You’ve begun delving into your family history. You’ve already filled in all the names of your great-grandparents on your family tree. You’ve begun collecting the legal documents that record the milestones of your ancestors’ lives: birth, marriage and death certificates. You’ve even located your family in a few census records. But before you push further back, why not stop and really get to know these people? After all, that’s the purpose of tracing your family roots: knowing more about your ancestors.
If you have names, dates and records through your great-grandparents, you have fifteen lineal ancestors to get to know, both living and dead. To get to know your deceased ancestors better, you have to dig deeper on the paper trail. To better acquaint yourself with your living ancestors, start conducting oral history interviews. Both of these techniques are explained in more depth in this set of articles. Part one will discuss digging deeper on the paper trail, while part two is an introduction to conducting oral history interviews.
Digging up Your Family Roots: Filling in Your Ancestors’ Lives
Documentary support is vital in genealogical research. Even the oral histories of your living relatives will require supporting documents, which they would hopefully be able to provide for you. While these documents include things like birth, marriage and death certificates, it will involve more than just these documents to get to know your deceased ancestors better.
This part of your research might begin with your oldest living relative. He or she might be able to tell you of books or newspaper articles mentioning relatives, even if he or she doesn’t have copies of them. The resources your relatives share with you are also a good starting place, including newspaper clippings, photos, books, Bibles, journals, etc.
Newspapers are an excellent resource. If your relatives have provided you with clippings describing a big event, locate the actual newspapers (usually on microfilm or microfiche by now) and search the following days for follow-up stories. For example, I have a great-great-great uncle who was a police officer. He was shot and killed in the line of duty. Not only do we have newspaper records of the stories about him, but we also have stories about the criminal who shot him: the pursuit, the murder of my relative, the shootout, the dynamiting of his hideout, the holding cell, the trial. This event happened nearly a century ago, yet we have it well documented.
The Internet is a good place to start your search. Search engines may be able to provide reliable and helpful information, or even photographs of ancestors. However, as with all things on the Internet, don’t trust everything you read, and do record the URL or source of all information. To find newspaper clippings offline, use indexes of newspapers from areas where your relatives lived. An excellent resource might be the obituary of deceased relatives. You’ve already gathered the death date and place, so you know where and when to look to find the obituary in their local newspaper. Many places are served by more than one newspaper, so search all those you can find. The availability of other milestones like birth, engagement and wedding announcements vary, but try to find those as well. If possible, search for your surname in the newspaper index. Be sure to check for “alternative" spellings of your last name as well.
Newspaper resources are only one resource. Military, probate, immigration, court, deed, and church records are each invaluable sources of information. It might be wise to employ a professional genealogy research service to help you with these aspects of your family history. Not only will this save you time, but you can benefit from professional genealogists’ years of experience.
Professional genealogy research can be well worth the cost when it means that you get to spend more time reading about your ancestors and getting to know them and less time looking for your resources and getting to know the archives.
The largest repository of genealogical data is the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, Utah. Run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this resource can be a one-stop genealogical gold mine. However, traveling to Salt Lake may not be in your budget. Retaining the services of a professional genealogy researcher located near the FHL is another way to take advantage of the millions of records found there.
Real family history research is more than recording names and dates. Digging up your family roots is more than gathering birth, marriage and death certificates. The goal of family history is coming to know your ancestors better. Start getting acquainted by fleshing out your family roots for both your living and dead ancestors.
A descendant of many avid genealogists, Jordan McCollum works for 10x Marketing, an Internet marketing firm. For more information on fleshing out your family roots or professional genealogy research , see http://www.heirlines.com Heirlines Family History & Genealogy.