Well, I’ve found that the older you get, the more important your ancestry becomes. I’m not sure why. Maybe I have a broader perspective on things now. Maybe I’m just curious as to whether there was nobility in my family. Perhaps I’m looking for some closet skeletons.
Whatever my reasons, I do find tracing my ancestry fascinating. It is so interesting to learn about other people–how they lived, what they did, who they knew. But I’ve also learned along the way that most people haven’t a clue what resources are available to them beyond the usual – interviewing family, checking birth certificates and newspapers, etc.
So here I’ve compiled a list of 25 resources you should take advantage of if you’re really serious about finding out “where you came from.”
1.The obvious, of course, is interviewing family members; not only mom and dad, but aunts, uncles, distant cousins. Start by drawing a quick family tree going back just two generations and start making calls or sending mail or emails. Here are some of the basic things you’ll want to know:
2.Family bibles. While it doesn’t seem to be such a common practice these days, in the past, families kept their bible forever, often keeping record of family members, births, marriages, and deaths on pages within the bible.
3.Old family letters. Once again, with technology, we’ve all but lost the art of letter writing (what will our own children and grand children have to look back on in years to come?). But older generations tended to preserve letters of importance. These letters can oftentimes be of great value in tracing your ancestry. They may contain important dates, facts, and places that will be of help. Check return addresses and postmarks for information.
4.Legal documents are a great resource. Such documents include deeds (property addresses), wills (names of kin you may not have known about), marriage licenses (note the witnesses), birth certificates, voter registration, adoption records, and even judgements. Your search for these documents should begin with state and county records.
5.What about associations your ancestors may have belonged to? These would include churches, clubs, veterans groups and lodges, all of which may be able to provide background information for your search.
6.Census data. After 1840 the Census collected age, place of birth, occupation, personal wealth, education, spouse, children, hired hands, and even immigration information. Copies of the original decennial census forms from 1790 through 1930 are available on microfilm for research at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC (http://www.archives.gov/), at Archives regional centers, and at select Federal depository libraries throughout the United States.
For Pre-1906 Naturalizations:
Contact the State Archives for the state where the naturalization occurred to request a search of state, county, and local courts records.
Contact the NARA regional facility that serves the state where naturalization occurred to request a search of Federal court records.
For Naturalizations After 1906:
After 1906, the courts forwarded copies of naturalizations to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Naturalizations from Federal Courts are held in the NARA’s regional facilities for the Federal courts for their area. Learn more: http://www.archives.gov/genealogy/naturalization/
8.Grave sites. Headstones will give dates and possible family names.
9.Libraries. Here you’ll find newspaper articles (look for obituaries, and birth and marriage announcements) and books on local history (what was taking place during their life). Many libraries can be accessed online. You will also find genealogy information in several libraries, the Allen County Public Library in Indiana having the second largest genealogical collection in the US. Another good source is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT.
10.Genealogy message boards. Google “genealogy message boards” and join in–you’ll find a wealth of information available!
11.Military records. You’ll find several sources online, including NARA (http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/).
12.High school and college yearbooks. These sources can help locate a relative or provide other resources for your search. Check online.
13.Family pedigrees. These are family groups already linked in a computer system. Accessing an individual’s family group sheet in a linked pedigree will also give you access to all of the records that are linked to that individual. Two great sources are Kindred Connections (http://www.kindredkonnections.com/index.html) and the Family History Library (http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHL/frameset_library.asp).
14.U.S. Immigration records. Two great sources are Ellis Island Records (http://www.ellisislandrecords.org/) and Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/default.aspx?rt=40)
15.Social Security Death Index. This is a database of people whose deaths were reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA) beginning about 1962. The best source is RootsWeb.com (http://ssdi.rootsweb.com/?o_xid=0028727949&o_lid=0028727949&o_xt=41534187).
Now that you’re all grown up and interested in finding your “roots”, these 15 resources should get you well on your way. It’ll be a fun and rewarding adventure.