I'm sorry for the lack of posts this week due to various Human Resources activities at work, but hopefully, things will come to a calm soon. It's been rush, rush, rush during the day... but, in most of my late, late evenings (by the time the majority of you are asleep), I've continued with my genealogical search before heading to bed.
Some of you have been in contact with me to ask me about my family research and how to start out on your own journey. So, I thought I'd include a few tips and links that have greatly helped me. I won't claim that these are the necessary tools - as I'm just starting this process myself and am no expert. But, maybe these can help you too!
First, start out and log the basic information in your family tree as far as you can go.... full names for siblings, parents, grandparents, great grandparents. (You may also choose to do what I've done and include siblings, siblings' spouses, nieces, nephews, etc. in each line of your research, but I would suggest working hard on the "skeleton" (direct ancestry) of your family tree first. Be prepared that you may find - as I have - that some individuals were married multiple times because of deaths at a young age - therefore, yielding many sets of half and step- siblings.)
Then, as suggested before, interview your oldest relatives and ask them to fill in any gaps and see if they can go further. Ask if they have any pictures you might borrow to scan, but ask if they might identify the individuals, locations, and approximate years of the pictures first! Approximate birthdates (years, at the very least), locations of births, deaths and residency, and maiden names are especially important to start filling in the family tree. Last, but not least, ask your relatives where individuals are buried. Not only may this help you solidify dates (for both birth and death), some markers document important information such as armed forces service and family member names (both parents and children).
Sidenote: This is my father's mother's father's parents, John Sanduskey Webb and Lucinda Ellen Osborn Webb. While at my grandfather's funeral in March, I was pointing out the grave stones for several of my family members in the Mt. Zion Church Cemetery. Brother Paul or Sister Lydia pointed to one for John and Lucinda Webb and asked how I was related to them, and I am ashamed to admit that I had no idea at the time. Little did I know, it was the marker for my great great grandparents. In just two months, I have been blessed to discover so much.
Tip: Practice writing out dates in the preferred method. Instead of 5/11/07, record 11 May 2007. Remember that writing out all four digits of the year is essential - especially if you are recording today's happenings for future generations.
Ancestry.com and Rootsweb.com : Both of these web sites serve to link various state and national databases recording marriage, birth and death certificates - in addition to census reports and immigration records for U.S. ports - to your ancestors. One may access rootsweb at any time. Currently, ancestry.com allows a first-time user to use its services free for 3 days (it allowed me to use it 6 days for free)... before asking the user to sign up as a member and pay fees for special services. I was able to find A TON of information by working hard in those 6 days before fees were required. Ancestry.com allows a user to start building a family tree and is wonderful because it actually starts searching its databases to link up documents with the information you've entered in your tree - providing a jumping-off-place to find other documents. You are then able to attach those records - and photos - to each applicable person. You may keep your information in the tree format....or later export it into GEDCOM (the language used by most genealogists in tracking the sources that support their findings.)
Most states have a few web sites that hold information specific to individual counties. These have been especially helpful to me when hitting road blocks. For instance, I could not clearly identify my great-great-great grandparents on one branch (my father's father's father's mother's parents). There had even been much speculation about it by some distant cousins (who were also searching) on some of the genealogy web sites. Some even agreed on the first name but differed on the middle initial. But, then, I found an old book (archived online) about the farmers and history of our home county.... and, then, POW!! There it was in front of me. A paragraph recorded about my great-great-great grandfather (with middle initial), his farm, and all of his children (which provided the link I needed). It even included the name of his father, his origins in Pennsylvania, his wife's maiden name, her father's name and their family's origins. That led me to use this detailed information to seek out census reports that supported the fact that this was the correct family line. An example of these kinds of web sites for Illinois is Illinois Ancestors (for specific counties) ... along with the U.S. Gen Web Project in which you can do searches specific to your area. Note: The web sites that fall into these categories are run by volunteers, and some county and state sites are not as professional and do not hold as much information as others. Maybe you will become so interested that you can contribute to the cause!
Tip: Even though it takes time, begin documenting the full locations where an event occurred. Remember, these findings are not only for you to enjoy, but also for your descendents. This is especially critical as township borders change, when towns come into or go out of existence, or when communities straddle county borders. These details also help your searches yield more accurate results. So, instead of writing Canton, write the location in one of the preferred method for genealogy: City Name (Ward or Div Name if Known), County Name (County), Country
Canton, Fulton, Illinois, USA
Canton, Fulton County, Illinois, United States
(I make my entries similar to the second line - as I like to cleary indicate which portion is the city and which is the county. Many cities, townships, and counties share names in particular states because they are often named after a local hero or early settler.)
The county by state site on epodunk has also greatly helped me to identify counties for known cities, understand changes in county lines as western states developed, and find locations for small towns and villages that no longer exist. As you find a particular community, genealogical resource links are provided at the bottom of each page.
No matter how much information you find on the internet, it will be valuable to someday schedule an appointment with the local county clerk or courthouse staff in the areas which your family lived. While it is great to see the on-line information, it is so much more wonderful to hold an authentic document in your hand or see it while a staff member holds it. Sometimes, you can flip through the books where the licenses and certificates were logged. Even in the cases where all documents have already been scanned into computers or are held on microfiche, I have enjoyed obtaining a copy of the original and seeing the signatures of family members from long ago. I cannot wait to obtain additional copies of these types of records. Be sure to call ahead or visit the web site of each courthouse to understand the fees, hours, and processes that are involved.
There are numerous other valuable resources out on the web, available right from your computer. If you need a little assistance with your search, don't hesitate to reach out, and I will do my best to help you with the little I know. I hope you receive as much joy from your search as I have from mine.