The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

March 9, 2014

Frankie Meyer: Best starting point for family research is your life, not web

JOPLIN, Mo. — New to family history research? Don't pay a fee to use genealogy websites. Although they may be helpful later in your research, they are not helpful when you begin.

To start your family history, you must start with yourself.

Obtain a copy of your birth certificate, diplomas, baptismal record and similar records.

If you are married, add a copy of your marriage record. Place your documents in a file, and use the details to start your family record sheet.   

After compiling your records, gather records of your parents.

Keep in mind that you should never share any personal records of living people because the information could be used in identity theft. These records are for your use only. Use the details in the records to fill out more family record sheets.

After that generation is documented, next compile records on your grandparents. Continue your research in this manner as you gather information on older generations of ancestors.

Compile information on brothers and sisters of your ancestors, too. Your ancestor may not have inherited the photos, letters and similar primary records of his or her parents, but a brother or sister may have. How will you ever learn about those records unless you have researched the siblings and know about their descendants whom you can contact?

Check census records. They will provide clues even though they often have errors. The census taker may have spelled the names wrong or recorded the wrong info. The person who was at home on the day the census taker arrived may have given incorrect information. Errors are also made by people who transcribe census records and compile them in books or websites.

Realize that your ancestor may have lived in a county but was not listed in its census. A few years ago, I read an old newspaper article in which the citizens of the eastern part of a county were complaining that the county census had been completed but no census taker had canvassed their area.

Cite details about each source of info. The citation should be so specific that you could later find it and confirm the info or another person could do so.

Be open minded when researching the family name. Names were often spelled many ways in records.

What if two sources say different things? Make copies of documents for later reference. A death certificate, for example, might say that an ancestor died at the age of 37, but a Bible record lists another age. Check the details of the certificate. The source of the information may have been  a neighbor who made a guess. Check the Bible record more closely. Perhaps the information was recently recorded and is not reliable.

What if your ancestor's birth certificate states that her name was Mary Elizabeth Miller but you find no other records of her childhood? Perhaps she used a nickname such as Polly.

As you compile records, learn about the communities where ancestors lived and the events that occurred at that time. If possible, visit the cemeteries where they are buried and their old home sites.

Your experiences and the details that you learn will make your genealogy quest a priceless treasure.

Suggestions or queries? Send to Frankie Meyer, 509 N. Center St., Plainfield, IN 46168, or contact: frankiemeyer @yahoo.com.

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