Rooting Around in Your Past: Getting
Genealogy. It's not just your grandmother's hobby anymore.
These days, people of all ages are busily connecting to ancestors long gone, thanks to the wonders of the web and the emergence of genealogy sites aimed at bringing the past into the present.
Modern technology coupled with a host of dedicated volunteer transcribers make it possible for a researcher in Tampa to unearth the Pennsylvania gravesite of her great-great-grandfather without leaving her house. All you need are a yen to discover how events that transpired long ago shape your life today and plenty of patience.
Of course, the majority of records that you will need aren't online. That's where your public library comes in. Most large libraries house a special collections area. Shelf space is dedicated to research materials covering a wide range of genealogical data. You can spend hours poring over passenger lists from ships that brought some of this country's first immigrants, federal census records, county tax lists dating back to the 1700s and marriages performed by circuit-riding preachers.
In the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library, one researcher discovered an index of wills for a tiny northern town containing the probate date of her great-great-grandmother's will. Armed with that information, she wrote the county seat and obtained a complete copy of the will. The personal possessions inventory provided a glimpse of the woman's personality and, 100 years after the fact, figuratively brought her ancestor to life.
Can't find what you need? The library staff provides assistance. And if the information is not there, chances are the microfilmed records can be ordered through the inter-library loan program.
Another great resource is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church. Its Family History Centers, satellite offices connected to the Church's famed library in Salt Lake City , are found throughout the United States .
While a scant amount of data is kept on the premises, volumes of information can be ordered for a nominal fee from the main library, where records on about 2 billion deceased are stored.
So many people, so many lives. With such an abundance of information, where to begin?
The best place to start is with yourself and work back, tackling one generation at a time to avoid becoming overwhelmed. The project will seem less daunting and your results will be more accurate.
While it is important to include the names and spouses of the siblings to each of your parents and grandparents (etc.), whether you completely trace the separate families of each sibling up to present day is a matter of personal preference. In very large families that can be a cumbersome and time-consuming endeavor.
Now that you have a vague outline, it's time to fill in the blanks. First write down as much information as you can remember. Then grill your family. Pick the brains of your parents and grandparents. Talk to your Great-Aunt Tilly and your eccentric Uncle Dan. Their memories can serve as a springboard for compiling a skeleton chart.
From day one, document, document, document. Strive to acquire three different documents to prove each link. Many people claim they can trace their roots back to the Mayflower. Producing actual proof is quite another matter.
For example, if you want to prove that Sara Jones was the wife of Elijah Jones, you'd want to obtain the marriage license application and actual certificate (if available), church records, census records and wills. Many states did not maintain vital statistics records prior to 1885. Thus, you may have to rummage through old land records to find a document showing the couple sold a piece of land. (In the 1800s, it was common to exclude the wife on documents purchasing land, but she was usually included when the land was sold.)
Combing through old records may yield some surprises. Your detective work could even uncover a major scandal or two. If so, keep in mind that genealogists are recorders of history, not judges.
Your goal is not to carefully prune your family tree, but to reconstruct it with all the knots, gnarls and blossoms intact.
Copyright © 2008. All copy and graphics property of Donna Murray. This site may be freely linked to but not duplicated in any fashion without the author's consent