Research Suggestions


This page contains some information helpful to beginner genealogists to get you started in the right direction. Any of your own experiences you'd like to share in reference to this, please do so. We can all help each other.

Getting Started

Before you begin your research you need to know how you are going to organize your research. You can do this in many ways. A computer program for genealogy is the best, there are several to choose from. I use the Personal Ancestral File from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I also use three-ring notebooks with document protectors to file my forms. I have three main family lines and I have them color coded. My three family lines has a different color three-ring notebook with colored floppy disks to match. You can use a file system. But please don't use a box.


To start with, gather information on yourself. It is easier to try to trace you back than to find an ancestor and trace them to you. This will be done by going through your birth, death, marriage, obituaries, letters and other important forms (like baptism) you might have on hand, and recording your information. For this you will need to use Family Group Sheets and Pedigree charts. The genealogy program will do this for you. Then we go to other family members for the information they have on hand. Record all the documents they have on hand. If at all possible get copies of all the documents they have. Also pictures if they will allow this.


When visiting relatives (especially elder ones) it is important to ask the right questions to find the information you want. They do not know what what you are looking for and may not offer the right information. Many times they will tell stories of the "olden days" which can provide valuable information especially, if you plan to publish your work. By all means let them talk, and If they will allow it, bring along a tape recorder. If they do not know or remember all the vital statistics (dates and locations) some prompting from you with the right questions could spark their memory.
If they do not know birth and death dates and places, ask where are buried. I have found they usually know this because they remember their parents visiting the grave on Memorial Day, and you can then get the dates from the cemetery markers. If they do not know marriage dates, ask where they were married and look it up in the county courthouse. Ask for other births, including stillbirths. Many times the child was named and buried. If they do not know a death date, ask where they were living, even if the death occurred in a hospital in a different town, you can look up the obituary.


There are many genealogy libraries across the country. One famous one is the Mormon (LDS) library in Salt Lake City, UT. You can try your local phone book to see if there is a branch near you. Mid-Continent in Independence, MO is a very good one and my personal favorite. It has census records for all states. At your local library ask for the genealogy and local history section. It may be and few books, an entire room or entire floor in the facility. Ask for help. Ask if they have obituaries. Some have a card catalog or information on computer.


Many County Courthouses will allow you to look up records yourself. Be sure to get copies of everything. In many states some of these records are available at the State Department of Vital Records and not from the counties, and they come with a price tag. In Missouri they charge $10.00 for a search. If they find your certificate you get a copy for no additional charge. So the more information you gather before shelling out big bucks will help you.


This is a big one. You can save some time by looking at your local library to see if they have any cemetery books others have written. But I highly encourage visiting the cemetery for a look see. If you are lucky to have a marker placed at the site with dates on it, great! Once you find the relative look at the surrounding area for other relatives. If it is a small family plot record all the markers. You can put all your cemetery records in a database file which will alphabetize them for future research.
Can't read that old warn out piece of rock? A few tricks I have learned will help in this. First clean the marker off. If it is standing upright try dropping some talcum powder over the face, being careful not to get it into the engraving, and the lettering will magically appear. I always like to ask the farmer for permission to go into his field before being chased around by the bulls. In Missouri it is illegal to deny access to a cemetery that is on private property. I have tracked through many pastures.


A very valuable source is the local newspaper. This includes obituaries. In Missouri the Missouri State Historical Society is the place to go if you have a lot of research to do. They have a large collection of the newspapers for the state of Missouri. When looking up obituaries look for the next publication following the date of death. If nothing is found, look through the next several publications. If you do not find it, try another paper that was nearest the town If still no success, look before the death date and the date you have may be incorrect. Sometimes you may find an article that states the person was ill. In many papers obituaries were in the obituary section, but not always. It may be found in the local happenings area of the paper. So it is best to check the entire paper. You may find information under the auction or Sheriff's sale, especially if they had no living kin.


Probate records include Wills, Property Sales, Guardianships, and some property transfers and much more. These records are a must see and are located at the county courthouse. You are not guaranteed to find one, but worth a try.


Deed records for the transfer of land is also a valuable resource. Where your ancestor lived may indicate where they are buried if they died on the family farm, or may have to children's names. These once again are at the courthouse.


These records are available at libraries or you can purchase your own. I often times visit the Mid-Continent Library and is one of the best genealogy libraries I have seen. Remember not all the information may be correct. Also remember the children living in the household may be farm help or cousins, nephews etc.


Social Security Death Index. This is a valuable source especially if you do not know what state they died in and the death occurred recently. This source you can check yourself right here on the internet. With that information you can order the SS-5 from the Department of Social Services. This should give the birth date, location and parents names. The person has to be deceased or yourself.
Military Records. Civil War Pension records may have a death certificate. But in the least should have spouse and children and may even have marriage info.
Church records, parish, school records, civic groups, can all be valuable resources if they are available.
Letters can be a valuable piece of history. I file mine alphabetically in a cardboard chest or drawers by name and date.
The Internet can be a valuable source. I have some links you can try, but try the search engines for your family name.
You can also put up your own home page and let others contact you. It will be easier for others to find you than trying to find them. You can get a free one, email me and I'll tell you more about it.

Last Updated: 3/07/98
Research Coordinator: Joe L. Miller