Chapter 6 : The Records Search Begins Now

Now that you have a basic understanding of what’s happening with your family at least to the level that they remember, you can begin your records search.  The goal of this step is to help reinforce what you have learned from them and through that learn more.

There are many ways that you can make this happen, though.  It’s not necessarily a difficult process.  We’ll go through a number of different methods that you can use to actually pull this information in.

How Records Came To Be

As we mentioned before, many of the method and understandings of ancestry started with the methods that were used by royalty and other rulers.  The method of recording things, though, didn’t stay just with nobility for very long.

By the 16th century, much of Europe was beginning to record their lives through records.  To keep track of their citizens, countries began to take records into account.

These records were more than just birth and death certificates, though.  The included things like marriage licenses, documentations for anything that were important during their life helped to create a paper trail.  If they needed a permit for something, needed to file some type of report or had a major life change happen, it generally was recorded on paper somewhere.

During this time, most of these records were kept in their local and regional offices but also national offices or archives were used to keep track of everything that could be kept track of during this time.

Now, why does this matter to you?  As you begin your records search, you should know how a genealogist undercover answers to their questions.  And, often, these answers need to come from the information that has been stored in these ancient records.

Information in these records can be extracted but it can be difficult to get your hands on them without some type of genealogical experiment.  Nevertheless, they are an ideal way to learn how families are connected and how relationships grew.  Even more so, they are used to help create family trees and timelines which you can still use today.

The Records Search Begins

Where does your records search begin?  Like those European and later other areas did, most of the United States has records that can be tapped into from various regions. 

As part of your search for answers about your own family, you need to tap into the paper trail that’s in place.  From current families to those that lived years ago, there is likely to be some form of paper trail that you can use.

Here are some of the paper items that you should consider looking at for each of the people in your family tree, even those that you think you know enough about.

  • Birth records.  The birth certificates of those in your family tell a wealth of information. 
  • Death certificates.  Again, provides a timeline for your family members.
  • Marriage as well as divorce records.  You may not even know about a divorce that took place.
  • Baptism records connect you with godparents, religious organizations and more.
  • Adoption records.  These can be had for those over the age of 18.  But, some family members may be able to provide you with additional information regarding them if they happened.
  • Census records.
  • Cemetery records or, possibly, funeral homes and tombstone records. 
  • City records.  Some are even available on the web.  Others you’ll need to visit city hall to learn more about first.
  • Criminal records. These can help to form connections and to tell stories about your family members.

In these records listed, you can see where you’ll find information that can easily be used to track your family.  For example, in birth records, you can easily go through the process of learning parents, relations that may be listed, addresses and even where the child was born.

In other records, such as in divorce records, this can show where the family was headed.  Did you lose a branch of yoru family when great grandparents divorced?

Look at these following record search options to determine if your family could have filed them.  Sometimes, just searching for these records for known family names can help to pull up a bunch of different pieces of information that you can later use to fulfill your needs in creating a family tree.  Of course, you’ll learn about those people at the same time as well.

  • Biographies, or biographical profiles, Consider Who’s Who, for example
  • Coroner’s reports, if available, can help you to learn more about how people died.
  • Diaries, if you can find them, will help you to establish answers to your questions.  If the person is deceased, these are easy to benefit from without stepping on anyone’s toys.  In addition, read through the personal letters, cards or even family Bibles that may be in people’s personal effects.
  • Telephone directories of the locations that your family lived can be helpful, especially if you know where your family members lived.
  • Newspapers, many of which can be found at your local library are a source of information that you must take into account.  These can help provide you with search abilities too.
  • Photographs, as we have discussed should also be used.  They can help jog memories.  Many families had family portraits down which can easily show you who is in the family, even those that may have left the family or died, too.
  • Medical records, if obtainable, can be a useful tool as they often listed family members on them as well as locations.
  • Occupational records can be a paper trail to consider.  If you knew where someone worked, you may find additional information about them there as well, including past employment that they had before that location and where they moved to or from.

All of these records can be used for their each individual benefit.  By asking questions to your family about these records and finding out what’s available, you could uncover even more information than you thought you had available to you.

Land Searches

Another important part of the process of learning about ancestors is tapping into the wealth of information available to you through land searches. 

People have always owned property.  A piece of land was an incredibly important part of life.  Even well before people established the United States; land was a mark of nobility, of power and of self accomplishment.  In many ways, the American Dream of owning a house and land was established years before in many other countries around the world.  It just came to be more readily in the United States.

Therefore, land records are some of the very best tools that you have available to you to help uncover your genealogical line.  Here are some of the records you need to take into consideration:

  • Land records from countries, cities and even national records.  These show who owned the property, according to official reports and documents.  They can be tracked through your auditor’s office or other land record office locally.
  • Deeds.  Deeds are often filed as public records and kept indefinitely.
  • Voter registration can also be helpful.  These can be found through the same government offices. 
  • Probate records.  When a person dies, their estate often goes through probate, which is how the property is then passed down or confiscated through other means.  These records are also public records available through local government offices.
  • Wills, which are filed publicly in most cases, can also show how people related, where property and other possessions went after someone died.  It can help to connect the dots.
  • Tax records.  Who doesn’t pay tax?  Tax records can be helpful to your family search because of the information they provide including property ownership and property location.

School Records

School records can also play a role in the establishment of family trees.  In some cases, records have been kept by schools for hundreds of years, which means that if you know which schools your family members attended, you can learn more about them.

If you don’t know which schools were used, you can still use the records of local schools to get an idea.

  • School records can be searched.
  • Alumni records can also be found and searched for information.  These can often tell you where people went after they graduated from the school as well.
  • Yearbooks and other school photos can be used to help track people.

If you are unsure where family members when to school, your search should take you into the direction of schools in the area in which you know they lived.  Don’t forget about colleges, because some families did have the ability to send their children to colleges, even though children may not have graduated from there.

Other Records To Search

There are still other records that you may not have considered that need to be taken into consideration.  Here are some additional records that you need to take into consideration.

  • Obituaries.  These are often listed and filed in local libraries or through governmental offices.
  • Social Security Administration.  In the United States, you can find out if there where any family connections this way. 
  • Pension plans and records of them can help to provide locations of where payments were sent, family names and information, including beneficiary information such as children or others that funds went to after the person died.
  • Passports, these can be found and used to track travel as well as addresses
  • Poorhouse, almshouse, workhorse and asylum records.  Although you may not think that your family used these, which are generally locations that people went when they no longer could support themselves, they are very often hidden secrets.  Records can point you into various directions.
  • Military records can be a helpful tool to you.  These can track family, movements and even help you to understand how your family ends up in one location instead of another.  It also helps to tell stories about your family’s history during wars and even times of peace.

All of these locations are important records to check.  Even if you think that your family didn’t use these locations, it still can help you to connect the dots and answers questions that may be unanswered.

Because there are so many different records for you to keep track of, here’s a tip to help you to organize the information that you find.

Remember that we told you to make family cards that can help you to keep track of each family and how each of them related to each other?  Now, create an index card (usually larger ones work better) that has one person on it.  List their information on it.

Include any information that you can about each individual person.  This will help you to organize their individual histories as well as their families later.  Refer back to those cards often so that you can possibly see where people connected, moved, changes or began relationships with each other.

Of course, if you are using a computer program, this information can be easily tracked on these programs, assuming that they allow for it.

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