it as a puzzle with lots of different pieces. You will need to assemble a lot of puzzle pieces–information about each relative–to begin to see the “bigger picture” of your family history. You’ll start to sense which pieces may belong to a different family puzzle. You may put together a picture that is unexpected, or has some shadows and sadness. There will likely also emerge heroic, beautiful and touching images.

Ready to learn more?

Up next, read:

7 Great Ways to Use Your iPad for Family History

How to Find Your Family Tree Online

Best Genealogy Software

Search the SSDI for Your Family History