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Records, Records, and Records, Oh My!

There are many ways to find your ancestors and a lot of resources available to help in your search. If you want the big picture of your ancestor ?s life, characteristics, personality, and other demographics, chances are, you ?ll have to look in more than one resource. Just be sure to document the source! (This is often an overlooked part of family history.)

Genealogy Research

Family History Libraries

These are found in almost every city. They are sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The patrons that work at the libraries are volunteers that offer a free service of assisting beginners as well as advanced genealogical researchers. All of the resources in the libraries are free to use. There may be a small fee for those that make copies.

Town and County Libraries

Usually such libraries have a local history room in them. These rooms hold the historical data, newspapers, local family histories that have been compiled by others, vintage phone indexes in which you may find addresses of your ancestor. They also have tax indexes, estate and will indexes, record history of changes in the area; such as natural disasters or population and changes that the area has made over time. They may also have information about surrounding counties and areas, some State records, Census Records and War Indexes for those that may have served in that particular area. Keep in mind that the rooms in these libraries can also have their own hours and occasionally a patron that may be available to help in your research.†


Courthouses offer documented details about family members. Sometimes you can find official documents such as Birth, marriage, death and divorce certificates. Most of this information is now being transferred to digital, yet, smaller and more rural places will probably still have the things you are seeking for. Take as much information with you as you can. Full names, dates, places will all help determine the index to look through as well as making sure that you are finding the correct records. On a personal note, make copies of anything that could be what you are looking for. It is easier to eliminate what you have then to go back and retrieve the information another time. Also, take a couple of rolls of change with you. And make multiple copies of what you find as most offices with not provide change. I also copy the index cover or page so that I have an accurate recording of the resource that it came from. You will discover that multiple records can be found from just one and that sometimes families lived in the same area for generations.†

The following types of records are goldmines full of information if you know how to extract it. A combination of any of these can create a picture of how, where, and when an ancestor lived. There ?s often hidden rewards like information about siblings, occupations, records of stillborn births, and even migration patterns. Sometimes there ?s even physical descriptions given, causes of death, and nicknames that the ancestor was know by and more. These are the documents that I love to research. Once again, make copies of this information even if you are only looking for one piece of basic information. That way, you ?ll have the document to refer back to and can look for more clues later. †

Some things to be aware of are:

  • Names were often spelled differently. I found in my family history that Roder, Reader, and Rader all referred to one person but were all recorded differently. This could be verified by dates, marriage info, etc so I knew that this was what I was looking for.
  • Sometimes names are recorded in one record by the first name and in other documents by the middle name. For example, my ancestor Martha Lucinda Walter was recorded as Lucie in one census, Daisie ? in another (her childhood nickname) and Martha as she was married.
  • If a family member was born out of wedlock, sometimes they aren ?t tied to their birth father even if he on the birth certificate. Sometimes the woman remarries and the child is adopted by a stepfather. It is important to abide by the family wishes of which line to consider researching. Martha Lucinda Affeld was considered illegitimate even though her birth father is listed on her birth certificate. However, she never had a physical tie to him and carried her mother ?s maiden name.† When her mother remarried, Martha was 3. She was always considered a Walter and it was always the family ?s desire to keep her listed as such.

Historical Records

U.S. Census Records

Census records offer anything from a person ?s name, family members, and location to occupation and real estate value. There are various types of census forms that have been used over the years. Using information from multiple census records can chart patterns of movement, family growth, changes in occupations, deaths and even additional marriages. They are often hard to read and confusing. Using a ruler helps to ensure that you stay on the right lines while reading the document across the page.†

Birth, Marriage, Death Records

These records offer a wealth of information. Besides the obvious dates and parental information, sometimes they list information like born at home,” social security numbers, and causes of death, and even how long a person was ill before their death.

Divorce Records

Divorce records can provide previous married names, dates, and even reasons for the divorce. †

Military Records

These are wonderful finds to get an idea of the physical appearance of your ancestor. Draft registration cards list details physical descriptions including, height, weight, hair color, physical build, color of eyes, etc. They usually list an occupation, place of living and next of kin for the person. If you are lucky enough to have military documents that list official duties, times of service, places of service, etc, you can get an idea of what their life may have been like while serving during a war, etc.

Family Records

Living Relatives

Living relatives are a good resource for beginning genealogy research. This is where you can find basic and beginning research information. Names, places, dates can all be used or eliminated as you get further along in your research. Speaking with living relatives can also give depth to family research. Stories about childhood, growing up, life experiences, can help establish who your ancestor truly was. At the same time, it is good to be cautious when recording their information. Age and accuracy don ?t always mix. Times and places can get confusing. My experience has been that I have recorded their accurate names, places, dates, etc. But a living relative has done just that: they have lived the life. They have given me the stories, milestones, everyday events, cultural and historical backgrounds of their lives that I want so that I can have a well balance collection of just who that ancestor was.†

Biblical Records

Information from family Bibles are another record to look into. Keep in mind that name spellings may be off, but frequently the dates are precise. Once again, a resource to start with, but biblical information should be backed up with actual records if possible. †

Journal Entries

Journals can offer life experiences and help us gain a perspective of what kinds of things made our ancestors who they were. Basic information from journals is good to have. Keep in mind that education may have been limited; therefore spellings of important information may differ from recorded documents. At the same time, we get a glimpse into how they lived and the things that they experiences.†

Church Records

Baptism and Christening Records

These are a great resource for fairly accurate dates, places, the type of religion that the family was, the church that the family attended and often listed Godparents names. Knowledge of who the Godparents were is useful information. Godparents were close to the family or even family members. †

It is also important to know that when researching church records, whenever there were disputes and wars, the first thing to be destroyed were churches. There are many reasons why churches were destroyed first, but I believe the main reason was so that there would not be a lasting record of the people. Also, throughout history, we find that monks and clergy that kept these records could read and write. So they recorded the histories of their areas and the people that lived and attended the church.†

Cemeteries and Tombstones

Such places are frequently researched once other types of records have been researched. Sometimes there is a sexton ?s log. More likely than not, tombstones are weathered, hard to read, and some are inaccurate. Cemeteries can often be overwhelming if they are large. Some cemeteries are small and primitive, yet easy to explore. Cemeteries are useful. Multiple families may be buried in the same area. Sometimes stillborn infants did not have birth certificates, but they are buried with their mother or other small children ?s family gravesites. I have found cemetery research to a more rewarding side trip. I go to find the headstone after the research has been done. Somehow this becomes a physical mark that the ancestor did exist. Cemetery and tombstone searching is my favorite kind of research. There are tips to follow that will help make your search more meaningful and less time consuming.


Citizenship and Naturalization Papers

Official papers are easier to come by if your ancestor traveled to America in the late 1800 ?s. Citizenship papers will record the country that your ancestor came from, their parents ? heritage, usually a date that the ancestor came to America, and the date that they became a citizen of the Unite States. It will also record that all important detail of a name change. My ancestor Frederick Kempf emigrated from Switzerland in 1881 and became a naturalized citizen in July of 1904. He changed his name to Fred Kemp. So now I have two names to research that apply to one person.


These offer vital information such as places of residence and travel.

Ship Manifests

Manifest were used to record basic information of a ship ?s passengers.



Newspapers can be tedious and time consuming to research. But they offer facts and events that were taking place at the time that your ancestor lived. If your family owned a small business there may be advertising listed for it. Newspapers also listed daily comings and goings of people in the area. They were used to notify and inform people about illnesses in the area, engagements, births, and even a town ?s law enforcement issues; such as horse thievery.†

Newspapers are most easily searched by microfiche. This is a whole different process that involves historical reels and a microfiche machine. Most FHLs have them located in their buildings. Reels can be ordered for a small fee. Some machines will let you print out your findings as well. Just ask a FHL patron for help.†


Obituaries offer much more than a death date. They almost always list next of kin and posterity, cause of death, burial location and date, and personality and a few details about the deceased. I loved reading the obituary for Floyd Delphos Rader. He died of a heart attack while ringing hogs ? at his work.


These often list household members, items with in the household, monetary values of items, debts that were paid or owed and much more.

Business Directories

Directories are useful if your family owned a small business. They are much like today ?s phone book and can offer information of where a business was located, names of business partners, and advertising for that business.†

Family History Preservation

It is important to preserve the information that you find. Record genealogy records on your hardrive, but back it up often. Keep a duplicate record somewhere else. If your computer crashes, then you will have another copy. I use a flash drive as well as CDs. Consider storing information on other family members ? computers or in a safe deposit box.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • partone July 20, 2009, 10:04 pm

    Theres some good stuff in this article too, but the formatting is really weird. Its kind of hard to follow. What?

  • Alison Moore Smith July 20, 2009, 10:17 pm

    partone, I got rid of some artifacts and fixed the headers. It just looked like a cut and paste issue. Hope that helps.

    Kim, so many good things. Honestly, I’d never even thought of many of those resources. Shows how much I have to learn. I’m so grateful that you’ll be tutoring us along here!

  • facethemusic July 20, 2009, 11:47 pm

    Is it just my computer or is the typeset on this really messed up? About half way through the article it’s completely unreadable. The words are actually on top of each other, and stranger yet, they keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger until finally you can only see ONE letter on the entire computer screen at a time.

  • ksjarvis July 21, 2009, 7:15 am

    I didn’t even notice the formatting issues until I went to look at it just now because I read it in my feed reader. It really is crazy.

    But since I could read it just fine in my feed reader, I just wanted to say thank you so much for the article. I am going to share it with my mom. I know that she will find so much good help and information in it just like I did. She has done a lot of work on our family’s history and now I really need to get on the ball and help her out.

    Thank you again for sharing all this wonderful info.

  • Alison Moore Smith July 21, 2009, 3:32 pm

    My bad. It had a lot of extra characters and formatting stuff in it. I tried to clean it up but ended up missing some of the extra characters and a couple of end tags. I’ll fix it. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out the formatting if you’re new to it. I think Kim just copied and pasted (probably from Word?) and ended up with lots of extraneous stuff.

    It looks like the new article has more of the problems. I’ll try to get to it, but I’m swamped right now.

  • Alison Moore Smith July 21, 2009, 3:36 pm

    I think it’s fixed. Let me know if you find anymore crazyland stuff going on.

  • Michelle D August 14, 2009, 6:48 pm

    What a gold mine of resources. Thanks for sharing your expertise, Kim!

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