26 March 2009

The 5 Generation Ancestor Book

Several years ago I taught a genealogy class to a group of seniors (the over 65 variety). They were all very interested in genealogy and many of them were responsible for collecting and compiling their family's genealogical records. Most had written and published their own personal histories. I secretly wondered why these students wanted to come to my class when I would teach them how to do things they had already done. I decided to try a new approach which I found very successful. We focused on creating a book geared towards the youth in their families.

On the second day of class each student brought with them a 5 generation pedigree chart, showing themselves as the first person. I then introduced my plan of making a 5 generation ancestor book. This book would really be a 3 ring binder which included, 1 - their 5 generation pedigree chart, 2 - family group records for every couple on the chart and 3 - a biographical sketch and photo of each individual listed on the pedigree chart.

Now the first part of creating the book was fairly simple. All that was needed were printouts of information that could be found in a personal genealogy database. The difficult part was writing the ONE page biographical sketch for each person. Let me explain. We determined that one page would give the reader an idea of who this ancestor was and that one page is not too long for a youthful read to actually read.

The first writing assignment was to write a ONE page biographical sketch about ourselves. The instructions were that the biographical sketch was to be only ONE page. The purpose was to share something that the youth could relate to, it could include personal interests or a short experience, something that would help the youth make connections with this older generation. We left that day to write our own ONE page, we all were very excited.

As we returned to the next class everyone brought their ONE page biographical sketch. I had to smile as each student shared their experience. Most had changed the margins, then the font to try to include more on their one page. We all found that it was necessary to eliminate facts that could be found on the accompanying forms and focus on one experience or just sharing our interests.

We repeated this experience every week adding the parents, then grandparents, then great grandparents. Each time we had less information to work with and had to rely on memories, or research. When completed, this book was a treasure to each of us. My students, these seniors, gave copies of their books to their grandchildren hoping to bride the generations and spark an interest in family history.

21 March 2009


What can be found in newspapers? Birth announcements, marriage announcements, obituaries, and more can be found. Newspapers, especially small town newspapers are a great resource for biographical information. A small town newspaper may only publish an edition once a week, but it will include details not found elsewhere. Everything is news in a small town.The newspaper may have an article mentioning a family gathering and naming every person in attendance. I found a newspaper article that describes in detail the bride's dress and gives a brief background of both the bride and groom.

Where can newspapers be found? Many newspapers are located in public & university libraries and historical & genealogical societies. Contact the libraries or societies nearest to where your ancestors lived to get access.

Some newspapers are being digitized. Many are accessible through subscription websites. However there are a few free websites that have digitized newspapers. Chronicling America is a project under the Library of Congress and has newspapers from 1818-1910. Currently this site has newspapers from: California, District of Columbia, Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Texas, Utah and Virginia. Another website is the U.S. Newspaper Program, this site contains a list of all the states and directs you to the website where digitized newspapers for that state can be found. Both of these websites are adding content regularly, if you don't have success now try again later.

18 March 2009

County & Local Histories

A great source that is often overlooked are published County Histories. As a general rule when ever you are researching in the U.S., find the county histories for the areas where your ancestors lived. County Histories contain a wealth of information about the area, history, economy, politics and more. The first part of these books contains topical chapters including chapters for each township within the county. The last part of the book will contain biographical sketches of county residents. Residents had to pay to be included in the publication. If there is an index check it for your surname and any other surnames of those who married in and out of the family. Do not be disappointed if your ancestor did not have a sketch included. The real treasure is found in the text of early chapters. Using the history found in a county history can help to flesh out the lives of your ancestors.

The Family History Library has filmed many county histories and these are available on microfilm. BYU has a collection of digitized county histories located in the Family History Archive. Another resource for county histories is the local Historical or Genealogical Society, where your family lived.

11 March 2009

U.S Census Basics

The first U.S. census was taken in 1790 and thereafter every 10 years. The first census records listed the name of the head of household and had columns where tally marks were entered representing other family members. It wasn't until the 1850 census that the names of every member in the household were listed. Also included were columns for age and birthplace. Every census after added more columns and more questions. Occupation, value of personal and real property, are also among the questions asked. The 1880 census includes the relationship of every person in the household to the head of household. The 1900 census asks the birth month and year, years married, and children born to the woman. This census also include naturalization and citizenship information. Census records are publicly available up through 1930.

Now the most important advice about census records is to find every census during your ancestor's life time. This method of research will help you get a complete look at your ancestors life.

02 March 2009

Church Records

Church records consist of records recorded by a church. In many foreign counties there is a state religion. For example if you are researching in Scandinavia the state religion is Lutheran, in Spain and Italy it is Catholic. In the United States however we do not have a state religion. Church records are kept by many different faiths. The most common religious records found in the United States are: Baptists & Episcopalians, Congregational, Roman Catholic, Methodists, Quakers and Lutherans. Of these religious records the most helpful will be those religions that recorded a christening or baptism shortly after birth.

Baptism or Christening records will include information about the child's name, parents names, residence, date of event and godparents or witnesses.

Marriage records will include the names of both the bride and groom, residence, date of event and witnesses.

Burial records will include a name, age and possibly the cause of death.

Church records are a great source! These are especially valuable for locating key information about an ancestor before vital records and civil registration were kept.