TRACING YOUR FAMILY HERITAGE: TIPS ON HOW TO GET STARTED
1. INITIATING YOUR PROJECT: WHAT DO YOU WANT TO KNOW?
Beginning to research your family history may seem like a daunting project. In
order to make the process easier, choose a person or family branch that
interests you. This will help narrow your research and allow you to focus in
one particular direction.
2. FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH GENEALOGY-"HOW-TO" BOOKS
There are dozens of genealogical "self-help" books on the market that can
introduce you to the field of genealogy. We suggest Dr. Ralph Crandall's
Shaking Your Family Tree, A Basic Guide to Tracing Your Family's Genealogy
(available through the Society for $10.95) will best help to prepare you
for the exciting road ahead.
3. WORK FROM THE KNOWN TO THE UNKNOWN
This is the number one rule of genealogy. Start from what you know about
yourself and work backwards. What information do you have about your parents,
grandparents, and great grandparents? As you discover new ancestors, use them
as a solid base to continue to work further into the past.
4. THE HOME SEARCH: TALKING TO YOUR FAMILY, AND REDISCOVERING YOUR
There are many personal resources available to you today in the form of living
relatives and material objects. Interviewing family members is the most
fundamental way to begin. Ask such questions as when and where they were born,
when were they married, and what they remember about their own parents.
Other information that you or other family members might have, such as old
photos, personal letters, family bibles, diaries, and other similar items might
be useful by providing names, dates, and places that are important to your
5. RECORD KEEPING: DEVELOP A SYSTEM
Once you have sifted through all your home resources, develop a system for
keeping track of what you've found. Whether you record the information on
note-cards, a three-ring notebook, or a genealogical computer software program,
find a system that is efficient and easy to use. Make sure that you clearly
document each new piece of information and where it came from.
6. BEYOND HOME RESOURCES: PUBLIC AND PRIVATE RECORDS
The next step in researching your family is to discover what other records
might shed light on your family history, and learn where these sources are
located. The two types of sources are Primary (meaning created at the
time of the event) and Secondary (usually published accounts that lead
to primary sources). Below is a list of the different types of sources most
commonly used in genealogy.
Secondary Sources: These
sources are often the easiest to find, and the most available to the
researcher, as they are usually found in most libraries. They can often be the
most misleading, and all facts taken from a secondary source should be verified
by primary sources (see below). However, examining secondary sources enables
you to discover what work has already been done on your family. Examples of
secondary sources are: published genealogies, town and local histories,
periodicals, atlases, and biographies. The International Genealogical Index
(IGI) is a widely-used index to primary sources in which an enormous volume of
birth and marriage records has been compiled onto microfilm and CD-ROM.
It often can provide helpful information in beginning a search for an ancestor,
but should not be used as ultimate proof.
Primary Sources: These sources may be personal records such as diaries
and account books, or public documents such as government records. The
following is a list of standard primary sources used for
Vital Records: Birth, marriage, or death records. These records were
kept by towns, families, or churches.
Census records (1790-1920) will tell you a variety of information from
how many people lived in
a household to occupations and names of parents.
Military records may list military duty, military pensions, etc.
Naturalization & Passenger records, will record an immigrant's
entrance into the country or their passage on a ship.
Social Security Death Index lists the death date and place of residence
of about 50 million Americans
who died between 1963 and 1993.
Land records will indicate what property your ancestor might have owned,
and with whom they made land transactions with.
Probate records deal with the property and belongings that a
person left when she or he died. There are three different types of
probate records, namely wills, administrations (how the estate is
dealt with when no will exists), and inventories (a list
of what comprises a person's estate).These records can be a rich
source of genealogical connection
Town Records: will provide a variety of sources from vital and tax
records, to cemeteries, town meeting minutes, warning outs, and other
local information. Some town records also include land and probate records.
Church and Synagogue records may include vital records, baptismal
records, and information on the organization's membership.
Newspapers (on microfilm) may include notices of birth, marriage
or death, or other pertinent information.
7. GENEALOGICAL RECORDS: KNOWING WHERE TO LOOK:
Now that you know about the types of sources in which you might find
your ancestors, you need to know where to locate the sources themselves.
Public libraries and genealogical societies like N.E.H.G.S. either will have
many of the sources listed above, or be able to point you in the right
direction to find where these sources are located. Each place, whether a
public archive or a private library, has different hours, fees, and
requirements, and therefore we suggest that once you locate the source, you
should call before visiting. Societies like N.E.H.G.S. can also provide you
with research services, and suggestions on how to further your research.
THE NEW ENGLAND HISTORIC GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY
101 Newbury Street, Boston MA 02116
(617) 536-5740. Fax: (617) 536-7307
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