If you’re new to genealogy, the task of finding your ancestors can seem incredibly daunting – even impossible. These people are from all over the world, few of them have records, and most of them did not hand down journals or paperwork to which you will have access.
Or maybe you’ve been working on your genealogy for months or years – but you’ve hit a wall. You’ve found everything you think you can find and it feels like you’re in a dead end. Where do you turn to find vital information on your ancestors?
There are a few documents which are of particular importance when you’re doing genealogical research for your family. Anything you can find is helpful, and even the most random or confusing sources can end up being a wealth of information. But some documents are more helpful than others. So what should you be looking for? Having a target can help you focus your search and find things that have been elusive or help you communicate with experts even if you’re a novice genealogist.
The Top 5 Documents to Find for Family History
Birth/Death Records: These are the most common, and a great starting point for your genealogical work. You can find these in medical records, obituaries from newspapers, tombstones, and even wills! The essential information you’ll need will be when, where, and how they died or were born. This creates an excellent starting point, enabling you to target that town’s records, papers, and cemeteries for additional information.
Marriage Records: Finding marriage records is sometimes the most exciting because it opens up whole new branches of your family. These records are also helpful because they indicate maiden names of the brides, letting you look into new family members and family names. You may find these in church records, town or newspaper announcements, or family marriage certificates.
Military Records: Thankfully military records are sometimes the best document remnants of our ancestors lives since record-keeping is so vital to the military and is regularly completed. You can find great records of enrollments, discharges, muster lists, draft registrations, even pensions. Some people even find amazing hospital, prison, or cemetery records once they start digging into military records.
Immigration Documents: Most Americans today are descendants of immigrants, at some point or another. There are many records which may indicate how your family arrived in this country, how many there were of them, and other interesting information about the journey. Ship registries, passenger lists, or documentation from immigration stations can provide insight into your ancestry.
Family Heirlooms: Before the days of notebooks, filing cabinets, or computers your ancestors tried to keep records of their families. Bibles were a commonly used to write down details like births, deaths, marriages, and locations. Diaries or journals kept by your ancestors may be helpful, not just for information about the writer, but the entire family and surrounding neighbors! Carefully take another look at any family heirlooms which have been passed down to see if you can glean any more information from those treasures.
Starting with these basic documents you can begin to form a good picture of your ancestors, and provide you with plenty of options to pursue in the future. The resources and helpful documents for family history are almost endless, so keep looking and find a professional genealogist if you need more help!
There are a lot of good reasons for you to look into your genealogy and do some family history. Some people want to know more about their heritage and ethnicity. Some people do it Because of religious beliefs regarding the afterlife. Some people do it to figure out how they came to be in the place they’re in. Some people do it just for the historical fun! But a compelling reason to do your family history is actually because it’s good for your heart. And, no, not just those warm fuzzy feelings you’ll get when you find a long-lost ancestor. Studies are showing that your family history can indicate health problems and concerns for you and your future family.
Family health can be a tough subject. Many families avoid it altogether because the conversations can get a little scary at times. No one likes to talk about serious diseases or death, but wouldn’t it be better to talk about them and potentially prevent something? Everyone knows that there are a lot of serious medical conditions which are genetic – passed through family lines. Obviously looking to your parents is a great start, but of course some of their problems may have been passed on by THEIR parents, and so on and so forth! Genealogy can help you become a health detective in your family tree. It is common in the medical profession to recommend a multi-generational pedigree chart be created in order to look for genetic diseases.
For example, there are women today who discover breast cancer several generations back in their family tree. Once discovered, these women can talk about the cancer with their doctors and determine the best course of prevention. Some women are even getting preventative mastectomies to avoid the cancer altogether! Amazing! Because of their family history health work they will live longer, happier, healthier lives.
It is fairly common for heart disease, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer to run in family lines. If you are able to do some investigative health genealogy you may be able to find genetic issues like this in your family tree. While a little frightening, this is actually a great step towards prevention and lifelong health.
Start by completing a family pedigree chart with at least 3-4 generations. Once you have a completed family tree, look into cause of death. This can be found on death certificates, obituaries, in journals, news articles, and other written materials you may be able to find. Note the age at which each ancestor passed away, and determine if that was normal or early for the time. Medical records, if possible to find, are the best indicator for your family.
Once you have looked into your family history, you should share your findings with your own family – immediate and extended. Encourage everyone to share as much medical information as they are comfortable with, because it will ultimately benefit the family as a whole. There are plenty of resources such as familyhealthhistory.org and familyhistory.hhs.gov which can help you in your search. If you are hitting dead ends or are particularly motivated to dig deeper than you feel qualified, don’t hesitate to hire a professional genealogist to aid in your quest for family history health.
Tracking down records in your genealogical research is one the biggest challenges to solving family history mysteries. Different spellings of specific names, the spontaneous changing of last names, and transcription errors can make the process even more complex. One area that many researchers encounter is the challenge of nicknames. If an ancestor had a nickname, it can sometimes be used interchangeably with their given name which can complicate the process of tracking down specific records or information. Here’s a closer look at some tips to navigate around this issue and how to approach it in your research when you think a nickname may be muddying your research.
How nicknames enter the discussion
Nicknames can be used on genealogical records for any number of reasons. In some cases, a family gives a child a formal name to honor a relative or religious figure, but calls them by a different name at all times. For example, in some cultures many children named Maria are actually called by their middle name. The person in question may end up using their nickname on formal documents. When family members are reporting information such as providing household details to a census taker verbally, they may refer casually to a sibling or child by a nickname or term of endearment. Think of how you refer to loved ones via nicknames and it’s easy to see how this comes into play.
Identifying when nicknames might be the culprit
There are some obvious cases in your genealogical research when nicknames might become important. Longer names tends to be reduced to their diminutive forms. Elizabeth quickly becomes Betsy, William is referred to as Will or Bill. Specific nicknames fall in and out of favor during certain periods, and there are often variations related to ethnicity, geography, and more. For example, Alexandra could be shortened to Alex, Andi, Sandra, Sandy, Alexa, or Allie (or numerous other variations). Because today’s digitized research archives are keyword based, it’s important to figure out if a nickname could be at the root of your struggles to track down information about specific ancestors.
How to find nicknames
When you’re having difficulty finding records related to an ancestor or puzzling out who “Polly” is when you’re expecting to find a “Mary,” consider whether a nickname could be the cause. Start by brainstorming all the common nicknames associated with a specific name that you can come up with. Vary the spelling. Lizzy, Lizzie, and Lizzi could all be viable depending on the details. For more inspiration, consult baby name books or online lists of nicknames. For example, in the example above, Polly was once a common nickname for Mary but not something that occurs to many modern researchers. The more variations you develop, the more widely you can search to put the pieces together. Consulting diverse sources can help you be creative, and may lead to the breakthrough you need to find an elusive ancestor.
Are you struggling with aspects of your genealogical research? A professional genealogist can help. Contact Price and Associates today to arrange for a personalized consultation.
Nothing brings genealogy to life for researchers like staring into the face of a long gone ancestor. Often, it’s a small detail – perhaps the expression on their face or the resemblance that they bear to a loved one. Regardless of what captured your interest, old family photos are a treasure that helps connect past and present generations. They can hold even more meaning if you’re able to identify who is featured in the photograph. Here are five strategies that researchers can use to learn more about who might have been captured in family photographs.
Look for written clues and ask older relatives
In some cases, identifying a family photo may be as simple as flipping it over. Start your search for more information by looking on the photograph itself – including the back – for details. Names, dates, or locations can all be helpful even if you aren’t able to make an immediate association between that information and a specific person. Another strategy is asking older living relatives, who may recall what certain ancestors looked like or have seen the photos before.
Consider the context
Archeologists discuss “context” when learning more about the artifacts that they uncover. Basically, where was the item when it was found? In the case of family photos, context could refer to an album that might contain written information beneath or near the photo. It can also be helpful to note which photos are near each other, as there may be relationships between the people or they could be chronological photos of the same person. If the photos were uncovered in another way such as near specific letters or papers, the proximity between documents may offer clues.
Determine the type of photo
Photography has evolved significantly since it first developed. Understanding what type of photograph an image is offers hints as to the period it was taken. Daguerreotypes were common from 1839 until the early 1870s. Cabinet cards were more common from 1866 until the early 20th century. Color photos weren’t typically available until the 1940s, and weren’t widely available until the 1960s. A photography expert can help you determine what type of photograph you’ve got.
Look for a photographer’s imprint
Many photographers listed details on their work such as their name, business name, city, or an imprint (like a logo) of their business on each image they took. Check the image front and back, as well as any case or frame, for this information. If you can find it, researching details of the business can give you signs regarding the time period and location that the photograph was taken.
Play visual detective
Another way to gather information regarding family photos is to play visual detective. What can you learn about the people in the photo by looking at the scene and setting? Was the image taken at a hard scrabble farm, for example, or in a lush sitting room? Focusing on personal details of the people in the picture such as hair style, clothing, specific clothing styles and jewelry can also provide insights into when a photograph was taken. Any belongings or decorations in the picture can also be helpful.
With all this information, you’ll often be able to narrow down the time period, general life circumstances, and other information of the people in your family photographs. Compare this information to the other details you have, and you’re likely to make important progress in identifying who is in the photo – or at least developing a hypothesis. Do you need assistance with research related to visual evidence or other genealogy projects? Contact Price and Associates today to arrange for a personalized consultation.
The process of getting genealogical records digitized is one of the most important technological innovations that has impacted the practice of genealogy today. Research no longer requires traveling around the world and visiting distant libraries or waiting weeks for reply by mail in order to get insights and original records. Increasingly, all kinds of collections from global sources – from ship’s passenger manifests to European Parish records – are being digitized and becoming searchable through subscription databases, free resources like FamilySearch.org or paid services like Ancestry.com. The development in genealogical technology is making it easier for amateur genealogists to conduct research and more efficient for professional genealogists to conduct client projects quickly and affordably.
The scale of the effort
The Church of Latter-day Saints (LDS) owns the resource FamilySearch.org and its related entities. The LDS Church has taken a leading role in the preservation of genealogical records, up to and including capturing an estimated 5 billion records over the last eighty years. Some of the records in question are captured on microfilm. Others, more recently, have been digitized. Today, FamilySearch and other organizations are partnering – including some major recognizable brands such as Ancestry and MyHeritage – are teaming up to accelerate the pace at which records are digitized and collected.
How records are digitized
Often, records are digitized by volunteers or professional genealogists that use an indexing system to transcribe the genealogical records. Indexing projects are organized in the following way. A collection of documents is outlined for digitization. For example, the list could be Maine state birth records from 1910 to 1920 or military records of the Civil War registrations from California. Those documents are then digitally scanned. If they’re from an era with variable handwriting, it’s much more difficult and often impossible to use scanning technology and original character recognition software to automatically transcribe those records.
Instead, a human volunteer needs to read and interpret the record. Each collection will be broken down into batches which can be easily completed in a short amount of time. The indexer is shown an image of the file, and then asked to key in each field to an indexing system. The indexing system then uploads the documents to a central database. Over time, those records become integrated with searchable databases.
Right now, the effort is being led by FamilySearch and is focusing on the existing 5 billion records (and growing) collection. In a recent interview, a manager affiliated with the program estimated that there are an additional 10 billion records from North America, South America, and Europe to be collected and digitized. More than 60 billion exist worldwide.
If you’re regularly using online or subscription databases as part of your genealogical work, the background on how diverse historical collections are digitized can help add context to your experience. Often, knowing which database or collection to target can vastly expedite your research.
Are you interested in hiring a professional genealogist? Contact Price and Associates today to arrange for a personalized consultation, including learn more about digitized genealogical records and how they can help in your search.