Chapter 8 : Genealogical Information And Tools To Use

Now that we’ve talked a great deal about the ways that you can find information about your family members, you may be wondering how you can do just that.  After all, information isn’t going to just come to you by visiting or contacting those locations.

There are actually a number of methods that you can use to track your family’s history and your family tree.  Let’s go through several methods that are key to helping you to learn about your family.

Types Of Genealogical Information

There are several key pieces of information necessary to use during your search.  This includes information such as family names, occupations, place names, and dates.

Family Names

Family names are some of the most important pieces of information available to you.  A family name is a name that’s passed down from generation to generation as a link. 

As a researcher trying to find out more about your family, it’s key information that you need.  Yet, family names can become quite confusing.  Technically, your family name, or surname, is the name that is used to determine which family you belong to.  In addition, in the English language it’s the last name.  But, in other cultures, that’s not the case.  It can be the name that comes first, such as in the Chinese culture’s methods.

One of the largest problems with family names is just how often they change.  Spellings often change, especially when you go back into centuries ago.  When this happens, the only way to really find the connection is to realize the phonetic spelling of the name now and then. 

This is important for one reason:  public records may be in any variation of the name and therefore to keep your search going, you need to have this information. 

In fact, one of the largest problems you may encounter is the name changes that happened when individuals came into the country during the large surges throughout the centuries.  Names often were said by immigrants to those admitting them.  They were spelled the way that they sounded.

In addition to this, family names have additional complications you’ll need to deal with.  For example, the family name may have been taken on by someone as they were married, or by their step parent.  If they were adopted or if they were fostered, they could have had a name change. 

Of course, when tracking the women in your family, you’ll need to realize the difference between maiden names (prior to marriage) and their husband’s surnames that they then took on. 

Many times these name changes are located in some form of public record, but that’s not always the case.  Sometimes official records did not take hold.  This can then be important for you to learn through oral histories.

In addition to this, if your family has a family name that is very common, such as Jones, then you may have an even harder time finding your ancestors.  Even if your name is not all that common, though, you still shouldn’t assume that anyone with your family’s name is related to you, as that’s not necessarily true.


Occupations that your family members had may also be helpful to you for additional reasons.  In fact, if two people have the same surname, their occupation may be able to differentiate the two people from each other. 

In addition, occupational information can help you with learning political interests as well as social status for each person in the family.  And, as was often the case, trades were often shared in the family.  A father may have passed down his trade of glassmaking to his son.

When considering occupation, though, keep these things in mind.

  • Census records were often embellished.  People wanted to look better than they were.
  • Jobs often changed from the beginning of their lives to later in their lives.
  • Seasonal work often played a role, too. 
  • Names for the jobs that you know of them now may be different then. 
  • There are likely to be different terms for the same occupation.  Various regions have their own terms for use in defining occupations.

To find out the occupational information of your family members, you can use census records, trade directories, vital records as well as professional organizations that they may have been a part of.

Place Names

The good and bad news is that place names are part of the process of finding your family.  The good news is that these can reveal quite a bit of information.  The bad news is that the names often change from language to language and over time, making it difficult for you to track.

In older cultures, names were always spelled differently in various public records and by scribes.  Why is this?  They weren’t always as literate as they liked to think that they were.  Plus, dialects and various other things could have changed them over time. 

In addition to that, some locations around the globe have the same name, but are no where near each other.  Or, these locations themselves could have changed.  As borders changed, names of cities and regions also changed.  In some cases, locations, certain villages, did no longer exist due to the dying out of residents through famines or disease. 

Nevertheless, this information is very valuable to those that are looking for family histories.  Therefore, you have to do your best to work through the process.  To find information about the places that your family could have lived, start with the public records that we’ve listed above.  Vital records, deeds, census information, as well as taxes can all be used to track this information.

You can also find out a lot about how the locations have changed through a brief history lesson on the region.  You can learn much of this through encyclopedias or online resources.  It could prove to be vitally important.


Another need for information comes from dates.  But, here you want to be very cautious as even oral histories regarding dates can be misunderstood or information could have been passed down incorrectly.  Indeed it is common for some information to be purposefully misrepresented.  For example, someone may lessen their age so that they could join the military. 

Another common error is that which is made to cover up a pre marriage pregnancy, in which the child’s birth information is altered or marriage dates are changed to reflect this information.

As you go back in time, you should take note of calendar changes that were also in place.  For example, the first of the year has changed often from one date to the next.  The movement to the Gregorian calendar from the Julian calendar can be a potential problem causer, too.

One key factor to remember is that when you are using dates to track information, those dates that are recorded close to the event are often the most accurate.  The birth of a child is more accurate on its birth certificate because this is often filed right away.  Family Bibles are also an ideal tool.

As you go through your search, you may also need to consider other pieces of information to gather the information that you need.  There is no one way to make sure you learn all that you can about your family tree.  The fact is, you need to take into consideration whatever is out there and then completely investigate it.


A very important factor in the process of searching for any of these things is the reliability of the source.  There are countless things that could make this difficult.  Yet, as a researcher, you need to take into account the probability that information is accurate, or not.  This means taking into account the method that the information was obtained, the state of mind that it was given as well as what can support it.  Reliable or not, it may still be a tool that helps you piece together your family’s story.

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