Many people have been asking what I have been doing to obtain so much information about my family in such short of a time. I am sure that there are many strategies that could be employed, but here is mine.
Talk to Living Family Members BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!
I cannot stress this point enough. Regrettably, I waited just a bit too long to start this venture. Several family members who had a great grip of the family history in their heads, have recently passed away. I recommend using a camcorder to document a casual and informal conversation with your living relatives. Trust me, you will forget most of what the tell you because of information overload. And notes don’t work too well either. I often question what I wrote down as being an accurate representation of what was said.
Get a PAID Ancestry.com membership.
Ancestry.com has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in finding, licensing, scanning, indexing and making searchable more than 24,000 different collections — ranging from records to photos to biographies to yearbooks to historical maps.
The result is that Ancestry has the web’s largest collection of family history records, including the only complete U.S. Census Collection (1790-1930), the largest online collection of U.S. Military records and the largest online collection of immigration records. The are also adding new discoveries every week in the U.S. alone, and are actively expanding their international collections as well. All this in a very friendly user interface, making it my preferred online family tree website.
You don’t need a paid membership to have a family tree at Ancestry.com, but you do, if you want to use the research tools. My family tree at Ancestry is publicly available and will help other relatives find me. If someone searches for one of my relatives’ names and date of birth, Ancestry.com will tell that person that in addition to the census, death and military records it found, there is someone (Me) who already has that person in their family tree. Because of Ancestry, I have email relations with new found relatives from New Jersey to Ireland.
At Ancestry.com, I’ve been using:
- Census Records Census records are taken every ten years (CAVEAT ALERT: The 1890 Census was wiped out by a fire). This is my first step in trying to track members. If I can get a feeling of where they were in 10 year increments, it helps me understand the entire branch of the family. Each of the various years collected offer different information, but generally I can find:
- Birthplace of heads of household, their children and parents
- Identify family relationships
- Find ancestor as a child to identify his parents.
- Year of immigration, naturalization status, and birthplace of parents giving another avenue of research.
- Veteran status to request pension records which can give birth and death dates, proof of marriage and children’s births, and much more.
- Sometimes learn an ancestor’s actual address, not just the city and state.
- World War I and World War II Draft Cards
- Provides name, DOB, next of kin, employer and address info.
- Social Security Death Records
- Provides date of death, location where the person dies and social security number. That this info to the local municipality and obtain the official death record.
- Other Online Family Trees
- This is the most exciting find. If you find someone who has already done the work for you, you can add that info to your own tree. I’ve done this many times. I also reach out to the people and tell them about myself in hopes of developing some type of relationship (usually by email).
Birth, Marriage and Death Records
Armed with a year of birth or death, a trip to the Clerks’ Office of the municipality where the relative died can help you obtain a birth or death certificate. Birth and death certificates will often provide you with:
- Date of birth and/or date of death
- Mother’s maiden name
- Father’s name
- Husband or wife’s name
- Death Certificate only: Location where buried.
There is usually a small charge for each certificate, but the information you obtain is usually well worth it. Most states have a mechanism that allows you to mail in your requests, but there is usually a slightly higher fee for that and you don’t get to do the research which itself can provide valuable information. If you have relatives who were born, married or died in New York City, they have a Vital Records Research Room that is loaded with microfilms containing indexes and certificates of your relatives. Westchester County, New York, also has something similar, but they do not have birth or death records. But they do have wills, probate papers, marriages and grave site indexes. In addition to individual municipalities, here is a list of links of places I go to obtain records:
I currently have in excess of fifty official documents covering almost every branch of our family tree.
I visit the cemeteries of known family members. You can often get a bunch of useful information off the tombstones. Sometimes you hit the jackpot when family members of multiple generations are buried in the same place. If you can obtain the death certificates, they will tell you where the person is buried. Some cemeteries have well organized records that will also provide a wealth of information. Some cemeteries will charge a research fee for information, most do not.
I just ordered my DNA testing kit from Ancestry.com, so I will let you know how this works. But I have heard nothing but great things about it, so I’m giving it a shot.
You can learn more about DNA testing by reading:
A WORD OF WARNING!
Do not embark on an ancestry hunt unless you are willing to discover hidden family secrets and skeletons in the closet. They exist in EVERY family. Some will remain hidden, others will not. I have already come across a few. Thankfully, nothing really troublesome.