If you’re just wading into the waters of family tree research, there are a lot of resources available – in addition to the ubiquitous Ancestry.com, which I discussed in the last post, there’s a lot of other places to look for information and a lot of other ways to organize it.
Here’s a list of some of those resources.
Pros: The most complete resource and a must have for any genealogist. You may be able to access this via your local library without having a membership to a genealogy Web site.
Cons: The Census was conducted by people, so there’s a certain factor of human error. Misspellings and incorrect information can make your ancestor harder to find. And the entire 1890 census (save a few thousand files) was burned in a fire, which can create an information gap for ancestors who were born during that time.
Pros: A free site that was primarily compiled as a project of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). An information resource for many other genealogy Web sites. (Ever notice they’re all based in Utah?) Offers a number of free resources, including some video classes on how to search. Did I mention it was F-R-Double E free?
Cons: Records can be incomplete or challenging to read; the originals are seldom displayed.
Pros: A great way to organize and share information. Gedcom files can be the basis for infomation that makes its way to Family Search or Ancestry.com. Provides a structure for information and a repository.
Cons: Only as good as the information entered into it. If you’re not a technically savvy person or code-friendly, it might be a nightmare to learn. Sites like Ancestry.com mimic many parts of a gedcom in a more user-friendly format.
Pros: It sounds amazingly simple, but seriously? Put your ancestors’ first, middle and last name into Google Search (and maybe the city, county and/or state) and you’d be amazed at what pops up. I’ve found a surprising amount of information, either because my ancestors’ name popped up in scanned documents or because someone else had already done the research and posted it online.
Cons: May not work if you have an incredibly common name – or if, like my ancestors, your ancestors decided to give the same name to a dozen or so members of your extended family.
Newspapers and magazines
Pros: A fantastic resources, particularly for newspapers printed between about 1850 and 1980, when most areas had at least one daily newspaper (if not more) and focused more on local content. Weekly papers can also be great – I’ve posted before about how the weekly social round-up was like the predecessor of the Facebook status update. A wealth of information, including obituaries, wedding announcements, and news articles. One of the best things about Ancestry.com.
Cons: Can be difficult to search. Most older papers are on microfilm, and if you don’t have an exact date or a specific person you’re looking for, the time investment can be serious. Libraries and Ancestry.com tend not to have the complete archives of most papers.
Pros: You may be able to get marriage records and death certificates from your state’s vital records department or from state archives.
Cons: You can rarely get birth certificates (for privacy/fraud reasons) and you usually must establish a direct lineage for the other information, which means that you can’t use this resources for more extended members of the family.
Pros: A great way to establish when an ancestor or relative passed away.
But only if they’ve died since 1973. Limited files are available before 1973.
Pros: Can provide some of the most detailed records about your ancestors, including crucial pieces that may not be anywhere else about the joys and sorrows of any family (birth, death, marriage).
Cons: A true wild card; depends on the stance your church takes on the privacy of these records. Can get potentially complicated if records were “fudged” to hide an illegitimate child or divorce.
Pros: A detailed resource for information about ancestors who served in the armed forces. Can provide vivid details about your ancestors’ experience during their service, or explain how they died in battle.
Cons: Perhaps unsurprisingly, there can be a lot of red tape to cut through to find this information. What you’re asked to verify in order to get the information….is often the same piece of information you’re seeking. As with the Census, some files have been lost to fire.
- There are a number of sites that are message-board based which can be great spots to exchange information. Genealogy.com, RootsChat.com, and Cousin Connect are but a few.
- Aside from newspapers and magazines, libraries have many other resources. To name just a few: phone directories, local yearbooks, maps, and minutes of city meetings.
- It may not be the first place anyone wants to look, but court files and prison records can also tell a story (a true story, though perhaps a troubling one) of ancestors on the wrong side of the law.
- And sometimes the simplest place to start is to talk to older family members. They might be able to give you details – family photos, family Bible pages, documents and papers – that no public resources would ever have.
These are just a few places to look.
Kimberly Powell has written two great guides to genealogy research that are especially useful for beginners: The Everything Guide to Online Genealogy and The Everything Family Tree Book. If you decide to wade deeper into the genealogy research waters, these are great places to start (and at $15 a book, a pretty good deal).
What resources have you found useful?