The very first step to tracing your genealogy or building your
family tree is to talk to the eldest members of your family. This
can include parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, great-uncles
and -aunts, older siblings, cousins, second cousins. etc. Most
basically, talk to anyone who you can get to tell you things.
At this point, do not worry about the verification of facts, just
get the memories and reminiscences of the people to whom you are
At the same time that you’re interviewing your living family
members, find out who still has the Family Bible, who kept scrapbooks,
who got all the photos, who kept old letters. These are all viable,
primary sources for information. You want names, nicknames, dates,
and places—villages, cities, counties, states, countries. There
is no possibility of too much information.
Once you have begun to collect some information, it’s time
to begin documenting and organizing the data. The two primary
forms for this are the Pedigree Chart and the Family Group Sheet.
Important guidelines for the pedigree chart and
family group sheet
- Print a master copy of both unfilled charts and make
multiple copies for use, retaining a blank at all times.
Both charts can number hundreds of charts in length.
- Use pencil to fill them out, until the link has been
substantiated by a proof three times. A proof—as needed
for lineage societies such as the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)—is
a photocopy of the actual document from which the information
was culled, or the document itself.
- Always format your date DD/Month/YYYY; especially important
is the use of a four-digit year so as to know which century.
- When writing the names, use regular case for first,
middle, or given names, but always use all uppercase for
SURNAMES so they can be easily identified as such.
- Always use a woman’s maiden name (her father’s surname)
as her surname, not her married name. Her maiden name
never changes, while her married name can.
- Never skip over a generation.
- Focus on one family line at a time, as far back as
you can go; for example follow your mother’s father’s
line back to immigration, before starting another line.
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chart documents direct lineage, birth parent to birth child.
Information for each person is the birth date and place, marriage
date and place, and death date and place. Some charts will also
include baptism or christening dates and places.
- On chart number 1, your name goes in the number 1 position
on the left side. Your spouse’s name is listed beneath yours.
On all following copies there will be a number one position.
On the top of the chart there is a statement which reads “number
1 on this chart is number __ on chart number __”. Above this
line reads “chart number __”.
- All positions on each chart are numbered 1-15. The number
2 position on the chart number 1 is your birth father; number
3 is your birth mother. Notice that except the number 1 position,
which can reflect either gender, depending what number it reflects
on the chart that it was originally listed, all male ancestors
have even numbered positions (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14) on a given
chart, and all female ancestors have odd numbered positions
(3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15).
- Continuing the pattern, position number 4 is number 1’s father’s
father, or number 1’s grandfather. And so on.
- On the far right hand side, the number 8 position will become
number 1 on the next chart. So, the number 8 position on chart
1 will be the number 1 position on chart 2, and the number 9
position on chart 1 will be the number 1 position on chart 3.
Continue the numbering pattern. It is helpful to properly number
even the blank charts, as the system, while simple, can become
unwieldy if pages are skipped.
- Again, realize that these charts can number in the hundreds
for one family tree.
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the name implies, this chart documents entire family groups.
Information on these sheets refers back to the pedigree charts,
include basic information such as birth dates and places, death
dates and places, marriage, et cetera. They also may have spaces
for military services, religious affiliations, places of residence,
occupation, father’s name, mother’s maiden name, and source
documentation. The biggest difference between this chart and
a pedigree chart is the inclusion of all children to a given
set of birth parents, in birth order, with full names, gender,
along with the subsequent vital statistics, as well as spaces
for the names of the children’s spouses.
- Each set of birth parents have their own set of Family Group
Sheets. So, should a father marry wife number one, and have
three children, then the first Family Group Sheet for him will
have his first wife and their three children listed. Should
he become widowed or divorced, marry again, and have more children
with his second wife, a separate Family Group Sheet must be
made for him, the second wife, and their children.
- These charts are also numbered to correlate with the position
the husband occupies on the Pedigree Charts with the statement
on the top line “Chart Number __”. As each Family Group Sheet
represents both birth parents in direct lineage, they are referenced
by the father’s/husband’s position as listed on a chart number,
with a position number. Therefore, if I am position number 1
on chart number 1, my siblings and I will be listed, in birth
order, on the Family Group Sheet referring to my parents, on
Family Group Sheet, Chart number 1-2. The numeral 1 refers to
the Pedigree Chart number and the numeral 2 refers to the position
of my father.
- Tracing female lines is a key benefit of Family Group Sheets.
Historically, families moved across the country in groups, so
tracking a brother can sometimes help track an elusive sister.
- Keep in mind, as with the Pedigree Charts, these charts can
number in the hundreds for one family tree.
- Once the above steps have been completed in as thorough manner
as possible for the line being worked, it is time to begin hard
research to search for proofs. The above steps can be repeated
as often as necessary. Again, proofs are photocopies of the
actual document from which the information was culled. They
can also be photographic evidence, as in a photo of a tombstone,
or the actual document itself.
Basic avenues of research
along with basic descriptions, and pros and cons
United States Federal Census, Index, and Soundex
United States Census
U.S. Census is conducted every ten years, beginning in 1790
with the colonial states.
1890 Census was destroyed by fire and water damage while it
was being stored in the National Archives in the 1920s, before
its release to the public. Only scattered remnants from scattered
states exist. This not only applies to our collection, but every
library or archive in the country. It simply no longer exists.
of this printing, 1920 is the most recent year available for
public record. There is federal legislation protecting the privacy
of the persons listed in the Census for 72 years after it has
been taken; therefore, the 1930 United States Census is scheduled
to be released April 2002.
recent Census information can be requested for a fee online
at the Census
- Information varies on each year’s Census, with every name
in a household listed from the 1850 Census, forward. Prior to
that only heads of households are listed with hash marks accounting
for all other members of the household, including slaves. Other
information available includes occupations, nationalities, natural
or immigrant status, number of living children as opposed to
number of live births, country or state of origin, country or
state of origin of an individual’s parent, and so on.
is important to remember that the Census taker may likely have
been the least illiterate person in an area, may have not spoken
to the head of the household but rather a child or other family
member, may have spoken to a neighbor, may not have easily communicated
with the person being interviewed due to language/accent differences.
These things can result in different spellings of names and
information that may not be in absolute agreement with other
dealing with historical documents, older ones are likely to
show both aging and fading; in addition, older handwriting styles
may be unfamiliar to modern readers. Both of these things make
them difficult to read.
1790 through 1870, bound or microfiche indexes are available
for most Censuses for most states.
primary function of the index is to facilitate finding a name
on a Census roll
every name indexes and heads of household only indexes exist
and while it does not always correlate with whether the Census
was prior to 1850 or not, it usually does.
predominant format is an alphabetical listing by last name with
county, enumeration district, page and line information following.
- County, enumeration district, page and line information—in
that order—should lead the researcher to the name on the Census.
- Consider that any index or compilation of information involving
transcription of information by a person to a new source, adds
another person who has transcribed the information, increasing
the odds of error. Should the person sought not be found at
the exact location described in an index, first look five lines
above and below the described location, then five pages before
and after the described location, and so on, finally reading
a county line by line as a last resort.
Soundex, a product of the Works Progress Administration, is the indexing
system for the 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920 Censuses; its primary
function is to aid in searching for Census listings for those
Soundex, along with Miracode, is an alphabetical system which
uses a numeric system to code letters with common sounds, eliminating
vowels and silent letters.
Soundex Coding Guide
b, p, f,
c, s, k,
g, j, q, x, z
- Every Soundex code consists of a letter, and three numbers
letters a, e, i, o, u, y, w, and h are not coded.
first letter of the surname is not coded.
- Double consonants are considered one letter.
sequences of consonants with no vowels in between—such as the
cks in Jackson—only the c would count, the k
and s are cancelled out.
EXAMPLE: Creating a Soundex code for
the name “Jackson”
- Write down the name and using the rules for soundexing, strike
out the vowels, double letters and side-by-side consonants:
A C K S O N, leaving
J C N.
- The J is the letter part of the code.
- The value for C is 2.
- The value for N is 5.
- Since every Soundex code must have three digits, use 0 for
any remaining spaces.
- The resulting Soundex code is J250.
the Soundex code is determined, select the corresponding reel.
given Soundex code can represent a variety of different surnames.
Therefore, all surnames that correspond to J250 are alphabetized
by the first name or initial.
terms of the Soundex, finding the correct person also means
finding matching information besides the head of household’s
name. The wife’s and children’s names should correspond to the
person you are hunting for, as well as the county of residence.
with the Census index, once the correct name is found, the county,
enumeration district, page, and line (again, in that order)
become the important facts to know for finding that household
on the Census.
key benefit to the Soundex is that it is done by numeric code,
not actual spelling, therefore, any variant spellings can be
as with the Index, there has been a level of transcription added
to the information, leading to another layer of possible errors.
Should the person sought not be found at the exact location
described in an index, first look five lines above and below
the described location, then five pages before and after the
described location, and so on, finally reading a county line
by line as a last resort.
SSDI is a result of the Social Security Act, which was signed
into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 and went into effect
in 1937. Anyone whose death occurred before 1937 will not be
on the SSDI.
Persons are only listed on the SSDI if: a) They were issued
a Social Security number, and b) Their deaths were reported
to the Social Security office. Not all occupations or persons
were issued Social Security numbers until the 1960s.
of the information on the SSDI is from after 1962, when the
list became computerized. Persons can be found listed on the
SSDI prior to that; however, it is rare.
the information from the SSDI, the Social Security application
can be requested for a fee, which includes the applicant's parents'
names, as well as the birth date and place.
Other vital records
after having gone through the information available with oral
histories and other documentation, you are still not able to
go back far enough to reach the 1920 Census, there are other
documents which may give enough information to pursue: marriage
records, death records, birth records, divorce records. These
records can give names, dates, locations and parents names,
which can be leads to information further back in time.
are public records, and may be accessed via the Internet for
some areas. Different states will have them available by different
means. Texas vital records are available online.