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.
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.
GATHERING YOUR INFORMATION
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.
BIRTH DEATH & MARRIAGES
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
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
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