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In Part I, I described the importance of doing your family homework, including interviewing family members, obtaining available family documents, keeping research logs, and carefully organizing all of the information by hand or computer. These can be time-consuming tasks but necessary to avoid an haphazard approach to further research. Guessing at facts, without analyzing what you already have, leads only to frustration and brick walls.
You will recall from Part I that all I knew about my paternal great-grandfather was that his name was George, his wife was Elizabeth and he died in a fire in Detroit sometime in the 1890's. I even have less information about my grandfather, William, because according to my 92 yr. old Dad, William was in and out of the family and was separated from them at the time of his death. So, where to start the formal research on this family branch was a challenge. I started with a Family History Center and recommend that approach to most beginners.
The information that follows is extracted and adapted from various sources and those sources are credited and identified as accurately as possible. The limitations of this newsletter allow me to only 'hit the highlights'â but should point you in the right direction for your own research.
Primary and Secondary Record Sources
What I learned from my genealogy course, and reinforced on AOL's Genealogy Forum (GF - Keyword: ROOTS) on the internet, is that there are two basic kinds of genealogy records: primary and secondary sources. Primary or original records are those created at or near the time of an event, usually by someone who was a direct observer or participant in the event, i.e. certified birth, death, marriage or probate records. Secondary or previous sources are those created either much later than the time of the event, or by someone who was reading or interpreting a primary source, i.e. passenger lists, family histories or an obituary.
Primary records are preferable and generally judged to be more accurate. Interestingly, though, one source may provide both types of information. For example, a tombstone may be a primary source for the date of death, but is usually a secondary source for the date of birth. GF experts say that in the absence of primary sources you may have to depend on secondary sources. And, even when primary sources are available, using secondary sources first may speed up your research for a primary source.
In my search for my great grandfather, my genealogy instructors pointed me first to census records (a primary record) and there he was, in the Federal census conducted in Detroit, Michigan, in June, 1880! What a rush. George and Elizabeth and two of their children, my grandfather William and a daughter Nellie, all living as boarders in another household. After searching several other films, I also located my grandfather William and his family (including my Dad) in the 1910 Federal census. From these census entries, I now had clues about possible marriage and birth dates to search, occupations, and countries of birth of my grandparents, great grandparents, and great-great grandparents. The census records I searched were on microfiche located in a Family History Center (FHC) where I have continued to focus my beginning genealogy efforts.
Family History Library of the LDS Church
Genealogists recognize the Family History Library of the LDS church as one of the leading repositories for research materials. Local FHC's make these materials available on computers and microfilm readers.
Using a Family History Center
The main reason for using a FHC is simply, as I and Dear Myrtle of AOL are fond of saying, that there is no point in reinventing the wheel. You may save yourself a lot of time by searching the three main types of information available at the main Family History Library (FHL) and the local FHC's.
Three Main Types of Information
- Previously submitted research
- Original documents
- Computer files
Previous research includes family history books, as well as names submitted to the International Genealogical Index (IGI), and volumes of indexes on such topics as passenger records, census, wills, military and land records, cemeteries, etc. The FHLC, Family History Library Catalog, lists all materials available at the Salt Lake library on CD-ROM and microfiche. The catalog has four sections to search: Author-Title if you know the author or title of a record; Locality if you know where your ancestors lived and want to find records from that location; Surname if you want to find family histories or biographical information for the surname you are searching; and, Subject if you want information on a subject.
Each record is cataloged and described and you may order and use most of them through local FHC's. The main FHL adds 5000 new items a month, so the FHLC should be checked annually. The IGI, a computer-generated index found on microfiche or on computer, lists millions of names of deceased persons, dates and places of birth, christenings and marriages from throughout the world.
Most of the names come from vital records from the early 1500's to 1875. The Ancestral File is a growing computerized data bank of genealogy collections contributed by families to the FHL. The file links individuals into families and can be accessed on pedigree and descendancy charts and on family groups. Data includes names, dates and places of birth, marriage and death. Persons doing research on a family are also listed. This may help you in contacting someone who has already done a lot of work on one of your family branches.
The Family Group Records Collection, on microfilm, is a series of family group sheets organized in strict alphabetical order. Within each a name is indexed chronologically by date. The collection contains two sections to be searched: first the Main Archive, and then the Patron. The Family Histories collection are histories submitted by individuals or families and are indexed by surname. If you are lucky enough to find one for your family it may provide you with good background material and important clues for your own search.
County and Local Histories often have valuable information for your search. They may contain biographical sketches of prominent people which can lead to other bits of information about your ancestors, i.e., they served on a school board or the town council. Available histories are found in the FHLC in the Locality section and then the state and county you are searching.
Original Research. You now must start documenting your findings by reviewing and obtaining original records. The FHLC will help you locate the documents listed below.
Civil Registration and Vital Records are government recordings of birth, marriage, death, adoption and divorce. U.S. vital recordings are listed by state and then by county. Most European countries have early ecclesiastical records that are listed by the country, county or province, and then by parish. After finding my great-grandparents in the 1890 Federal Census, I was able to estimate a possible wedding date by the census entry showing how many years they had been married.
I then looked in the FHLC for the state of Michigan, Wayne County marriage records for the years 1876-1880 and ordered the microfiche to review. I found the recording of Elizabeth Milne and Octavace George Robinson's wedding on October 31, 1876, and have since sent for the original wedding certificate from the Michigan Dept. of Health. I also estimated my grandfather's birth date, and located that recording in a Michigan Birth records microfiche. William was born April 29, 1877 and I have sent for that certificate also.
Church Records are the backbone of most European research and can be helpful elsewhere in the world. Church records usually list christenings, marriages, and burials rather than births, marriages and deaths. Census and Tax Lists are used by most countries and their governments to enumerate their people. They are excellent tools for finding people, geographically, and for many other clues for further research, as I learned and described above. Probate records such as wills and other documents that go with the distribution of property of a deceased person can give you significant information about your family. Court Records are all those transactions that must go through court, i.e., naturalizations, etc. and can be very helpful when tracing an elusive ancestor.
Land Records are the backbone of research in the U.S. where land was available to a large percentage of the population. It is an important research source in all countries.
Military Records from our long history of military involvements can give you much information over a long span of time. Other countries will also have military records. Migration Records are again very important research sources because all U.S. families were immigrants at one time. These records are difficult to find but new computer-generated indexes are helping the effort.
Once you have located a record, book, or other resource through the FHC sources, you can order the actual microfilm or fiche to search for a nominal fee. It usually takes from 3 to 4 weeks for the film to come in and it does not have to be returned for several more weeks. This means that you don't have to search the film all in one sitting, which can be tiring on your eyes, and other body parts. After doing your 'homework' using a Family History Center is the best way to start your research, in my opinion. Searching their computer records and films first will save you time, money and frustration. The above information may seem daunting, but it is well organized and FHC volunteers are always very helpful and ready to get you started on your family search.
Family History Center in Sonoma
Sonoma is lucky to have a small Family History Center right in Agua Caliente at 16280 La Gramma. It is open on Tuesdays from 9-5, and 6 - 9 p.m., and Thursdays from 9-5 p.m. Sandy Geddes is the coordinator and the ph.no. is 996-2369. Since they have only one computer, it is best to call in advance to schedule computer time.
Happy Ancestral Hunting.