18 February 2009

Vital Records

Vital records are a key source when researching in the U.S. These are records created by the government and include Birth, Marriage and Death records. In the U.S. generally these records were kept on a state level beginning about 1900. Vital records kept before that time will be found on the county level and in some few cases on the City level. The vital records most commonly found recorded before 1900 are marriage records. Marriage records were typically kept side by side with the land records from the beginning of a county's creation.

There are at least 2 ways to find vital records. The first is to search the Family History Library Catalog. Do a "Place" search for the state and county where the event took place. This search will bring up a long list of available record types, find Vital Records and click on the blue link. This will bring up all the vital records that the Family History Library has for your location. You may be lucky and find that they have the film you need.

Another means of locating a vital record is to request one from the state or county where the record resides. A courthouse address can easily be found in The Handybook for Genealogists, Ancestry's Red Book or online.

The foreign equivalent of Vital Records is Civil Registration.

17 February 2009


We use evidence to prove facts. Providing reliable evidence is especially important when documenting family history. Good evidence helps us to avoid duplication, resolve conflicts and provide the most accurate information in our records.

Direct Evidence - Addresses a particular matter, clearly answers the question and stands alone.
Indirect Evidence - Circumstantial information, requires us to come to conclusions and does not stand alone.
Primary Source - An original record that contains first-hand testimony of an eyewitness.
Secondary Source - All evidence which is inferior to primary evidence.

Reliable conclusions are made based on the weight of the evidence not the quantity of evidence.

16 February 2009

The Big Family Reunion

Have you ever sat for a large multi-generation family photo? I think we all have had the experience of waiting for everybody to get into place, sit still and look at the camera. Years ago my mother-in-law planned such an event. She had six married children and 28 grandchildren. The oldest grandchild was preparing to leave on a mission and my mother-in-law was sure the family would never be complete again. It was vitally important that every grandchild be present. So we all gathered together in an wilderness area in Cache county and spent hours waiting and taking photos. By the time each person was in place for the large family photo I was distressed trying to keep my 8 children out of the trees and clean was wearing on me. I faked a smile as the photographer took at least 20 or more shots. When the proofs finally came I was again distressed to find that of my 8 children 2 or more were always making clown faces in the photos. My mother-in-law selected one photo to enlarge and proudly displays this picture in her home.

I have often reflected on the importance that this photo has to my mother-in-law. It represents her posterity and includes her dearest relationships. I think that parallels can be drawn as we think about our ancestors. Our ancestors, each couple found on our pedigree charts had children and their children had children. As we gather and research our family history we need to remember that grandparents want all their grandchildren present, not just some. As I research I make sure that I have gathered all children for every couple found on my pedigree chart. Then I take it another step and find all the grandchildren for every couple on my pedigree chart.

14 February 2009

More Locality Sites

When looking at localities a great free website is: USGenWeb.org. This website is set up by state and then by counties within each state. Listed on each site are free resources specific to the area, a brief history and links to other online resources. It is not uncommon to find a list of cemeteries that have been transcribed or a state census that has been extracted. I have even found county or local histories digitized and posted. My favorite option is the search this site option. I can search a state or county for my surname and all related hits will be brought up. All resources are provided by volunteers. Contribution in all areas in GenWeb is highly encouraged. The more you share the more others can find.

The world counterpart is WorldGenWeb.org. It is set up in similar fashion. First choose and region then a specific country, any related helps will appear. Some areas in World GenWeb are not as robust as US GenWeb. This is a growing site and is run completely by volunteers who love genealogy.

One last free web resource is Cyndi's List. Cyndi has collected and organized over 264,040 genealogical links. You may search this site by location, region or by genealogical topic. She has even included links related to history and customs.

13 February 2009

Locality Survey

Before beginning your own research you must find important details about the locations your ancestors lived. This is called a Locality Survey. Certain elements must be included in the survey such as information about the general history of the area, information about the surrounding geographic influences and specific genealogical resources pertaining to the area.

General history of the area can be found in the FamilySearch Research Outlines. These are available online at: FamilySearch.org, under "research helps", then "articles". Search for the country or state you need and click on "outline". Each Research Outline includes a section called "History". These Research Outlines are being expanded and updated and current information can be found at: FamilySearch Wiki. FamilySearch Wiki can be searched by state or country and contains a wealth of current genealogical resources specific to an area.

Other great resources for U.S. research are The HandyBook for Genealogists or Ancestry's Red Book. Each of these books contains a general history of each state, including when the state became a state and when each county within the state was formed and from which county it was formed. Another great piece of information is the list of Genealogical & Historical Societies found within each state. These societies can be a great resource in your research leading you to unique sources for the area. Find at least 2 of these societies that may help in your research.

Another key piece of information needed is a map. If possible find a map contemporary to the time when your ancestors lived in this location. It is beneficial to know the boundries that existed during their lives. All of this information will give you clues as to where the records for your ancesotrs will be found.

09 February 2009

Looking for More Previous Research

There are still many other places to look for previous research in this post I will include a few more. We have all used Google.com search engine to find things. Have you used it to find your ancestors? I once had a professor that asked his students to always do a Google search for every name on your pedigree. Can you imagine my surprise when I searched for a Swedish name and found a hit. I found a journal recorded by a local priest in the community where my ancestors lived. One of his entries mentioned a visit to my ancestors' rural home. You just never know what you might find. When searching in Google or other search engines for your ancestors, use quotation marks around the name. You can also include other pertinent information in the search field like the name of the state where your ancestors lived or the year of birth.

Another kind of search is a surname forum search. I like to use Genforum.com, but there are many others. Search for your family surname and see if others are searching for the same family name. If you find a family forum for your surname you can then search the posts within the forum. You might choose to search for a state where your family lived or you might search for a family first name. This kind of search will narrow down the number of posts you will need to read. Each contributer to the family forum will have email contact inforamtion available when you click on their post. This allows you to contact the contributer directly by email.

The last place and most popular places you can look for previous research is on online trees. There are many websites with free online trees: Ancestry.com, RootsWeb.com, Gencircles.com, Genealogy.com, and many more. Most of these trees will have contact information available.

Looking for Previous Research

After you have looked for previous research at FamilySearch.org there are many other places to search. I will attach some links to many of the great places to visit.

First a look at the Library of Congress online catalog found at: catalog.loc.gov. Do a basic search and include the surname and "family" or a location. If a book has been published in the United States about your family and you have found a copy of it at the Library of Congress you may borrow this book through Inter-Library Loan. Inter-Library Loan service is available through many public and university libraries. In order to borrow the book you will need to give the librarian a complete copy of the book information you found at the Library of Congress.

Another great site to search for books is Google Books found at: books.google.com. Google books is a collection of digitized books. You might be surprised to find the book you want in pdf format and available for download.

The Family History Archive at BYU is another large collection of digitized books. The collection can be searched at: Family History Archive. This collection contains over 27,600 digital books and family histories and continues to grow.

Heritage Quest Online has a collection of 24, 000 digitized family and local histories that are searchable through their site. To search the books select the "Books" catagory and enter a surname. Heritage Quest also has an index called Periodical Source Index (PERSI). This is an index of 2.1 million genealogical and local history publications housed at the Allen County Public Library in Indiana. If you get results searching this index instructions are provided on how to order the article where your surname is mentioned. Heritage Quest Online is available through Family History Centers and is also available through many public libraries free of charge.

Looking for Previous Research at FamiySearch .org

I give my students an assignment to look at several databases and websites for previous research. It is important to know what has already been done before we actually begin new research. First begin at FamilySearch.org and search the Ancestral File, the Pedigree Resource File and the International Genealogical Index.

Next search the Family History Library Catalog at FamilySearch.org, choose "Surname" search. Enter the surname you are researching. This search will bring up results of published genealogies and family histories that include the surname you have searched. If you have a large number of results look for the chosen surname with a locality. For example, if I search for the name Youngman and there are too many results I can look for the surnmane Youngman combined with a place name. Maybe I know that the Youngman family lived in Indiana. Any result that includes Youngman and Indiana will be important to examine. Record the call numbers or film numbers of any books or films that you would like to order. Films can be ordered through your local Family History Center.

04 February 2009

International Genealogical Index - IGI

The International Genealogical Index is a searchable database found at FamilySearch.org. This database is an index. Only deseased individuals are listed in this database. Individual persons may be found in this file without a connection to anyone else in the file. Occasionally there will be persons connected to a parent or spouse.

Information is entered into this database 3 different ways. The first, this file contains entries of deceased members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Secondly, names of relatives for which members have submitted to complete temple work. Thirdly, entries extracted from vital and church records from around the world. One does not need to have L.D.S. ancestry to find entries in this database. If by chance an entry is found that came from extracted records an associated film number will be listed as the source of the original record.

L.D.S. Members can access temple ordinance dates from this file after they have signed in with their user name and password. To register for a username and password a membership number and confirmation date is needed. These pieces of information can be retrieved from a ward membership clerk.

Pedigree Resource File - PRF

The Pedigree Resource File (PRF) is a computerized database found at FamilySearch.org. The PRF contains over 215 million lineage - linked names. These names are attached to another family member such as spouse, parent or child.

This file is open and data may be contributed online through the FamilySearch website. Submitter information will be listed.

The unique characteristic about this database as compared to the Ancestral File is that notes and sources may be attached to individuals. Unfortunately, many submissions do not include notes and sources.

As you search this datebase you will notice that entries refer to a CD #. CDs contain the additional notes and sources and new CDs which contain recent contributions to the PRF are published regularly. Currently 42 sets are available, each containing 5 million names. Sets 43 & 44 are set to be released soon. These CDs are avaialble for purchase through distribution centers. Most Family History Centers have a current set of these CDs. The BYU Family History Library has placed the CDs on their server.

Thanks, Paul Smart for the current statistics about this file!

02 February 2009

Ancestral File - AF

The Ancestral File is the first computerized database created by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for the purpose of gathering and organizing the Four Generation Program being submitted by the church membership. This database does not include paper forms submitted prior to the Ancestral File's creation. The Ancestral File database can be found at: FamilySearch.org.

This database has more than 35 million lineage - linked names. Lineage - linked means that each individual is linked to a spouse, a parent or a child.

This file contains only deceased individuals. You won't have any luck searching for a living individual.

There may be information about the submitter of the information, but it is very old and the submitter may no longer be living.

This file is closed and you may not make any additions or changes. The Ancestral File is known to have many duplicate persons and errors in the data.

One disadvantage to this file is that no notes or sources were contained in the data found here.

How Do I Find Previous Research?

It's not time to begin research yet. First you must find out if anybody else has researched your family. You might have a distant cousin that has already collected information that could help you. A great place to begin looking for previous research is at: FamilySearch.org. FamilySearch is an official website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. There are many searchable databases at this site.

Go to the home page and click on "Search Records" found on the blue menu bar. This will take you to a page where you can see the list of available databases and a form that allows you to fill in first name, last name and other information about the person you would like to find. If you fill in the name and other information, by default all resources or databases will be searched. I prefer searching each database individually. I will describe each database found at FamilySearch.org individually in forthcoming posts.