(Merle Reed, ca 1914: The author’s grandfather, whose life journey took him from Iowa to Idaho to Alaska.)
Continued from Sandy Frykholm's post on 11-10-13:
How do you “document” your research?
Modern research is much easier than what we were doing in 1987. The internet is a treasure box of information—AND mis-information. Some researchers are very careful, while others take what seems like the easy road, and assume the best with family trees that others have compiled.
Our elderly cousin, Leola, spent years researching our English roots. She shared piles of information with us, in family group sheets and pedigree charts. As a novice, Marlie began looking into some English census documents, and found a few niggling discrepancies—nothing very big—but figured Leola was so much more experienced, she must be right.
In 1997, we traveled to England, determined contact some English distant cousins. We put a notice in the Leicester newspaper seeking descendants of our great-great grandparents, and heard from two men. A party was arranged, and one of the men drove us to a nearby city where we could obtain copies of birth, death, and marriage records. When we saw the birth records of our great-grandfather, we were horrified to realize that we were not related to the people we had contacted at all! Fortunately, by the time we gathered that evening, the liquor cabinet was open and everyone was very pleased to meet us, cousins or not.
So when I say “document” your research, I mean this: Find documents to confirm any information others provide, and keep copies of the documents, names of books you’ve searched through and people you’ve consulted. Most commonly these are birth, marriage, and death certificates, and census records. Some are fortunate to have detailed information recorded in old family Bibles. For more advanced research, you might look into land ownership and tax records, court documents, and maps.
You can find a very clear article here (link to http://ancestry.org/primary-secondary-genealogy-sources/) about different kinds of sources used in genealogical research.
Compiled genealogies are great starting points—but it is unusual to find their sources clearly identified. If you begin from some one else’s undocumented research (as most of us do), begin documenting right away, so a future reader or researcher can easily determine the accuracy of your information.
You can also take advantage of your local genealogical society—many of these have computers available with access to subscription-only genealogy websites. Local societies may include resources for a wide area, and their volunteers are often experienced and well-trained to help with research problems. You can search on the internet to find historical and genealogical societies in the locations your ancestors lived. Societies in distant locations may be willing to provide research for a fee.
(Reed 4 gen photo: The author, front and center, with her father, grandfather, great grandmother, and siblings in a 1964 photo for the Anchorage, Alaska newspaper.)
Isn’t everything on the Internet now?
Actually, no. But there is a lot!
Cyndi’s List (www.cyndislist.com) is a holy grail of a website, an enormous collection of links to all kinds of genealogy resources. Anyone doing research online should spend some time there.
Many individual have websites about their research. The best way to find these is to search by surname or a combination of surname and location, and include the word ‘genealogy’. Networking with other descendants of your ancestors (your distant cousins) can be enormously helpful in uncovering research others have done. Through one such connection I found a published book taking one family line back to the 1600’s with great documentation.
In the USA, the National Archives is a fantastic resource, and their website includes a lot of guidance for a researcher. If you have an ancestor who served in the military, you may be able to find his or her military records, and the Bureau of Land Management has images of original land patents transferring land from the Federal government to homesteaders, pensioners, and others who bought land as the country expanded.
The Latter Day Saints (Mormons) are famous for their genealogical collections, and have more than 4,000 family history centers all over the world. These are free of charge and open to anyone doing genealogy. Their website, www.familysearch.org , is also free.
The best known subscription website is probably Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com), and a free trial might help you decide if it is worth the price to you. You can view (and save on your own computer) original documents like census records, military records, ships’ passenger lists, as well as connect easily with others researching the same families.
When should you hire a professional?
Personally, I love the research and discovery process. If you hate the process, and have the money, by all means hire an expert. Earlier this year I hired some specialized help for two reasons. First, I had a deadline—I was planning a trip to Italy and couldn’t do it myself before I went. Second, even though records were available in Salt Lake City, the source documents were in Italian—and in 18th and 19th century script—which I would likely not have understood even if I found them myself.
What about Chief Joseph?
Dad lied. As our research progressed, Marlie and I became more and more skeptical. And as DNA testing has grown in popularity, we convinced our brother to get a test and settle the question. Now we know that we have no Native American DNA. But guess what? We have pioneers, religious dissenters, military veterans, shoemakers and lace-makers, so many other lines of interest now that we can happily set that aside and go on to another challenge.
(Sandy Frykholm is a writer in Washington state. She has written articles, essays, plays, poetry, and two historical novels. Her current writing project involves family history: a memoir about an epic family road trip known as “The Drive in ‘65” which covered more than 20,000 miles in three and a half months, circling North America. She also blogs at www.theitaliansouth.com where you can find some of her Italian genealogy adventures. )
Thanks to Julie and Sandy for stopping in and sharing your tips on researching genealogy!