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Tips & Tricks

Genealogy is the search for our ancestors. Family history is the study of the lives they led. Using the information from each area provides us with a true picture of our family. 

Do your genealogy to learn about your family and your place in that family, to leave a legacy for your children and grandchildren and to research and trace our family's medical history. 
Surnames began in Europe about the 11th century. They developed as trade increased. The four basic groups of surnames are the patronymic (based on the father's name), landscape features or place names, action or nicknames, and occupational or office names.
Meaningful genealogy requires thought. Develop a research plan and set goals. Why am I doing genealogy? How far back do I want to go? For example, go back 4 generations, or go back to the immigrant ancestor, or even to just do my father's male line, etc.
Remember that each generation doubles the number of ancestors. It's easy to get lost if you don't plan ahead for your trip. Focus on one or two families. The others will still be there when you get to them. 

Female lines are as important as male lines. One-half of your ancestors are female! 

A generation is 22-25 years for a man and 18-23 years for a woman. 

When taking notes... Use standard size paper, one surname per page, record source and identifying information so you can find it again, the date and place you found info (volume and page). Use only accepted abbreviations (no homespun stuff). Understand the basic terminology.

Remember to DOCUMENT EVERYTHING you find on your ancestors. Undocumented genealogy is mythology. 

To find a birth date from a death date, subtract the age in years, months and days from the date of death. This is a very close approximation.
~The formula for figuring birthdate from headstones. . .If a person died May 6, 1889 at age 71 years, 7 months and 9 days:
18890506 Year, month, day of death (yyyymmdd)
   -710709 Subtract age at death (yymmdd)
       -8870 Subtract constant 8870
18170927 Born 27 Sept. 1817 (yyyymmdd) 

Know your relationships: An ancestor is a person from whom you are descended. A descendant is a person who is descended from an ancestor. A relative is someone with whom you share a common ancestor but who is not in your direct line. 

Church records may include births, christenings, marriages, deaths and burials. Be sure you have the correct church/religious denomination. If you're not sure, search the churches closest to home first and then broaden your search in ever-widening circles. 

Check for cemetery records with the church, Sexton and Funeral Directors. Visit the cemetery and take a picture of the tombstone. Check the obituaries in that time frame. 

Hometown Records may include newspapers (obituaries, special events, parties, etc.), City Directories (names and occupations of town residents and business information), maps (check boundary changes over time) and town and county histories. 

Direct evidence speaks to the point in question. Indirect evidence gives facts from which you can come to a conclusion. 

Primary evidence is personal testimony or a record created shortly after an event by a person with personal knowledge of the facts. 

Secondary evidence is a document copy or compiled information from other sources--written from memory--long after the event has occurred. 

The Pedigree chart is the road map of you and your ancestors. It begins with YOU! Females must use their maiden names. 

The Family Group Sheet identifies a couple and their children. Everyone has two group sheets - one as a child with parents and one as a parent with children. 

A Chronological Profile begins with your ancestor's birth and is filled in with various occurrences in his life. Continue to fill this in as information becomes available to provide a picture of your ancestor's life. 

One source for FREE downloadable forms/charts is GOOGLE. 

Immigration is entering a country where you are not a native to take up permanent residence. Emigration is leaving a country where you have been a citizen. 

Major ports of entry were Baltimore, Boston, Canada, New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans. 

Naturalization is the process of becoming a citizen. It is a two step process and takes about five years. The Declaration of Intent or 1st papers can be filed after two years of residency. Naturalization and the Oath of Allegiance are taken after an additional three years of residency. 

Join a Mailing List like ROOTSWEB. Be sure to subscribe in "digest" mode. E-mails about subjects on the list will come to your e-mail box. 

Search the Message Boards for others looking for the same person(s) you're researching. You go to the Board to search but you can ask to be notified of new entries. 

Don't be afraid to use other social media to search for your ancestors, i.e. FACEBOOK. 

Search for your ancestors using GOOGLE tips and resources. 

Be sure to make a list of all living relatives when you start your genealogy research. Interview every one of them. Be prepared with a list of questions. Use a tape recorder for the answers or take very good notes. Respect the person's privacy. 

When writing to a relative for information, make specific requests. Don't ramble! Offer to share your information. 

Organize from the beginning in a system that suits your needs... but in which you can quickly and easily find information when you want it. Set up "proof files" - your original documents, "Portable files" - copies of your originals, family group sheets, notes, etc. and "Computer files." 

Meaningful genealogy requires thought. Develop a plan: "Why am I doing genealogy?" Set goals of what you plan to accomplish in a reasonable time frame i.e. go back 4 generations, go back to the immigrant ancestor, do only my father's male line, etc. 

Probate records refer to wills, inventories, letters of administration and guardianship. They are usually held at the county courthouse unless archived and they are indexed by the name of the testator. 

There are three types of wills: Attested, Holographic and Nuncupative. The attested will is the most common and is prepared for the testator. A holographic will is written by the testator himself. A nuncupative will is the deathbed wishes of the testator, recorded by a witness present at the bedside. All wills must be witnessed. 

A person who dies "intestate" dies without a will. 

An "executor" is named by the testator and is required by the court to post a bond. An "administrator" is appointed to handle the affairs of one who dies intestate (without a will). 

The Research Log is very important for the time when you share your data or decide to publish your work. You will need to know your sources for obtaining each piece of information. Be VERY specific with your information quoting authors, titles, pages, publishers, etc. 

Use a Correspondence Log! This includes the name and address of the person you have written to, what you requested, the date the request was sent and a column for the outcome. Remembering every letter written is impossible. Follow up if you don't get an answer within a month. 

Surname Sources - Know the naming patterns of the ethnic area you are researching is an invaluable resource in recognizing family names. Surnames began in Europe about the 11th century. They developed as trade increased. The four basic groups of surnames are the patronymic (based on the father's name), landscape features or place names, action or nicknames, and occupational or office names. 

When it comes to spelling variations, think "out of the box." Often clerks and government officials were unable to correctly record the names given them by unschooled immigrants not familiar with the English, French, German or Spanish languages used in the port of entry and part of the country where they settled. It was written down as they heard it and the immigrant accepted this as the official American rendering of his name.