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Researching Your Own Family Tree - How To Get Started

Researching your own family tree can be a richly rewarding experience.  It doesn't matter if you find royalty or scallywags in your tree, they are all exciting.  So.... how do you get started?

The first step is to start with yourself and work backward.  If you don't have genealogy software for your computer, you can start by using a Family Group Sheet to record the data.  You can download a Family Group Sheet form at Ancestry.com for free. Print several copies as you will need one for each family.  

If you are married, begin with your own family.  List all of the information requested in each block.  Be sure to use your Mother's maiden name. Your next sheet will be for your parents.  Fill in the information on each one as completely as possible.  If you are not sure of all of the dates, you will need to ask your parents for help if they are still living.  

Fill in as many sheets as possible.  Your first research will be conducted by talking to your parents, cousins, Aunts, Uncles, and especially GrandParents if possible.  Be sure to ask if anyone has possession of an old family bible that may contain birth, marriage, and/or death dates.  You might also see if someone in the family has previously done research on your family tree.  

Be sure you document all dates and information on each person.  Make copies of death and birth certificates if available.  Keep copies of marriage licenses and/or bonds so you have documentation of the data.

Social Security Death Index

If you have an ancestor that died after 1937, you may be able to locate information on them through the Social Security Death Index.  If you find them, click on the SS-5 link in the right hand column and you can print out a letter with all of the information for that individual and mail it to Social Security to request a copy of the original application for a Social Security Card.  While it may seem like you are recreating the wheel to request the SS-5 form, there are times that this can be the only proof you will have for an ancestor's birth. For instance, for those ancestors born in the 1860s to 1880s who immigrated to the United States, it can be difficult to pinpoint their place of birth. On the SS-5 it was required that the applicant supply complete birth information. This means more than just the country of birth, as is usually found on census and death records. Moreover, the maiden name of the applicant's mother was requested, often critical information for a family historian.

Death Certificates

Another great source for information is a death certificate.  Most states began requiring local authorities record each death by means of a death certificate and report them to the State Vital Statistics department between the years of 1910 and 1925.  If you know the date of death and the state, you can request a copy of the certificate which should include not only the cause of death, but the persons date and place of birth, spouse's name, and parents names as well as their place of birth.  It may also include the name of the funeral home and burial site.  Be sure you keep copies of all documents.

Newspaper Archives

Don't forget to check for obituaries in the archives of local newspapers.  Some libraries will have these on microfilm.  An obituary can contain a wealth of information on family members.  Most include the parents names of the deceased and any references to where they might have lived, as well as surviving siblings, spouses, and children.  You will most likely be able to make a copy of any obituary that you find - be sure to include the name of the newspaper and the date of issue.

Birth Certificates

You might also be able to request copies of birth certificates if you know the dates and locations of a birth.  This document will give you the names of the parents and the number of children born to this particular mother before this pregnancy. 

Census Records

To locate a surname in a census index, you may need to look for spelling variations.  A prominent surname for our family is "Lisle", however, I have rarely found a census listing, marriage record, obituary,  or even a military record with the last named spelled correctly.  When you locate your ancestor on the census, be sure to record all of the data listed.  Since 1850, all census records indicate the state of birth of the individual which can be extremely helpful in tracking down missing links.  For documentation purposes include the page # as well as the precinct, county, and state for the information.

The above information should get you started digging for your roots.  Our next article will include additional tips on locating that elusive ancestor.

Author:  Ellen Mayo
Our Family Ancestors
Owner/Genealogy Researcher




Site Owner: Ellen Mayo
URL: http://www.ourfamilyancestors.com
E-mail: emayo@ourfamilyancestors.com
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