Genealogy: Getting Started


What is Genealogy?:

The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as 1) a record or table of the descent of a person, family or group from an ancestor or ancestors; a family tree 2) Direct descent from an ancestor; lineage or pedigree 3) The study or investigation of ancestry and family histories.

Getting Started:

You should always start with yourself and work backwards. Begin with the known and proceed toward the unknown. Never start with a supposed ancestor and work forward.

Gather information from your family members. Examine all documents in the possession of your family such as family Bibles, wills, property deeds, photographs, letters, birth certificates, and military discharge papers.  Has anyone already written a history of your family?

Define your goals. People begin researching their family histories for different reasons. Many people want to fill in all the names and dates on their family trees.  Some seek to prove descent from famous people.  Still others are trying to establish a stronger sense of their own identities by examining their ancestors' roles in history. There are many approaches to family history research.  Your motives will determine the route that you choose. Select a single surname, individual, or family with which to begin. Remember there are many branches on each family tree – your mother had a mother and a father who each had a mother and a father and so on…and that’s just your mother’s side. Making a choice such as “First I will trace all the women on my mother’s side of the family” is a good way to stay focused. You will want to create a notebook to keep your records in order.

Where to begin? Begin with the U.S. Census. Then search county and family history books. Some vital records, such as copies of birth, marriage and death certificates have to be ordered via Vital Records. There is a Vital Records for each state.

Online Resources: The Library provides in-house use of Ancestry Library Edition, HeritageQuest, and Fold3.

Ancestry Library Edition provides access to billions of historical documents and millions of historical photos. It's 30,000+ databases include Find A Grave, Social Security Death Index, local narratives, passenger records, oral histories, indexes, birth, marriage and death records, as well as other resources.  

HeritageQuest includes: 1) the U.S. Federal Census 1790-1940 including slave, veteran and non-population schedules. 2) Genealogy and local history books comprised of more than 7 million digitized page images. 3) Revolutionary War Records which provides access to an estimated 83,000 application files listed in the “Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files”.  4) Freedman’s Bank Records providing more than 480,000 names of bank applicants, their dependents and heirs from 1865-1874. 5) U.S. Congressional Serial Set whose records of memorials, petitions, private relief actions that were presented to Congress reaches back to 1789.

Fold3 is a military database that provides access to military records, including the stories, photos, and personal documents of the men and women who served. It covers the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican American and Early Indian Wars, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Recent Wars, and International Wars.