How to start a genealogical record for your family

African American genealogy record and heritage

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Here is a collection of tips from the past, for researching your past — namely, how to start a genealogical record for your family.

While this advice for tracing your family’s heritage comes from the pre-internet days, some of the ancestry information here could be as helpful today as it was years ago.

Tracing family trees sprouts, into 3rd largest hobby in US, with seed planted by nation’s bicentennial, nurtured by Haley’s ‘Roots’ (1977)

By Don Sanders – Santa Ana Register (California) May 8, 1977

Unless you are a king or president or other notable, finding your ancestors and drawing a family tree may be up to you. Thousands of Americans every year are doing just that.

Enthusiasts say it is the third-largest hobby in the United States, behind the collection of stamps and coins, and that it is growing rapidly, suggesting a growing passion for social history.

Antique beach day photo

The increasing trend toward genealogical research apparently started three or four years ago, picked up stimulation in the Bicentennial year, and was spurred again by Alex Haley’s “Roots” and the tremendously successful ABC television series based on his book.

That series, the most-watched ever on television, led thousands of blacks and whites alike to a search for their own roots. The National Archives reported that its mail requests quadrupled in the week after the series.

Most people starting out don’t know how to begin. But they may be able to gather much of the information with-out extensive travel or expense. Everyone is likely to have a different experience.

“If you are descended from people who ran for public office, wrote wills, owned land or killed people, it would be relatively easy,” says Van A. Stilley, executive assistant to the president of the National Genealogical Society.

A family tree - 1976 art

On the other hand, unless your heritage is easy to trace, you probably won’t get the detail that Haley packed into his bestseller. He spent more than nine years, traveled 500,000 miles and employed a professional researcher.

He traced one side of his family — the maternal — back to Africa, but did not in every case document his material from three independent sources — the procedure genealogists recommend.

Furthermore, he came from a family with a strong oral tradition. However, for the average person, research has become easier. Not only has there has been a big growth of genealogical repositories, but the material in them is more readily available through use of microfilm and photocopying.

Researchers who once spent hours copying old records now simply have copies made. This involves expense, of course, but the fee is usually nominal.

MORE: Want to research your genealogy now? Check out!

Genealogy - Family History - Old family photographs

So how do you — “the beginning twig on the vast family tree,” as the National Archives says — start?

“Start with yourself, the known, and work toward the unknown,” the archives recommends.

“Find out all the vital information you can about your parents, write it down, then find out about your grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. “You will be concerned with pulling from the many and varied documents of recorded history four key items: Names, dates, places and relationships. These are the tools of the family researcher.”

“First, question the old folks,” the Genealogical Society advises. “Encourage them to talk about their childhoods and relatives and do not stop listening when they repeat themselves. “They will drop further clues, sooner or later, without realizing it. You must recognize clues and follow up on everything that hints of a family connection, no matter how remote.

“Consider using a tape recorder and saving the tapes for future generations or your library… Do not let family scandal bother you, but remember that it may embarrass others. You are not responsible for your ancestors. We all have some who did unpleasant things.”

American genealogy - Family tree

The portable tape recorder has been a major aid to recording family history, and it may become even more valuable as historians turn increasingly to trends and social forces.

How did your family respond to World War I or the Depression? Where was your father and what was he doing on the day in April 1945 when Franklin D. Roosevelt died? Was your grandmother in Buffalo on the day William McKinley was shot?

Wilton Dillon, director of symposia at the Smithsonian Institution, says: “I think oral history is even more a national passion than straight genealogy because it’s closer to the feelings. It can be a very emotional experience.”

The beginner will next want to visit a local library Inquire of the librarian wnat historical and genealogical publications are available on paper or microfilm.

“Ask the librarian to suggest or recommend genealogy classes that may be offered by a local college or other adult education facility,” the Genealogical Society says.

Five soldiers, four unidentified, in Union uniforms of the 6th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Militia

In hundreds of communities, there are local or regional genealogical and historical societies. One should get in touch with his or her state library and archives and learn what material is available there. There may also be accessible ethnic or religious organizations which have archives that you may search, or collections of Bible records.

“Ask about local chapters of any patriotic, royal or other societies for which there are proven lineage membership requirements, such as the Daughters or Sons of the American Revolution,” the society says.

The neophyte at tracing a family history may find more than he or she realizes exists just by looking around the house, especially if it has been a family house. The obvious things to look for, of course, are family Bibles, birth certificates, baby books, marriage certificates and the like.

But there are others likely to yield clues which are not as obvious: photo albums, scrapbooks, employment records, account books, newspaper clippings, church records, wills, deeds, military or government service records and many others.

There may be diaries or journals, business cards and letterheads, monogrammed silver or jewelry, letters and telegrams, membership cards and pins.

Vintage snapshot of people playing in the ocean

Everyone starting out should start with himself, then work through pa-rents, grandparents and backward, going as far as time and personal Inclination dictates. The process is time-consuming, but not necessarily costly, short of trips to distant locations.

“Visit your local courthouse to find out what is there, even if your ancestors lived elsewhere,” the National Genealogical Society advises.

“The only thing that all courthouses have in common is clerks who are busy. They can be enormously helpful. Cultivate them by using their time efficiently. Avoid narratives and con-voluted questions.

“Ask, instead, to see such source records as will, deed and marriage books….and inquire as to how they are recorded, arranged and indexed. “Read for genealogical clues those that mention the surnames of your interest, including all possible variant spellings.

When you encounter conflicting data, ask yourself which version is most likely to be accurate. Which was recorded nearest the event by the person most likely to know?” Dedicated hobbyists tell you to wear old clothes and to be persistent.

Family record. Before the War and Since the War 1880

Many old courthouses store old wills in the basement, for example, and the clerk on duty may not even know where they are. Some old records may be tied in bundles, although they should have been stored systematically years ago.

Local libraries can provide information about the best places to continue research. So can local chapters of historical and genealogical societies.

They can tell you the best way to obtain access to census records — perhaps the best place to start after exhausting local sources. There has been a federal head count every 10 years since 1790, and some states conducted censuses every five years. Anyone not sure where to look can find computerized indexes for many state and federal censuses at larger libraries.

Federal censuses are of varying value, because of the information that was collected. The constitutional basis for the census has always been to determine population so as to apportion how many representatives each state should have in Congress. But the earliest surveys also put stress on available military manpower.

Thus the 1790 census asked for data on the name of family head; free white males of 16 years and up; free white males under 16; free white females; slaves; and other persons. But there was no listing of names other than the head of household.

It was not until 1850 that most names in a household were recorded — and that did not include slaves. It was not until 1900 that the detailed data one associates with the census was collected.

Vintage college women on steps - Antique portrait

It solicited information on the number of families and persons in the house; their names; whether the person was a member of the armed services in the Civil War (either Union or Confederate) or widow of such a person; the race, age and sex of household persons; trade or occupation; school attendance; literacy; and information dealing with infirmities and property ownership.

Most persons undertaking genealogical research will want to start with the 1900 census, available at the National Archives in Washington and at most state libraries and archives and other research centers through microfilm copies.

Similar, if less comprehensive, information was gathered in the 1890 federal census, but most of the records were destroyed in a fire in 1921. Less than one percent of that data exists.

Because of the scanty information in census records, most blacks will find it difficult to trace their heritage prior to the Civil War. Some records do exist, however: cargo manifests, although they do not usually include names; records of slave auctions; sales of one slave from owner to another; and the like. The federal government also has records of the Freedman’s Bureau.

Antique portrait of an African American girl (2)

Complicating the search for white southerners as well as blacks is the destruction of many records during the Civil War. South Carolina lost more than any other state; Georgia lost many; so did Virginia. However, North Carolina hid most of its official records in a mountain vault and they survived. There are other oddities and hazards.

Van A. Stilley, executive assistant to the president of the National Genealogical Society, says he was tracing an ancestor who served in the War of 1812 and learned how much he was paid for fodder, harness, tack, oats and ferry fees. “If they owned horses,” Stilley says, “there’s sometimes more information about the horses than there is about the man.”

The amateur genealogical hobbyist, after tracing his heritage through local and state resources, may want to consult one of the major centers of such research. The beginner tends to think of himself as a pioneer but it may well be that someone has done previous work on the same family.

Civil War soldier portrait - Washington DC

Major libraries have indexes of published or typed genealogies, and there are a host of magazines which index such works, and even publish classified advertisements seeking information about family names or locations.

“The published ones are great for clues, but they can be false friends,” says Stilley, cautioning about putting too much reliance on someone else’s work.

“I don’t believe anything I see in print,” says Milton Rubicam, a retired government official who has been a genealogy buff for 50 years. “Develop a healthy skepticism. The author may have erred, and any errors he didn’t make, the printer is bound to make.”

The Library of Congress in Washington has about 25,000 printed or duplicated family histories, and perhaps 70,000 to 80,000 local histories valuable to the genealogy buff.

The most comprehensive genealogical resource in the United States is generally agreed to be that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake City, whose services are available to Mormons and non-Mormons alike. Members of the church regard genealogical research as a sacred obligation.

A chief goal is to find the billions of persons who never had a chance to accept baptism and the higher ordinances. As they are located, their Mormon progeny participate in baptism of the dead by proxy in church temples, holding to the belief that families will then be reunited in heaven.

The church’s Genealogical Society at 50 N. Temple Street, Salt Lake City, has more than one billion names on microfilm and in books. They do no research for individuals, but will answer queries at headquarters and at more than 230 branches around the United States. Thousands of persons a day now use the church’s library, whose records are kept in a huge vault bored into the mountains east of Salt Lake City.

1901-De Dion motor carriage

Microfilms may be borrowed at branch centers for a nominal rental fee. The library contains nearly 150,000 volumes and nearly a million 100-foot rolls of microfilm, the equivalent of 4.3 million volumes of 300 pages each.

There are public documents, church records and other papers from 35 countries. They range from U.S historical records to Polish tax rolls and Irish parish records.

Another treasure of genealogical data is housed in the National Archives and Record Service in Washington. It contains records of everyone who had official dealing with the federal government — and that includes almost everyone.

The National Archives was not designed as a genealogical resource, but it has a wealth of information, much of it readily available on microfilm. That which is not will be produced by helpful employees.

In the stacks, there are records of all federal reissues and many state ones, mortality schedules of the 1850-80 censuses and others from individual states, many records relating to Indians who kept their tribal status, incomplete series of customs passenger lists and immigration lists of incoming ships at Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico ports, claims for pensions and bounty land, many Civil War records, and an extensive collection of military service records.

The National Archives has regional branches which generally pre-serve federal records of permanent value created by field services of U.S. agencies. They also have begun to acquire microfilm copies of many of the records stored in Washington. The branches are located in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Fort Worth, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle.

Chicago in 1820

Another major source in Washington is the library of the Daughters of the American Revolution, particularly strong in records of the colonial period, which may be used by the public for a nominal daily charge throughout the year except in April.

While it specializes in genealogy collections related to families in the Revolution, its 60,000-volume library has source materials on many other families and from areas other than the 13 original colonies. Many are typed original manuscripts.

The Library of Congress has indexes arranged by family name and geographic location, information on heraldry, and newspaper files dating back before the Revolution. Other major sources of information are the New England Ilistoris, Genealogical Society, Boston; the National Genealogical Society, Washington; the Newberry Library, Chicago; the New York City Public Library; the Maryland Historical Society and the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore.

None of these resources will trace a family tree, but they will provide help and guidance. Some people may want to hire a professional researcher.

Antique family record - family tree chart for genealogy

Some genealogy record do’s and don’ts (1977)

“Never assume anything, and never take literally what you hear from your family. Everything must be checked out.”

This is one of the cardinal rules to follow when researching family trees, the national genealogical Society reports. Some others are:

— Always start family research with yourself and work backwards. Often just reaching your grandparents will put you in the 19th Century, and that’s where the real work begins.

— Don’t concentrate on direct descendants to the exclusion of collateral lines. But, by the same token, avoid getting side-tracked on the path of some distant uncle.

— Be prepared to travel, especially if your ancestors spent a great deal of time in another state or country.

— Be careful with names. Your 18th and 19th Century ancestors often used different ways to spell the same name, depending on how they heard it. For instance, you could have a great-grandfather named Shneider, while his father appears as Schneider and his grandfather is listed as Schnyder

— Be patient. You must realize that it took your family hundreds of years to formulate its history, therefore, you can’t put it all together in one weekend.

And remember, check and double-check your sources

big family reunion

Valuable suggestions for keeping the much-needed record of family affairs

A pretty young woman, in a fresh black gown, stood the other day before the desk of a savings bank official and tried in vain to answer the identifying questions which would enable her to close the account of her father, who had just died.

“You say that you don’t know the name of the depositor’s father or his mother’s maiden name?” said the patient gentleman with the spectacles who was conducting the inquiry. “At any rate, you will be able to tell me your father’s address at the time this account was opened, eleven years ago?”

She shook her head doubtfully. “We lived at two places in Brooklyn, one year in Forty-eighth street and one year out in Orange, about that time, but I can’t remember the street. I can’t answer any of those questions except the one about mamma’s maiden name. Of course, I can tell you that.”

She was able, of course, to prove her identity and get her money, for savings banks are used to this curious state of affairs of many American families, where if the absence of history is an index of happiness, unbroken bliss should surely prevail.

In England, the parish records furnish a correct and accessible source of information as to the main facts of personal and family chronology.

A class at the zoo - the bird cage 1899

In France, the civil records are so minute that the head of a household may seem justified in omitting to make any records of his own.

In this country, however, neither church nor state assumes the duty of historian, and the average American who wants to know anything of his family history must piece it together from the inscriptions on tombstones and the chance entries he may find in county courthouses, and helped out, if he is fortunate enough to have a pious ancestry, by the yellowed manuscript pages interleaved in the family Bible.

Keeping a family record of some kind is as much the duty of the intelligent head of a family as providing food, shelter and schooling. Indeed, failure in the first case is less excusable, as the record costs nothing but the outlay of a little time.

To dismiss the whole subject with the statement, “I never took much interest in that sort of thing” is evidence of thoughtlessness, to say the least.

Any librarian will testify that his reference room is filled with people looking up simple facts of a family history that their parents could have put on record in a very few minutes, had they been willing to take the trouble.

Sometimes the desire for knowledge arises from the ambition to meet the requirements of one of the patriotic societies; sometimes it is a matter of practical importance, like the establishing of a legal claim to property; Sometimes it is the mere natural craving to know something of the men and women whose mental and physical traits are our inalienable heritage — in any case, the motive is not to be condemned.

Little girl portrait photography from 1852

A very satisfactory record can be made on a single flat sheet of paper, not smaller than 20×20 inches and laid out precisely like the pedigree blanks used in kennels and stables.

It may be suggested in passing that in many a household where there is no written record whatever of the genealogy of the human members there will be found a carefully treasured pedigree of some valued animal that will serve as a convenient pattern. The genealogy can usually be filled out to five generations without difficulty, especially if the grandparents are alive.

At the right hand side of the sheet, where the entries are sparse, as in the case of parents and grandparents, there will be room to enter — preferably in red ink, so to avoid confusion with the main record — the dates of births and marriages, the successive places of residence and the names of brothers and sisters.

These additional facts will give the key to any historical work the subject of the genealogy may care to pursue, as it furnishes the dates and places where legal or church records may be searched and the full names which should be sought in indexes.

The time needed for laying out and filling in such a record will not be much over an hour, and the paper, will cost but a few cents. Care should be taken, however, to have an honest piece of all-rag record or bond paper that will stand folding and will not drop to pieces in a few years.

Promptness in making the record cannot be too strongly insisted upon, especially in the case of the first child in the family.

A genealogy is made up of two distinct halves. In few families could the father or mother supply the necessary facts for the other side of the house, so that it is important that the record should be made while both parents are living.

When the sheet is filled in, it should be folded to the size of a legal document, so that it can be readily kept with other valuable papers. The pages of the blank side can be used for recording the family’s changes of residence, if any, during the childhood of the history’s subject.

In many families, these individual genealogies may be interestingly supplemented by a family scrapbook which becomes valuable for reference as years go by.

Illustrated, by father’s picture when he was made president of the board of trade, Eleanor’s frills and flounces when she graduated, a picture of the cottage where a pleasant summer was passed and the portrait of the terrier who took “second” at the dog show, such a scrapbook becomes a family treasure worth far more than the slight labor it costs to make it; while the work may develop latent historic tastes in the compiler that will someday give the world a masterpiece.

Genealogy: A Crusader in your past? A bank robber? Join the great ancestor hunt! (1967)

By John I Stewart – The Danville Register (Danville, Virginia) August 20, 1967

A cablegram from Oslo reported tersely: Have located Olaf Gustavadson.

To anyone but a genealogical buff, the importance of this communique might seem questionable, for Olaf Gustavadson has lain peacefully in an Oslo cemetery since December 3, 1687.

But for Charles Mosley of St Paul, Minnesota, this find by a colleague in Norway ended a 13-year search that would do credit to Sherlock Holmes. Olaf was a great (times nine) grandfather of Mosley, and the discovery of his hiding place was a crucial step in the journey Mosley is taking into the unknown past.

Charles Mosley isn’t alone on this sort of journey. From Hong Kong to Houston, from Las Vegas to London to Leningrad, a swelling army of genealogists is in relentless pursuit of their relatives, dead or alive — but especially dead.

For many, the main object of the search is to trace their ancestry as far back into antiquity as possible. A forebear tracked down to the 12th century, marching in the Crusades, is worth half a dozen kinsmen of Civil War vintage.

colorful genealogical chart for recording marriages

Genealogy: Why do they take up the chase?

“Genealogy makes history come alive,” reports a Boston acquaintance of mine. “The Declaration of Independence was just a historical document to me until I traced my line back to Benjamin Harrison, one of its signers. Now I feel I am part of American history.”

On a pedigree chart, Ellen Johnson of San Francisco inherited from an uncle in England she found the name Jane Barnes. A note scribbled beneath it intrigued her: “This Jane I fear is the barmaid what sailed with that bloody McTavish.” Whereupon Mrs Johnson took up the trail of her colorful forebear, who turned out to be a widely-traveled barmaid indeed.

In 1813, one Donald McTavish sailed from England aboard the heavily armed Isaac Todd, for Fort George (Astoria, Oregon) as newly-appointed British governor of the disputed Pacific Northwest.

The thoughtful McTavish listed under “Miscellany supplies” one item of baggage called a “Rum Keep,” which came aboard ship in the person of Jane Barnes, a “winsome, flaxen-haired, blue-eyed barmaid,” complete with lavish wardrobe donated by McTavish.

When the ship reached the mouth of the Columbia 14 months later, Jane Barnes became the first white woman to set foot in the Oregon country. And a dainty foot it was. Special protective quarters had to be built for her within the fortress and a constant guard maintained to shield her from the affections of trappers, soldiers, and Indians.

Japanese family - woman and children

Within a month after their arrival at Fort George, poor McTavish was drowned in the Columbia River, along with five of Jane’s bodyguards. After four months as mistress of the fort, the voluptuous barmaid fled back to England via China with an understanding Captain Robson.

Your family tree and the mystery of your history

Quaint customs, peculiar names, sentimental wills, and astonishing gravestone inscriptions keep genealogists busy. Other genealogists are motivated by a desire to trace their pedigrees back to a lineage entitling them to join such organizations as the Daughters of the American Revolution or to bear a family crest and coat of arms.

Not since the days of Richard the Lionhearted has there been such keen interest in heraldry as there is today. If you are of Scottish descent, you are entitled to arms if you can prove you are the heir of someone who has recorded arms in Lyon Register, begun in 1672 and kept in the Court of Lord Lyon, Edinburgh.

If you are of English descent, you are entitled to arms if you can prove your male descent (father to son) from someone whose coat is officially recorded at the College of Arms in London. A number of other countries have similar requirements.

For Thad Whalon, professor at a northwestern university, ancestor hunting has replaced detective story reading as a spare-time pursuit. “It’s much more fun solving real mysteries in your own family than reading fictional ones that someone has concocted,” he says.

A scrawled entry in an old family Bible first aroused Whalon’s curiosity. “Sylvester died suddenly today of a neck injury. May God rest his soul,” the notation read. Sylvester turned out to be a son of Whalon’s great-great-grandparents, the Christopher Hanks.

Unable to get further information locally, the professor threw a sleeping bag into his station wagon and traveled to an Arizona ghost town where the Hanks were believed to have lived at one time. For three days he searched through the forsaken cemetery, like a benevolent grave robber. Finally, his persistence paid off.

Home family record - Genealogy - history - birth and marriage

The weed-choked tombstone read coldly:


Armed with the year of death, Whalon searched through the fragile, musty pages of a one-time community newspaper on file in the local library. He was hardly prepared for what he found. Under the heading, “Notice of Departure,” he discovered poor Sylvester’s fate:

Though born of woman, he died by man
His name was Sylvester Hanks
Love of money got the best of him
And he was hung for robbing banks

Strange coincidences and other tales in pursuit of genealogy

Although most genealogists are realistic, practical persons who pursue their hobby in a systematic, businesslike way, there are few who cannot tell you of some phenomenal experiences they have had during their searches — a compelling hunch, extrasensory perception, clairvoyance, or plain coincidence.

Mrs Winifred Lazear and Miss Maud Smith of Basco, Illinois, were first cousins who made annual trips to Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky in a futile effort to find data on their great-great-grandmother, Lucinda Davidson.

Returning home from yet another unsuccessful safari, they were forced by road construction to detour through Loogootee, Indiana, where they stopped at an antique shop. Mrs Lazear spent $4 for an old walnut picture frame that took her fancy.

When, weeks later, she got around to refinishing it, she tore out the faded photograph in the frame and was about to throw it away when she noticed some writing on the back.

To her astonishment and delight, there on that photograph were the names and dates for which she and her cousin had searched so long. They had not recognized the photo as that of a relative but had been interested only in the frame.

John A Widtsoe, a prominent scientist and the president of the University of Utah, had an avid interest in genealogy. One day while on a business trip to Stockholm, he was hurrying along a busy street when he heard a voice say to him, “Go across the street and down that narrow alley.” Only imagination, he quickly decided, and ignored the order.

“Almost at once the voice came again, as distinctly as any voice I have ever heard,” Widtsoe tells the story.

With that, he crossed over went down the side street, and there found a small bookstore which had just purchased the library of a recently deceased professional genealogist, a library containing a treasury of Swedish genealogy which Widtsoe badly needed to locate the burial places of his seafaring forefathers.

Vintage family record - register - antique published in Louisville Kentucky

Genealogy study: Your family tree can include millions of relatives

The novice family detective will be surprised to discover the fantastic number of direct ancestors he has. Yet it is a matter of simple arithmetic: You have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc.

By doubling the number in each generation you soon run into astronomical figures. In just the 20th generation back, approximately the year 1300 AD — about as far back as most researchers could get — theoretically you had more than a million grandparents. You need never run out of a hobby!

One of the most confusing problems faced by nearly every family detective is the matter of spelling changes. Rare indeed is the family whose name has not been spelled at least a dozen ways over the centuries. A Seattle genealogist, Mrs Harold L Adams, has found 65 variations of the name “Morford,” including such spellings as Morfoot, Morefat, Morefit, and Marfort.

George Olin Zabriskie of Honolulu traced his name back to one Albrecht Zaborowskij who migrated from Poland to America in 1662. In all, he found 123 different spellings!

It is easy to get started in the family detective business, for you begin with the person you know best: you. Write down all the important, interesting facts about yourself, such as date and place of birth, your parentage, brothers, sisters, and friends, your husband or wife, your children, your schooling, religion, vocation, hobbies, and sports — whatever will make you a living personality to a future generation.

Next, move on to your parents, then your grandparents. If you are like most people these days, you will be hard put to go further without research. How many know the full names of their eight great-grandparents?

1902 Dayton C. Miller Family - Genealogy

Starting your own search for your family tree

There are many books on genealogy currently available, as well as thousands of family histories in the Jefferson room of the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

By registering your research with the Mormon Church, you can participate in the Pedigree Referral Service of the Genealogical Society Library in Salt Lake City and so learn who else is working on your line. In addition, you can have your records microfilmed there free of charge with a copy for yourself.

The reason for this library: The Mormons consider genealogy an important religious obligation. Every Mormon is expected to search out his genealogy and compile books of remembrance.

To fulfill his obligation, the Mormons have spent millions of dollars gathering and microfilming vital records from all over the world and building a network of genealogical libraries and training schools. The Salt Lake genealogy library, the world’s largest, is open to Mormons and non-Mormons alike.

Family genealogy books, published at a cost of from $3 to $20 per copy, make good gifts to relatives, including wedding gifts. Today, with families more widely scattered than ever before, such books help strengthen family ties.

It is only human that you should desire a touch of immortality here on earth, an assurance of a place in history, a hope that after you have gone the way of all flesh, someone will know and care that you once passed this way. A genealogical record is one means of achieving that hope.

African American genealogy record and heritage

Researching genealogy: The new rise of interest in ancestors (1923)

From The Independent (Helena, Montana) May 13, 1923

Genealogy, according to the makers of dictionaries means “family, pedigree, lineage — the science that treats of tracing pedigrees.” And as a science of this kind, it naturally has a deep interest to many persons all over the world, to all who can trace their ancestry back to a remote past.

Among Old World families, this tracing backward may extend for centuries; but in our country, as far as relative origin is concerned, it goes back only to the period of the very early settlements, with incidental reference and importance, of course, to the ancestors who crossed the ocean to make their fortunes in the then new and unknown regions on this side of the Atlantic.

But our country is now old enough, in respect of established settlement, to afford ample material for the genealogist and those who have an intense desire to engage his services in tracing family lineage.

And this pursuit has long been followed by those who could trace a straight line from the early Pilgrims and Puritans of New England, The Cavaliers of Virginia, and the offspring of that fine old English stock which first had its local bearings in William Penn’s colony.

Researching genealogy - Soldier in uniform, wife in dress and hat, and two daughters wearing matching coats and hats 1863

Researching your family history

The men who make a business of tracing family trees (genealogists) report that they are in work to their ears. The war started an epidemic of interest in ancestors, especially among new millionaires. The same curiosity is found to be greatly stimulated among what the bromidic orators call “the rank and file of the people.”

A very good thing, to know where we originally came from, though scientists claim that all of us — if we trace back far enough — will find ancestors who’d be kept in the zoo today.

Americans seem to have an aversion to pedigrees of people, though intensely interested in the lineage of livestock, dogs, cats, racehorses and machinery.

This is natural, since, our national attitude is that what really counts is what you are today, not what you were yesterday or your ancestors in the past. A man stands on his own legs, not someone’s else, in democracy. However, each of us is the result of a long stream of generations of toiling people whose foremost motive was to produce a child better in character and more successful than its parents.

Researching genealogy - Unidentified soldier in Union uniform, woman and baby c1863

We owe it to our toiling ancestors to give them at least passing curiosity. Intensely interesting is tracing back your family tree. Nothing beats it as an enjoyable diversion. If you want to start, the local library can tell you how to go about it. Try to find out something about the man and woman of several centuries ago, from whom you are descended. In most cases, it’s difficult work.

In tracing your family tree, you’ll run into surprises. And most people will find family skeletons that they will not care to circulate. For instance, many of the early settlers of America were fugitives from European courts, though some of their descendants claim blue blood.

A friend of ours stopped his researches when he traced himself back lo a man who was recorded by pen and ink in these words: “May 15, 1652 — Resolved, by the Amsterdam, Holland, chamber of the West India Company, that Adriaen J, pilot of the ship, the Court of Cleef, be not molested for having accidentally shot his captain in 1649.”

Adriaen’s blood, by the way, flows today in several of the leading society families of New York City.

The early records of Americans are rapidly disappearing, burled by time like everything else. If you want to leave a family tree for your descendants, better get busy.

Researching genealogy - Unidentified husband and wife - Portrait c1855

Genealogy: How to find a grandpapa, with tips from 1899

by Diana Crossways – The Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, Utah) April 30, 1899

Search should be conducted in a methodical manner

Ancestors are in fashion, and here are accurate directions for getting up a genealogical tree

It is the fashion nowadays to have ancestors. And a very good fashion it is, too, for it leads to much study and research. If you live near a library stocked with genealogical volumes you will find plenty of work for these summer days in tracing out your line of descent.

Fortify yourself first with “American Ancestry,” which is found in many volumes, and alphabetically arranged, so that the name you seek is easily found — if found at all. You will doubtless find important data here, which you will supplement with further items gleaned from “Farmer’s General Register” — a book on the same lines as “American Ancestry.” “Savage’s Dictionary” is the third authority you consult, and in one, if not all, you are certain to find something of which you are in search.

The fireplace on the porch Feather River Inn Calif-1900-1920

If you have a notion that you are “the daughter of a hundred earls,” turn to “Americans of Royal Descent” or “Collin’s Peerage,” or “Burke’s Peerage,” or “Landed Gentry.” If a drop of Irish or Scotch blood be in your veins, to O’Hart’s “Irish Settlers,” or Douglas’ “Baronage of Scotland.” If your ancestors rolled over the deep in the Mayflower – its passenger list used to number about 101, but surely a million, more or less, must have arrived in that historic boat — consult “History of Plymouth from Its First Settlers in 1620 to the Present Time,” by James Thatcher.

Other works to consult, if you trace back to the Mayflower, are Trumbull’s “History of Connecticut,” “Early Puritan Settlers,” “New Haven Church Records,” “Mourt’s Relations, or a Journal of the Plantation of Plymouth,” and “Founders of the New Plymouth,” by Rev. Joseph Hunter.

Matthews’ “History of Vermont,” Stearn’s “History of Ashburnham, Mass.,” Hinman’s “Early Settlers of Connecticut,” Swain’s “Wetherfield, Conn.,” are other authorities to look into when in quest of New England ancestry.

Meade’s “Old Families of Virginia” and “Virginia Cousins,” by G B Goode, must be consulted for Virginia ancestry.

Handpainted photograph of Theo Lane, a member of the Smith family

If there are any historical societies in the neighborhood, important information may often be attained; one may even come across old family portraits or relics, or copies of gravestone inscriptions tucked away in some obscure corner.

During your quest, never lose sight of the fact that genealogical books are not infallible. Jefferson, or some equally great man, once remarked that everyone should have education enough to know how to spell his name in more than one way. Mourt and Morton; Crane, Crain, Crayne; Treat, Trat, Trott, and similar examples, confront you at every turn.

But for all your toil and turmoil, you will certainly feel quite repaid when you have a complete family chart. If you don’t care to have it displayed upon the wall, keep it rolled, and if you have chosen map paper, it will not crease or crack.

A circular chart is not nearly as good as a half-circular one, with the father’s line on the left and the mother’s on the other. Then the whole situation can be taken in at a glance. Only dates of birth, marriage and death are written on the chart over against each name, and every space should be numbered – that is, if you have any additional memoranda.

1889 Family record

For example, somebody is John Smith and his number is 24. If you have interesting data relative to the gentleman — his coat-of-arms emblazoned, his autograph, a copy of his will, a photograph of him or the house in which he lived, or the memorial bridge his townsmen erected to his memory, put all these in an envelope, which bears the same name and number. It is easy then to lay hands, in the dark, or in case of fire, upon any facts connected with John Smith.

It is often possible to procure copies of wills for a small consideration, or copies of deeds of property sold, if they are desired. From $2 to $4 is the usual charge for procuring a copy of an uncertified will.

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