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How to "DO" Family History Research

Follow four simple steps:

Step 1: Identify what you know about your family.

Write what you know about your ancestors on pedigree charts and family group sheets. Gather information from family members and relatives. Look at family Bibles, journals, letters, obituaries, and other records. When you find new information, be sure to write down the source.

Step 2: Decide what you want to learn about your family.

Identify insufficient information from a pedigree chart or family group sheet that you would like to know. Identify questions you want to answer about your ancestor, such as "When and where did he die?" Select one question as the Goal. Generally, find out about the ancestor's death before the marriage and the marriage before the birth.

On a Research Log, write your ancestor's name, the Goal (event in question), approximate date of the event, and the locality (place of the event) that you want to research.

Step 3: ABC's of Research.

A - Decide which record to search.
There are two main types of genealogical records - Original and Secondary.

Original Records created near the time of an event by someone with first-hand knowledge of the event are more reliable than biographies and abstracts done by others. Documentation generally satisfies you and your reader that what is stated is factual. The best documentation comes from original records instead of secondary records. When found, copy original records, quoting important information in your records, and reference and file them in an orderly and safe system. Original Vital (government) records are testimonies of birth, marriage and death (birth information on a death certificate is a secondary source). Civil Court proceedings are good original records. So are Church Records that testify of Christenings and Marriages, Death and Burial. Consult Cemetery and Government Population Census Records. Also remember Probate court records (wills, deeds), as well as land, military, and immigration records. Most original records are found in the area of residence.

Secondary Records include almost all published works. These "compiled records" include records of previous research by others, such as biographies, letters from descendants, area and family histories, printed genealogies or indexes and abstract of records. Bible records and tombstone inscriptions are good secondary sources. All Internet data including the LDS International Genealogical Index (IGI) are secondary records. The LDS Ancestral File data and all similar database records are but a pointer to needed research. A cited secondary source is simply an indicator to a researcher that points in a certain direction.

Generally, first search compiled records, then search original records. Read the following article Finding Acceptable Sources© by Allin Kingsbury from the Silicon Valley Computer Genealogy Group PastFinder Newsletter for an excellent discussion of this topic.

The Family History Library Catalog Family Search® CD lists and describes over three billion books, microfilm, microfiche, maps, and other holdings of the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Family Histories (listed by surname), Biographies, Genealogies, and other compilations are found in the catalog. Information can be found by surname search or specifying a locality and then the type of record such as "New York - Biography". Many of these materials are on microfilm and can be loaned to local Family History Centers for a small fee. The Catalog will guide you to birth, marriage, and death records; cemetery & census records; church registers, family histories and many other records.

The U.S. Social Security Death Index are computer files of millions of people who have died in the United States since 1962 whose deaths were reported to the United States Social Security Administration. An ancestor's Social Security number is not needed to use the index. The index helps to identify the city where the death occurred and provides names of living relatives.


B - Obtain the record
Use the call number from the Family History Library Catalog to locate a microfilm, microfiche, or book. Instructions for operating microfilm and microfiche readers are on the machines. Instructions that explain how to read and use some of the records are also available and library staff members will assist you.

C - Search the record
Look for facts and clues. Search broad time periods. Check for spelling variations. Record the results on the research log and make a photocopy of what you find. When you do not find anything, note "nil" on your log. This will help you or someone else avoid searching the same record again at a later time.

Step 4: Use the Information.

Did you find the information you were looking for? Is the information complete? Does it conflict with other information you already have?

Organize. File photocopies in a convenient, organized way such as by family. Keep folders of document "hard copies" separating one family from another. Write the family's surname and the husband's and wife's first names on the folder tab and keep documents for their family in that folder. When the children start their own family, start their folder with their wedding certificate. Place a Research Log in each folder which serves as a table of contents for that folder. Include searches that were not useful (nil). If a document covers several families, file the document with in the oldest ancestor listed and note its location in the Log of the other families.

What Next?
Set a new Research Goal, decided upon while doing an analysis of your family records.

The Research Process advocated by the Family History Library suggests the following eight steps to research:

1. Gather information on your family.
2. Verify the information (especially inconsistencies).
3. Look for previous research.
4. Seek to contact others with common interests.
5. Review what you have and decide what you want to learn.
6. Select a record to search to obtain that information.
7. Find and search that record.
8. Use (evaluate) the information.

Steps 3 and 4 in the above process is what is called the survey phase in the research process.


Filling out Pedigree & Family Group Forms:
- When recording a woman's name, use her maiden name.
- Format of dates: day, month, year (dd,mmm,yyyy)
- Format of places: smallest to largest jurisdiction (town, county, state, nation). No hospital information in place field.
- Continue the numbering system on pedigree charts.
- On Family Group Sheets, record the children in their birth order.


Guide to Research© 1994 by The Utah Genealogical Society
OBJECTIVE RECORD TYPES
To obtain information about: Look in the Family History Library Catalog - Locality section for these record types:
First look for: Then look for:
Age Census, Vital Records, Cemeteries Military Records, Taxation, Obituaries
Birthdate Vital Records, Church Records, Bible Records Cemeteries, Obituaries, Census, Newspapers, Military Records
Birthplace Vital Records, Church Records, Census Newspapers, Obituaries, Military Records
City or parish of foreign birth Church Records, Genealogy, Biography, Obituaries, Naturalization and Citizenship Records Emigration and Immigration, Vital Records, History
Country of Foreign Birth Census, Emigration and Immigration, Naturalization and Citizenship, Vital Records Military Records, Church Records, Newspapers, Obituaries
County origins and boundaries History, Maps Gazetteers
Death Vital Records, Cemeteries, Probate Records, Church Records, Obituaries Newspapers, Military Records, Court Records, Land and Property
Divorce Court Records, Divorce Records Newspapers, Vital Records
Ethnicity Minorities, Native Races, Societies Church Records, Emigration and Immigration, Naturalization and Citizenship
Historical Background History, Periodicals, Genealogy Church History, Minorities
Immigration or emigration date Emigration and Immigration, Naturalization and Citizenship, Genealogy Census, Biography, Newspapers, Church Records
Maiden name Vital Records, Church Records, Newspapers, Bible Records Military Records, Cemeteries, Probate Records, Obituaries
Marriage Vital Records, Church Records, Census, Newspapers, Bible Records Biography, Genealogy, Military Records, Probate Records, Land and Property, Nobility
Occupation Census, Directories, Emigration and Immigration, Civil Registration, Occupations, Probate Records Newspapers, Court Records, Obituaries, Officials and Employees
Parents,children,
other family members
Vital Records, Church Records, Census, Probate Records, Obituaries Bible Records, Newspapers, Emigration and Immigration, Land and Property
Physical description Military Records, Biography, Court Records Naturalization and Citizenship, Civil Registration, Church Records, Emigration and Immigration, Genealogy, Newspapers
Place-finding aids Gazetteers, Maps Directories, History, Periodicals, Land and Property, Taxation
Place (town) of residence
when you know only the state
Census, Genealogy, Military Records, Vital Records, Church Records, Directories Biography, Probate Records, History, Land and Property, Taxation
Places family has lived Census, Land and Property, History Military Records, Taxation, Obituaries
Previous research
(compiled genealogy)
Genealogy, Periodicals, History Biography, Societies, Nobility
Record-finding aids Archives and Libraries, Societies, Genealogy Periodicals
Religion Church Records, History, Biography, Civil Registration Bible Records, Cemeteries, Obituaries, Genealogy
Click on the following for an interactive Internet presentation of A Guide to Research.
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Writing a Personal History

HINT: If you like the computer, create a folder on it and using a word processing program - write little segments into files which you can later combine into one story. Break your story into time periods or events in your life and write them as if you were writing them on a 5 by 7 card and putting each card into a shoebox. Organize the segments later. Concentrate on naming your feelings and motives as you describe your memories. Since in mortality we learn by making mistakes, do NOT dwell on explaining faults or mistakes - just emphasize personal qualities you want to pass on to your family.

The following resource about having a Family Book of Remembrance will be useful.

An article in the Silicon Valley Computer User's Group publication The PastFinder Vol 24 Issue 1 January 2013 Page 7 titled "How to Be An Excellent Ancestor" can be read at http://lessons.tmason1.com/how-to-be-an-excellent-ancestor.pdf

"Questions for Interviewing Family Members" which can be viewed on the FamilySearch Wiki at https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Creating_Oral_Histories.

A very long and well done list of questions about "Creating a Personal History" can be found at https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Creating_A_Personal_History and there are other references at the end of that web page.

Recording a Life Story

These are suggestions for recording, in two sections of thirty minutes to one hour each, a life story of someone you know well. For each session you will need a tape recorder, an extension cord, several tapes, and a pen and notebook. The notebook will help you to keep an outline of the life story as it unfolds. Choose a quiet location for the interview where your subject is comfortable and the two of you will not be disturbed. Introduce the tape with your name, the date and location of the interview, and the respondent's name and age.

The First Session

The following questions are provided as guidelines only and are not meant to be rigidly followed.

- What was your full birth name? Where were you born and when?
- Were you raised by your parents? What were your mother & father like?
- What did you like to do with each parent? Were you closer to one than to the other? Any reason why? What about each do you admire?
- What was your place in the family (oldest, youngest, etc.)? Did you have brothers and sisters? If so, how many of each and how did you relate to each?
- Did your parents have different ideas for boys and girls?
- Do any family celebrations, rituals, nicknames, or favorite sayings stand out in your mind?
- What was the religious affiliation and activity level of your family?
- Does your family have any special background or traditions?
- What did (do) you enjoy doing most as a family?

- What do you remember about your grandparents? What stories have you heard about them?
- What did your mother & father tell you about her or his childhood? Did either have any distinguishing hobbies, talents or social contributions?

- What was the occupation of each of your parents? Did they have financial security?
- Did you live in different homes? What was each home like? What objects do you remember in some of the rooms?
- How did you feel about the neighborhoods you lived in?
- Was your family different from your neighbors in any way?
- Who were your companions as a child and what did you do with them?

- What chores or responsibilities did you have as a child?
- Did you have any favorite stories?
- What were your happiest times as a child? What were your saddest times?

- What was your education? Do you have a memorable school experience? What subjects did you like?
- Describe the school(s) you went to.
- Were your classmates from the same background as you?
- Were boys and girls treated alike?

- What did you do most of your life?
- How and when did you get your first job? What did the work involve?
- What was the best job you ever had? The worst?
- If you had your choice of all the jobs in the world, looking back, what would you have chosen?

- Did you date? Who was your first girlfriend (boyfriend)? What was she or he like?
- How did you meet your husband (wife)? What do you remember about your family around the time when you were married?

- How many children do you have? When and where were they born? What is each child like?
- Can you recall certain things that you insisted your children know or believe?
- Do you have grandchildren? How often do you see them?

After you have completed the interview, review the questions and jot down any impressions. If possible, allow a week between the two sessions to give your subject a chance to rummage through memorabilia and evoke deeper memories. This will also give you time to listen to the interview, make more detailed notes, and think of questions that are pertinent to the particular experiences of your subject.


The Second Session

At the beginning of the second session, ask whether any additional experiences came to mind between sessions. You might also ask some of the questions you thought of when listening to the recording of the first session or just continue where you left off. Sometimes going through a photo album is a good occasion for bringing up questions of this type. Near the end of your interview is the time to ask life review questions. These questions will differ, of course, for someone in mid-life and someone who is near the end of life.

- Describe what you are like. What are your outstanding characteristics?
- What was the most exciting part of your life?
- What was the most important historical event you witnessed or were in?
- Do you remember reading something, seeing a movie, or meeting someone who influenced your life dramatically?
- What did you daydream about becoming when you grew up?
- If you could relive any part of your life, what would it be? Any parts of your life that you regret or years you felt were wasted?
- What has been your main goal in life?
- What makes you happy? What makes you sad?
- If you had three wishes, what would they be?
- What hardships have you overcome?
- Are you like the person you were twenty years ago? Ten years ago?
- Looking over your entire life, when was it darkest? brightest?
- Is your life getting darker or brighter now?
- Who has been affected by your life?
- What are some of the things you have learned about life?
- In what way would your son or daughter (grandson or granddaughter) benefit by living through your experiences? What parts would you want him or her to avoid?
- What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?


When asking a relative to help by sharing what they know with you, call them and then immediately send pedigree and family group sheets right away. Whether a personal interview or by letter, the forms will jog the relative's memory and encourage corrections or additions to data. A few days after you think the forms have arrived, follow up with a phone call. This will show you are serious about their review and also that you are willing to offer support. Ask the relative for any leads about locating birth, marriage, and death certificates, family photographs, diaries, obituaries, deeds, wills or other records. When you have researched a fact, recontact the relative and have them confirm the conclusions that you have reached.

When corresponding by mail, include a SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope) to communicate your desire to receive a reply. Be sure to communicate your willingness to share your information.

When conducting interviews or asking questions, ask open-ended questions instead of ones that will provide short answers. Use 60 or 90 minute cassettes since the thinner the tape, the more likely it will stretch or break. When done with the interview, label the cassette and break the tab on the end to keep from taping over the interview. Bring extra batteries. If possible use photos, letters and other documents to encourage the subject's memories.

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