The Villages Genealogical Society
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Basic Genealogy
1.   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.
2.   Start with yourself. Document everything you know about yourself. Include your spouse, children, grandchildren, etc. Include occupations, where you have lived and all important events in your life. Then, and only then, start working backwards and with your living relatives.
3.   Make a list of all living relatives after you complete your personal genealogy. Interview each 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, but do not delay; relatives have a nasty habit of dying before being interviewed.
4.   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.
5.   Female lines are as important as male lines. One-half of your ancestors are female! They can be more difficult to locate since most changed their names when married.
6.   Remember to document everything you find on your ancestors. Undocumented genealogy is mythology!
7.   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.
8.   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.
9.   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.
10.   Always record females using their maiden names.
11.   A person who dies "intestate" dies without a valid will.
12.   There is genealogy beyond the internet! While the internet is one very convenient tool, it is not the only tool. Check out online library catalogs, then visit the library to access the book or request an interlibrary loan.
13.   By the time you have collected data on a couple hundred of your relatives, you will realize that genealogy software would make keeping track of relationships within your tree, filing data about individuals, and generating reports much easier. The Society has a special interest group that discusses Family Tree Maker software. Compare features before selecting the software best for you.
14.   The Family Group Sheet identifies a couple and their children. Everyone with a spouse or child has two group sheets – on as a child with parents and usually one as a parent with children.
15.   The Pedigree Chart is a map from you to your ancestors. Begin with yourself. Females always use their maiden names.
16.   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.
17.   When it comes to spelling variations, be creative. Often clerks and government officials were unable to correctly record the names given them by unschooled immigrants not familiar with languages used in their port of entry. The surname was written down as the official heard it and the immigrant accepted that as the official American rendering of his name.
18.   A time line begins with your ancestor’s birth and is filled in with various events in his life. Continue to fill this in as information becomes available to provide a picture of your ancestor’s life. Several of the genealogy software programs assist you with this.
Census
1.   A census is an official counting of the population living in a given locality on a designated day set at intervals. The census places an ancestor in a specific place at a specific time.
2.   Begin with the latest census available and work backwards. Census records have been taken since 1790. Before 1790 you can use Tax Lists and other local lists that might have been compiled according to the state you are researching in.
3.   Federal Census records are available to the public 72 years after they are taken.
4.   The 1890 U.S. Census records were destroyed by fire on January 10, 1921.
5.   Don't assume that all children listed in the census belong to the wife listed. This may be a second wife and the children a combination of "his and hers."
6.   Don't assume that widow in earlier census records means her husband is deceased. It could mean that they were divorced.
7.   The U.S. Federal Census is taken every 10 years on a designated census day by an "enumerator" in a specific area called an enumeration district. The first census was done in 1790; there are no censuses before 1790.
8.   In addition to the census population count, there are a number of special censuses: Slave, Industry & Manufacturing, Agriculture, Mortality, Social Statistics, Union Veteran and Widow, Defective, Dependent and Delinquent.
9.   Prepare a census timeline before you begin. Review what you will find in the census you are searching. Work backwards from the most recent census. Expect spelling and age variations.
10.   When the head of the household is no longer listed, don’t assume he/she is dead. It’s possible that the former head of household is now living with one of the children.
11.   Be sure to look at several families before and after the family you are researching. These people are most likely the friends or family of your ancestor. Many lived in the same community very near each other.
12.   Digest everything that is recorded on the census, not just a name and a date.
13.   1790-1840 Censuses only list the head of the household, but don't overlook using them. They are helpful to place a family in specific locations at specific times.
14.   The 1840 Census asks about names and ages of Pensioners for Revolutionary or other Military Service.
15.   The 1850 census was the first census to give the name, sex, color, age, occupation and birthplace of each free member of the household.
16.   The 1880 census was the first to identify the relationship between the household member and the head of house.
17.   Only the 1900 census asks for the person's month and year of birth.
18.   The 1900 and 1910 censuses lists the number of years of marriage for each married household member.
19.   The 1900 and 1910 censuses lists the number of children that were born to each woman and how many were still living at the time of the census.
20.   Census Naturalization status codes: "Al" for alien, "Pa" for "first papers," and "Na" for naturalized.
21.   The 1910 census lists survivors of Union or Confederate army or naval service.
22.   The 1930 census marks Civil War veterans with the abbreviation "CW."
23.   The 1930 census lists military service in other wars: "Sp" for the Spanish-American War, "Phil" for the Philippine Insurrection, "Box" for the Boxer Rebellion, "Mex" for the Mexican Expedition, and "WW" for World War 1.
24.   The 1930 census lists the value of the property if owned, or the monthly rental if rented. This could lead to locating deeds, tax or mortgage records.
25.   The 1940 Census, when released, lists answers to several new questions never asked before including where they lived in 1935 and what was their income for the previous year.
Church Records
1.   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.
2.   Check for cemetery records with the church, sexton and/or funeral directors. Visit the cemetery and take a picture of the tombstone. Check the obituaries in that time frame.
Court Records
1.   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).
2.   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.
3.   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.
Evidence
1.   Direct evidence speaks to the point in question.
2.   Indirect evidence gives facts from which you can come to a conclusion.
3.   Primary evidence is personal testimony or a record created shortly after an event by a person with personal knowledge of the facts. A Birth Certificate for example.
4.   Secondary evidence is copies or compiled from other sources written from memory long after the event has occurred. A Death Certificate can contain both primary and secondary source information.
Federal Records
1.   The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, DC and its Regional Branches, is the principal repository for records relating to the US federal government. These include the original paper copies of the federal census, all pre-World War I military records, Native American records, military service and pension records, naturalization records, ship passenger lists, land-entry case files, and homestead and bounty land warrant records. NARA's website is the place to begin research for federal records.
2.   General Land Office is now called Bureau of Land Management of the United States Department of Interior. Some federal land records are here, some in the National Archives and some are in state and university libraries. Public domain land states are largely available on the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office-Eastern States free website.
3.   USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) was formerly known as INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service). Searching for Immigration and naturalization records is essential in genealogy research. The website which allows patrons to order index searches or record copies is at: CISHistory.Library@dhs.gov. Payment is required for searching the indexes, and then payment again to obtain copies of records located. 20th century records include: Certificate Files (C-Files); Registry Files; Visa Files; Alien Registration and A-Files.
4.   National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, MO., has U.S. military records for World War I or later. World War I draft registration cards are online, along with some of the World War II enlistment records. Some of the records in St. Louis were destroyed by fire, and they ask that you send the request for records back a second time since the first reply is computer-generated.
5.   Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. has manuscripts, publications and microfilms of a wide range of materials useful to genealogical research. Their website is free and easy to use.
6.   The National Genealogical Society, Washington, D.C. has a genealogical course available for national accredation and sells both supplies and reprinted genealogies and other books.
7.   Social Security Administration has made the Social Security Death Index freely available on multiple websites. When first entered the records began with 1962 deaths, but now there are some listed earlier than 1962.
Hometown Records
1.   City Directories provide names and occupations of town residents and much local business information.
2.   It's very important to check maps. Boundaries change over time. Be sure the area where you think your ancestors resided is actually the area where they were.
3.   Newspapers are wonderful hometown records. In addition to looking for obituaries, be sure to look for articles about special events... births, baptisms/christenings, weddings and pre-nuptial events (bridal showers, etc.), birthdays (parties), anniversaries, etc.
4.   Town and county histories can be invaluable to form a picture of your ancestors in the time they lived in the area.
5.   Be sure to check for a town or county historical society in the area you are researching. Know their hours of operation and their visitor rules.
6.   Be sure to understand any fees that may be required for copies of any records found.
7.   The local library may have copies of old city directories produced my the municipality.
Immigration
1.   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.
2.   Major ports of entry were Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans. There were other ports that were not considered major ports.
3.   In 1820 the Federal Government began requiring ship manifest lists but the early years can be difficult to locate.
4.   The 1900 through 1930 censuses lists the individual's year of immigration to the United States. Don't be surprised if they are all different dates.
Interviews
1.   Make a list of all living relatives before you start your genealogy research. Interview as many of them as possible. Be prepared with a list of questions. Use a tape recorder for the answers or take very good notes. Respect the person’s privacy.
2.   Consider using video tape for your interviews. Those being taped must approve this type of interview.
3.   When writing to a relative for information, make specific requests. Don't ramble! Offer to share your information.
Land Records
1.   Many legal instruments other than deeds appear in deed books. They include Bills of Sale, Prenuptial Agreements, Powers of Attorney, Contracts, Affidavits, Wills and Inventories and Voter and Jury Lists.
2.   There are various types of deeds to property. The most common are the warranty deed which transfers property with assurance of good title and the quitclaim deed which transfers one person’s interest in the property without guarantee of good title.
3.   When looking at deed indexes, be sure to look at both the "Grantor Index", an index to those selling the land and the "Grantee Index", an index to those buying the land.
4.   FEDERAL Land States were created from public domain, land the United States bought or acquired. The land was divided into territories as it became populated. Survey is done according to the rectangular system.
5.   STATE Land States are states that owned and distributed their lands. This includes the original 13 colonies, Kentucky, Maine, Tennessee, Vermont and West Virginia, Hawaii and Texas. They use "metes and bounds" to survey the land.
Organization
1.   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.
2.   Set up "proof files." These are your original documents that NEVER travel with you. Travel with copies if needed. Digital copies are easy to carry with you.
3.   Digital copies, sometimes called "portable files", are copies of your original documents, family group sheets, notes, pedigree charts, etc.
4.   Use a good genealogical software package to maintain your records and your digital files.
Probate
1.   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.
2.   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.
3.   A person who dies "intestate" dies without a will.
4.   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).
Sources & Documentation
1.   Remember to document everything you find on your ancestors. Undocumented genealogy is mythology. Most genealogy software will get you through the basics, Elizabeth Shown Mills has authored several very good books on the subject
2.   The Research Log is very important for the time when you share you 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
3.   Use a Correspondence Log for both regular and electronic correspondence. This includes the name and address of the person to whom you have written, 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.
4.   Primary evidence is personal testimony or a record created shortly after an event by a person with personal knowledge of the facts.
5.   Secondary evidence is compiled from other sources written from memory long after the event has occurred.
6.   Direct evidence speaks to the point in question. Indirect evidence gives facts from which you can come to a conclusion.
Vital Records
1.   Vital Records include birth, marriage, divorce and death records.
2.   Death Records can be the least accurate records depending upon the knowledge of the person reporting the information about the deceased. How much do your children know about you?
3.   Marriage Records may only be records of the wedding. However, you may also find the Application for Marriage completed by the bride and groom-to-be. Marriage records may also be corroborated with church records. Check everything for correctness. There could also be a newspaper account of the wedding.
4.   Birth Records can be difficult to obtain because they can be used for so many purposes. You may be required to provide proof of relationship and proof of the person's death.
5.   Vital records and event information are more reliable when they are recorded near the time of the event. The longer the time from the event occurrence that the record is made, the less accurate it may be based on the memory of the person involved.
6.   Names for causes of death have changed over time. Try to match the old name with the current medical name.