Genealogy for Your Journal
When you roll up your sleeves and start documenting your past and your ancestry in your journal, you may want to use genealogical resources for information.
I highly recommend this!
When you understand your ancestors' experiences and your heritage, sometimes the pieces seem to fall into place and your own life will make more sense.
The following notes are taken from my more formal genealogy classes. I specialize in Irish and Irish-American ancestry, so you'll see those references in the notes.
However, these resources apply to everyone who is tracing their family tree, regardless of nationality or background.
How to discover your family tree
Start with your parents. For them, and for every American or immigrant ancestor, you should know:
- Full legal name at birth
- Where he/she was born: town, county, state
- The names of the parents as appear on the Birth Certificate, and what it says about their birthplaces
- When and where the marriage took place: church/office, town, county state
- Who officiated at the marriage, and the witnesses
- The couple's names on the Marriage Certificate
- If provided, how long they lived at the current address on the Certificate
- Any info about their parents, especially birthplaces
- Yes, this sounds morbid but you'll get used to this. You must have a copy of every relevant Death Certificate, because every bit of info on it is valuable: place and date of birth, parents' names and their birthplaces... whatever is on the form.
Okay, those certificates are notorious for being inaccurate, but they happen to be the best starting place. Oh, you always work back in time, so start with the Death Certificate if that applies.
Using the info on these certificates, you'll be able to verify what they say and learn more, such as:
- Christening records (at the church) may give names of godparents, who are often relatives too
- Birth announcements (kept in newspaper archives) may list living ancestors
- You can count ahead to establish likely years when you'll find records for Confirmation, or Bar/Bas Mitzvah.
- You know a year and address where a person was, to help when you're searching census records
- Marriage announcements (in newspaper archives) will often list biographical info about the parents
- Church records can often provide personal, editorial entries by an otherwise-bored priest or minister...really!
- You can count ahead to figure when the first child may have been born
- You'll know when and where to look, for the census records related to the couple
- Birth info is usually on the certificate, so you can then search for the person's birth cert
- Parents' names are often on the cert, and where they were born
- Cemetery is noted on the certificate, so you'll know where to visit to see info on the headstone (may differ from the death certificate, and Irish immigrants' stones often say where they were born)
- Note: The info on a Death Certificate is being given by someone in grief. As such, this info may be less reliable than on any other record. Still, it's a good place to start.
- Last place of residence is noted, and how long they were there. This helps with census searches.
- Doctors and/or hospitals may still have records. My own Irish great-grandfather died in the early 1920's in a hospital, and they still had his file in the late 1970's.
I keep mentioning U.S. Census records because, particularly from the last half of the 19th century forward, you can find all kinds of information there. In some years, the records included parents' place of birth, year the individual arrived in the US (so you can check ship records), whether he/she became a citizen (so you can then get their citizenship papers with more info), military notes (military records can be wonderful), and who else was in the house. The latter can be a surprise, sometimes, when you didn't realize that an immigrant ancestor lived in the US for a few years.
Sooner or later, you're going to have enough information about your immigrant ancestor, to go to foreign records. However, you don't necessarily need to travel for that.
For example, many Irish records are already online. Some Irish records can only be accessed by mail, which you can do more easily from your home, where you have an address! And some Irish records are on CD-ROM, on microfiche, on microfilm, and/or in books that you can peruse at your leisure in your local library.
Which leads to the next subject: Where you can find US and immigrant records, close to your home.
One of the world's largest genealogical libraries, with all kinds of government and personal records of families, is at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Their massive library--free and open to the public--in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, is legendary and unsurpassed for general research.
The good news is, except for some of their books, you have access to the same films, fiche, and CD-ROMs as they have in Salt Lake City, at your local "Mormon" family history library. (And no, they generally won't try to convert you to their religion, and yes, you can give them a fake name and/or address if you're truly nervous. It's okay, really.)
Their records include many from foreign countries as well, not just American and Canadian records. (For more info on how to find & use one of these libraries, visit their website.
Another wonderful resource is the US National Archives. Look for the nearest one online, or in the blue pages of your community phone directory. They are not in all communities. They do have the full US Census, Immigration & Naturalization records, and some military records that can be helpful.
But your own public library, if they have a genealogy room or some microfilm and microfiche readers, can be nearly as helpful. Ask your Reference Librarian for information about borrowing US government records (such as the Census) for research in the library.
All original text, photos, and art are © 2001, Aisling D'Art.