Wednesday, January 24, 2007

On the Way

So now, you have enough information to get started on your family tree. Have fun.

Good luck and happy searching.

My Ancestors

Your headstone stands among the rest,

Neglected and alone.

The name and date are chiseled out,

And details are unknown.

It reaches out to all who care.

It is too late to mourn.

You did not know that I exist.

You died and I was born.

Yet each of us are cells of you,

In Flesh, in Blood, in Bone.

Our blood contracts and beats a pulse,

Entirely not our own.

Dear Ancestor, the place you filled,

One hundred years ago,

Spreads out among the ones you left,

Who would have loved you so.

Author unknown.

How to find these records:

Correspondence. I have had great success with letters.

It takes some time, but the results can be wonderful. I once wrote to an embassy in San Francisco seeking information about relatives in Croatia. At that time, Croatia was part of the Soviet Union and I had no direct address to the archives I needed. But the embassy forwarded the letter and I waited several months for an answer. I was rewarded for my patience when, I received my great grandfather's baptismal records along with those of all his siblings. The information even included his parent's wedding date.
I have written to people all over the world and most of the time, they responded. It was not always a positive answer. Sometimes there was no relationship other than a common surname, but they answered and I was able then to discount a particular line I had been tracing. Sometimes, the letters were never answered. In that case, you just have to try another avenue of inquiry. I wrote once, taking a chance on the address, to a distant cousin whom I had met when I was a very young girl. I had not seen him since but he answered happily and quickly and got me reconnected with his entire line back in New York. I work now, by E-mail, with one of those cousins and together we are filling in spaces on that Family Tree.

E-Mail. E-mail is great for genealogists.

It is a rapid, inexpensive way to communicate and you can reach the entire world through E-mail. If, as your search progresses, you find distant cousins in some other part of the world, you can exchange information in minutes rather than weeks as with regular mail. You can exchange pictures as well as documents and anything that can be printed.
Working on the Web

: The internet is a very fast and easy way to gain information about genealogy. There are so many web sites devoted to genealogy that it would be nearly impossible to list them all. Some of them are only related to a specific country or culture. If you are, for instance, of Italian descent, you will find plenty of web sites specifically for Italian genealogy. Many of them are written in Italian though and you should have some familiarity with the language, enough, at least, to pick out names, places, and dates. The same is true of other nationalities though a good many of them have pages either in English or in both languages. So it is best to surf through the web to find the ones that will do you the most good. Keep in mind that some of them charge for dispensing information. The fees vary and it all depends on what you want and need as to whether you want to spend the money. They will tell you, up front, what the fee is and if it is yearly, monthly or a pay as you go plan.
Some of the best Genealogy sites on the web that I have found are: . This is very extensive, has a great index, covers a multitude of nationalities and locations and it is free and very easy to use. There is just too much to list everything available on this site. Don't miss this one. and
These are two separate sites but they share information and they have all kinds of databases and search engines. They offer United States Census, birth records, Social Security Death Index and numerous other sources of information. Rootsweb does not charge. has some free information but you will have access to more if you join the membership. Rootsweb has a message board that is very well organized and can be extremely valuable. This web site is organized and run by the Latter Day Saints (The Morman Church). It has excellent databases and offers, in addition, maps and guides and articles about ancestor searching. It has very good information about early American ancestors but includes some foreign records as well. They have links and can tell you how to access their local centers where you can search more databases. My Trees charges for membership. Currently the charge is $7.00 for 10 days, $15.00 for 1 month and $100.00 for a year. They also have some options for free service. In my opinion, it is worth the fee. They have New Zealand, Canadian and UK information as well as American. They feature Family trees. This site has a lot of information such as online scanned images of documents, newspapers, obituaries, ship lists and more. There are no fees . This web site has tons of information and covers Africa,
Asia, Europe, Pacific, New Zealand, Australia and America as well as Native

American information. They have search engines and it is an easy site to use. When you go on to the site, scroll down a way to get to the basic information first. They also offer genealogical forms and charts. This site has very early American information as well as more recent records. specializes in queries and links to other sites. . Don't overlook the National Archives. They have census, military, Immigration, naturalization and land records. Some of these are online but if they are not online, they will tell you how to get them. They offer articles and publications, workshops and access to catalogues. You have to browse their website to find out exactly what you might want. This website offers free surname searches for locations all around the world. They also offer a free daily E-mail newsletter that keeps you up-to-date- on what is new on their site.
A lot of valuable free help here.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, more sites on the web. You will probably enjoy surfing through the web to find them. Some will be more useful for you than others because of their particular content and your particular needs.

Most of these genealogy sites have a search engine. You just have to put a surname in and you will get information and/or a list of links to follow. If you put a location into a search, it will yield all kinds of web pages devoted to that area. It might take a little time to surf through and find exactly what pages are the best for you, but it is worth the time and effort.

Note: Message Boards. Many of the genealogical web sites have message boards where people can leave queries.

This can be a very good place to get leads. If you use a message board, try to be specific. i.e.--Jones , Abner Jacob b (born) 1830 in Rhode Island. m. (married) Abigail in Rhode Island 1854. D. (died) 1880. Six children: John, James, Thomas, Caleb, Jacob and Mary. Would like to know Abigail's maiden name. Sometimes you don't have that much information but use the message board anyway. Put down whatever pertinent data you do have and mention what you are looking for. Sometimes it will be only, "any information gratefully accepted." Now if someone searching the Jones message board knows about that family, they will respond with a message of their own and you might discover a new relative or a new lead to follow.
Searching locally: If your family has lived in the same area for a few generations, then your local library, city archives and local cemetery can yield much information.

My family has lived in the San Francisco Bay area since 1850. The name can be found in Holy Cross Cemetery records, in the San Francisco City archives and other local sites. San Francisco happens to have many different organizations where a search for my family would be helpful. Sutro Library, the Wells Fargo History Museum, The Irish Cultural Center, The California Pioneers Association and the genealogical section of the library are all good places to search in that city. Most cities have the same sorts of organizations. Some cities are dedicated to genealogical studies. The Fremont Library, in the city of Fremont, across the bay from San Francisco has a large section devoted to that study. The Morman Church and the National Archives also have branches close to most big cities and indexes and some information can be searched. If you know the name of the churches in your town where your family might have been worshippers, go there and ask. You might come up with baptismal certificates or marriage records.
Searching afar: I have a friend who went to Italy to see the small town where her ancestors had come from.

Beside the local church was a cemetery that was full of her family. Her search was almost completed right there. I went to Ireland and found my great grandparents burial site in an old cemetery that had been closed for years. But with the help of locals there, I did locate them. But you might not have to travel that far. I have found that cities like Boston and New York will answer your letters. They will charge for a search. If you live close enough, go and search there yourself. If you know the name of the church where your parents or grandparents were married, ask them. They might be willing to let you search for baptismal records or marriage records. They would, probably, do a record search for you, especially if you can give them a date or near-date along with the name of bride and/or groom. Local cemeteries are another story. Holy Cross Cemetery, which is the local cemetery for almost all the Catholics of San Francisco for the last hundred years or more, is fussy about searches. They charge a stiff fee and aren't very eager to help. You must have the name, of course, and an approximate date of death, within a year. In addition, what they give you is only the names of who is buried in a specific plot, the dates of death and who purchased the plot. Other cemeteries, I have contacted, seem more helpful. Some charge and some do not charge. There are a few that have published online the names of all interred and the date of their deaths. The records from these can be very helpful. Often many of the family are buried together. You might find a new name or clarify a relationship. If you have the time, it has proven helpful for me to walk around Holy Cross and note gravestones that have my family name on them. Then I can go to the office and inquire.
The internet has made the job a great deal easier. When I started, most information was only available in the local government archives where your descendant lived. Since I live on the West Coast and most of the relatives I was seeking lived on the East Coast, or had lived in Europe, it was difficult, if not impossible, to get much information. I resorted to writing letters to churches or offices that might or might answer and while the results were good, the time lag was long. The vast information on the web has solved a lot of this difficulty. There are all sorts of web sites to help now.

What Information Do I keep?

I keep almost everything. You should be very careful to document where you found some specific bit of information. For instance, John Jacob Jones, age 43, seaman, came on the ship Houston to New York. Arrived 7 May 1848. (Information from ship lists, National Archives. October 1990. (John Jacob Jones-1-3a) Note I add my number to every notation so that I can refer back to that particular person with ease.
Note: When writing dates, it is a good thing to use date, month, year in that order.

i.e. 7 October 1850. This becomes important because European records often start with the date, followed by the month and it a clearer way to transcribe dates. The form 7/8/50 could be July 8 1850 or July 8 1950. It could be August 7 of either of those years. So spell it out--7 October 1850 That form leaves no questions.

Birth records, death records and marriage records are not called vital statistics for nothing. They are vital to a real genealogical search. A birth date can fit someone into a family or give you reason to discount them as family. If you know that your great-great uncle Andy Smith was born on 8 May 1814, then all the other Andy Smiths that you find can be put into the miscellaneous file for the moment. But hang on to those other Andy's. One of them might be a son. Birth records can be obtained from the State archives, usually for a fee. Some states like California have many of them published and indexed on the web. Death certificates are equally important, and for the same reason. They can be obtained from State Archives or Depts. of Public Health. You usually have to prove that you are a relative to obtain one and there is usually a charge for them. The Social Security Death Index is published on the web but older records are usually only available in local churches or through the state. Some libraries in large cities have archives, which can be searched for death records. Marriage certificates sometimes give you the names of siblings as witnesses and they give you a location where the family of the bride might have lived. They also give you a definite fact for relationships. Marriage certificates are the most difficult to obtain. You can go to the local church, search newspapers or ask at the State archives. Some marriage announcements are published through in their newspaper indexes.

The Social Security Death Index. Go to for an excellent explanation of the Social Security Index, how to access it and how to use it. Further information can be obtained from the Social Security Administration and Rootsweb has all the information you need to access this further information.

Census Records

are a most valuable tool in documenting a family. It is only in recent years that census records have been available on the web. There are many places now on the web that publish the different census records. You will find them easily and,. Rootsweb and Cyndislist have them. Depending on the year, census records tell you name, age, year of immigration or what state in which they were born, occupation of head of household, names of children and their ages, where they were born, occupations of all members of the family and sometimes, if they read or write English. If you find your family on a census, print it out and be sure and note the name of the township and the year and location of the census. In some cases, the census will not list all of this information, the earlier ones didn't require some of it.
Some names of family members might not be included. If you know the name of one son and he is not listed, it might be that he is married and out on his own at some other location. You will have to follow that up with another search. If for instance, you know that Great grandfather Jim was a cook or a harness maker or whatever, and the location and occupation are correct, then this will confirm that you have the right family. There are hundred of thousands of people with the same name so you have to be careful that you are following the right line. It is sometimes much easier if you have an unusual or rare name. But unfortunately, most of us will be looking for names that are found repeatedly in many different records and locations.

Note: Census records are available for 1790 to 1930

(partial records for 1890. There is a 72-year restriction on census records so 1930 is the latest current census available.
Immigration records are a good find. They don't include a lot of information other than the date of immigration and the ship they came on. Ellis Island has opened its records. You can insert a name into their search engine and it will give you all the people with that name who came into that port. You can also get the names of the other passengers on a particular ship. That can be very helpful if a family sailed together.

If the family came to New York earlier than that, then Castle Garden records might help you. However, many immigrants came in at Boston, Canada, Savannah, New Orleans and other ports. These records are not as easy to find. But try Ellis Island first. You might get a happy surprise.

and Naturalization. I have not found naturalization records on line.

You can get them through the National Archives. Sometimes they contain a description of the person and they usually list a sponsor, generally a family member.

Military Records: Military records are often not as valuable but they are sometimes interesting and they can help you pinpoint someone. Some of the military records such as draft registration cards will give a physical description of the person--height, weight, hair and eye color. Many draft registration cards are available on the web. For most other information, you would have to contact the Veteran's Administration.

School Records: School records will only give you the name of the particular school from which your family member graduated. There are some European records that are more informative, but, in the main, a graduation list does not give you much data. It does pin down the location for a particular person and will give some insight into the life of that person. Some college lists and school lists are on the web. San Francisco has many of them published in their San Francisco Genealogy web page. Other states may have some of it published through their genealogical societies.

Some Common Detours:

People's names changed too. Many people fleeing Europe in the 1800s changed their surnames. Often it was because the name translated better in English and was more American sounding. In the days of those immigrants, most of them made every effort to fit in and to blend into the American life. If their name was very foreign sounding or difficult to pronounce, they often made it shorter or translated it. Goldsmith might become Gold. Martinstern might be shortened to Martin. Some Gaelic people dropped the O' or Mac or Mc from their names. A lot depended on the choice of the immigrant and the expertise of the clerk.

There were many errors in spelling. At Castle Garden and later Ellis Island, as immigrants came through, the clerks often wrote down what they heard without getting the correct spelling. Gavin, for instance, sometimes became Garvin because that's how it sounded when spoken with an Irish brogue. Jacobsen might go down on the list as Jacobson. Many of the early immigrants did not speak or write English and the clerks had to guess at the spelling of what they heard. So when you are searching, use the soundex system rather than the exact name function on a search engine. The soundex search will get you all the names that are similar and often one of those is the one you want.

Often in older times, close friends were called aunt and uncle by the children of the family. It might take an older member of the family to tell you that you would never find Aunt Maggie Jones in the family tree. The Jones family lived next door and they were close friends, even godparents to the children, but not directly related.

Many times family members will supply you with pictures and information that would have taken hours to find any other way. Be sure and record what you found, where you found it and who gave you the information. If you are lucky enough to get pictures, it is helpful to have a scanner so that you can make an inexpensive copy and return the original. Put a notation lightly in pencil on the back of the picture, identifying who is in the picture and when it might have been taken. Great Aunt Ella Morgan and her husband Bill, Los Angeles, California circa 1895, obtained from Jane Morgan.

It is amazing how quickly you can forget who is who if you don't keep a record. Once you have a list of names with birth date or circa birthdates, locations and any other information you can garner, you are ready to begin a more formal search.

Note: Using Pictures as clues. Pictures, especially with clearly defined backgrounds can help you date a family.

The clothing worn in the picture should be carefully noted. The clothing, especially women's clothing, can help you to put the date into the right decade. An automobile in the background can bump you up into a different century, even a decade if you can recognize the automobile make and year. A street sign, prominent building or familiar home can give you the location. Children, if identified, can approximate a date. If you know that, it is Uncle Bill in the picture and he appears to be about six years old, and you know that he was 70 in 1970 then presto! you have a circa 1906 for dating the picture. Even without identifying the faces, you can get an idea of time and place by the background. If the picture is of a formal rite such as a wedding, you might already have the date in your bio binder. You will find that you have more circa dates than definite dates, especially at the beginning of your family search. It happens, often, that a circa date is as close as you will ever come.
What Records do I want? Whether you are doing a small, contained tree or an extensive genealogical family search, you want birth and death records, marriage records, military records, and family listings, that is, names in each separate family unit. You will find that families all over the world tend to use the same first name repeatedly through generations. Therefore, you want to be sure, if you have five different James Jones, that you know into which family each James belongs. We have several with the names James in our ancestors. It took a while to distinguish who was who since they are all found on the family tree a hundred or more years ago.

Getting Started

Before you start a formal search:

Before you start writing letters, searching on the web or looking through archives and libraries, you should search your own family records. Ask your parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins what they know. Interesting facts and anecdotes might come out of such conversations. You will learn names you might not have been aware of and dates and locations might emerge. You might find your aunt clearing up some questions that you have about an uncle or cousin and how they fit into the tree. Names pop up at times like that, that are not on ordinary lists. For instance, if your grandparents had a child who died in infancy, they may never be mentioned in casual conversation. So, if you had found a family listing that sounded right but had one too many names, your aunt would know that it is the right family and that little Ella belongs on your family tree after all.

You never know where these conversations will take you. Many times names, especially of locations, get garbled after a hundred years or so. You are told Pine Mountain by one person, Mountain Pine by another or Pine Tree Hill by another. You might find out, after some study, that it was, in reality, Pine Forest Township and that it no longer exists. It is now called something all together different, having been incorporated into a city. You would have been looking for records in the wrong place, had not a cousin known that.

Often the older members of a family knew many of the family that has passed on. They can tell you the ages of siblings, who they married and what children they had. All of these conversations can save you a lot of time and make your search much easier. So conversations with older family members are critical.

The more expensive equipment you will need:

If you are serious about genealogy than you should invest in a good computer and get a server so that you can browse the web and make use of E-mail. Be sure and shop around before you invest in a computer. An important question to ask is: Will I have enough memory to put pictures, documents and a considerable amount of data in my files? Is this computer user-friendly? What extra software might I need.? If you are not used to operating a computer, you might need to purchase a tutorial to help you use it efficiently. While you are shopping, you might check out bundled deals that often include a printer and/or scanner and extra software with the purchase of the computer.
It is very useful to have a copy/scanner machine. As your genealogy search continues and you find relatives in other states or countries, they might send you pictures and it is an easy way to retrieve documents. If you are going to collect many pictures, You might want a program such as Photo shop to deal with them. Photo shop allows you to resize photos, fix things such as red-eye and keeps the pictures in separate folders for you.

It is good to have a tape recorder too. If you are fortunate enough to have grandparents or older aunts and uncles still around, take a tape recorder to them and ask them to talk about their childhood.

Genealogy Books


Over the years, I have accumulated quite a library of reference books, history books, biographies and specific local genealogical information. You don't have to purchase them. There are thousands of books on the market but also in libraries that may help you. It is always a good idea to read about the country of origin for your ancestors. An account of the historical time in which your relatives lived is sometimes fascinating. There are many books, which deal with specific families and you may be lucky and be one of them. If you have access to an Atlas, it can be very useful. At your local library, you can find maps and they are excellent tools. Many places have towns and villages with the same name located in different but close places. If you are researching, you want to be sure that you are looking in the right town or village. If you know the name of the village or town, from which your ancestors immigrated you will want a map of the general area and a map of the specific area. You should become familiar with the various counties, parishes, etc. which designate your particular place of interest.
Local Genealogical societies issue books, booklets and pamphlets. The cost is usually within reach. If you have a computer and can reach the web, this is an area that you will want to look at. Cyndi Howells has a great book titled Netting your Ancestors, Genealogical Research on the Internet. It will help you get started if you are new to web searching. The book is published by Genealogical Publishing Company in Baltimore, Maryland or go to .
The California Genealogical Society published an Index to San Francisco Marriage Returns 1850-1858. The San Mateo, California Genealogical Society published the 1870 Census. It was very helpful before the census became available on the web. The Genealogical Society of New Jersey has published books about their archives and how to use them. So look around your area. You will find societies and clubs that are genealogically oriented.

Organizing Your Data

From the first note you make, stay organized or, you will find yourself with a blizzard of notes on little pieces of paper that, after a day or so, will make no sense to you. If you jot down a date, make sure you note the person to whom you are referring, the date you made the note and where you got the information. I can't stress that enough.
A note that only says, 16 June 1873 won't do you any good if you forget that it is the birth date of a great-uncle and after a time, you will forget that fact. It took me a long time to realize that I had wasted a lot of time, making lists that I didn't document and later I had no idea where I had gotten the data from and in some case, even to whom it referred. The temptation is there to write everything down that you come across. In the excitement of finding a likely reference, it is easy to jot it down. But take the time to note exactly what you are doing. I.e. Main Street Library, 2 May 2002. Smith, John, census Washington Township, Fremont, California 1970 U.S. Government . (Includes family members.) It might be from a book --. Index to San Francisco Marriage Returns 1850-1858, Page 25 Hosford, C.A. & Glover, Ann. m. 8 June 1853 (Daily Alta Calif. Newspaper)

By all means, make a copy of a census or any document, if you can. When you make the copy include the banner from the Newspaper, the banner from the top of the census or any other pertinent information. Whatever it is- Document it


It is helpful to make a simple label for the spine and front of your binders. It will be helpful when they are all lined up on a shelf to be able to pick out the one you need easily.

Bio Binder

: Keep a binder into which you put all biographical information about each name. It should include birth date, name of parents, city of birth, spouse, children, etc. This is the place to jot down occupation, awards, anything that will distinguish the person from others in the family with the same name. I Keep the names alphabetical and use maiden names for the women. In the long run, that proves to be a good idea. Women's names can change more than once so stay with the maiden name and you can always find her.
This is the binder that you will use most often and it is vital to distinguish each and every name in the family. I have found that giving each a number is very helpful. There are many systems used in genealogy. I use one that I made up for myself but it works better for me than any others. Bio-Number: I started with the oldest person I came across in the tree and gave him the number 1-1a. That translated into Generation 1- Number one and a --meaning direct descendant. Spouses used their number 1-1 but I added a b or c for them. So John Jones-great grandfather would be 1-1a while his wife Matilda would be 1-1b. If he married again, his second wife would be 1-1c. The next down in descendancy (or the next brother or sister located) would be 1-2a and so on. This keeps all the members of a generation in one group and makes it easy to locate someone. Note: If you decide to use genealogical formatted software, they will automatically insert a number for each name entered. You can use your own system but jot down the number that the software uses too.

After the bio lists, I put a cross index of all the names and note: Smith, Mary, see Crosby. In this case, Crosby would be the maiden name where all the extra information is kept. Smith would be the married name and is included so that you can get back to the correct woman. If you know a person's middle name, use it. You would be amazed at how many names are the same except for the middle name. Remember to give them their bio number.

At the very end of the Bio binder, I keep a family list. Surnames are arranged alphabetically and within the family, the given names are arranged alphabetically.

Smith, Anne Mannion (4-5b). From this notation, you can see that Anne was a spouse (b) and that her maiden name was Mannion.

Smith, Caroline (Carrie) (2-1a) In this example, Caroline who was known as Carrie is a direct descendant and in the second generation.

As you gather information, you might have to correct the list several times. I recently found six more children in one family that I had not known about before. But this is worth the effort. It is helpful, when doing research to have all the names within each family unit handy. You can instantly check a census or a town record if you have all the names of the family right in front of you.

Note: You should be aware that given names and nicknames could cause a lot of confusion.

Bedelia, Adelia, Delia and Lia can be the same person. Spelling can be important. Kathleen and Cathleen might be different people in the same family. Anne with an e is often a different person than Ann without the e. Mary might be May, Mae, Minnie or Mamie. One of my ancestors changed his given name completely. Antonio became Frank. He is found as Antonio on his baptismal record and Frank in all American records. It caused all kinds of confusion and lost time until we figured it out.
Document Binder: One binder should be devoted to ONLY birth, death and marriage certificates and any other official documents that you retrieve. Baptismal records, land grant records, military, immigration, or educational records etc. go into that binder --anything that is official in nature.

Correspondence Binder: One binder should be devoted to correspondence and hopefully there will be a lot of that after awhile. If you send a letter, out for information, keep a copy and put it into this binder. Periodically you will want to check and see if you received an answer. Too many times, you won't. But occasionally a gem will come to you and you will find some interesting anecdote, or a birth record or a marriage date or the name of some twigs on the tree that you had not previously known. I have found it more useful to keep the correspondence chronologically with the latest letter first in the book.

In the back of this binder keep a separate section listing addresses and phone numbers for all those with whom you have or will correspond. It's a good place to keep the list of Genealogical libraries, web sites etc with the name of a contact, if you have one, and the full address. When you get a letter containing information, be sure to amend the information in your Bio binder.

Miscellaneous Binder: After awhile, you will find that you have gathered notations, lists, web site listings, and all sorts of miscellaneous information. If the information doesn't belong in one of the three main binders, then store it separately into a miscellaneous binder. There are notations that you can't use at the moment, but you don't want to discard. This is the place for them.

Not related Binder: I keep a binder, in which I have placed all the information that I have gathered on names that sounded good, at first, but proved to have no relationship in the family. That is, they didn't appear to have any relationship at the moment. But every once in awhile, something in those lists will prove to be relevant. It doesn't happen often but it does happen. But you don't want all that needless information filling up your main books anyway. So hang on to them but keep them separate.