. This article first appeared in The British Columbia Genealogist, vol. 17 #1, Mar/88. It was reprinted with some changes by the Florida Genealogical Society in their Journal, vol. 24 #2, Oct/88, and in the Canadian Federation of Genealogical and Family History Societies Newsletter, vol. 6 #2, Oct/93. Only nonprofit organizations may further redistribute or reprint this file without explicit permission. If you redistribute this file on-line, please don't make your own copy. Instead, make a link to the copy at the above location. If you reprint this article, please credit the British Columbia Genealogical Society and send them a copy of your publication containing it. Their address is: BCGS, PO Box 88054, Lansdowne Mall, Richmond BC Canada V6X 3T6. Reproduction by commercial (for-profit) organizations prohibited without written permission.
WHAT TO DO WHEN THE COURTHOUSE HAS BURNED AND YOU ARE ALL OUT OF MARSHMELLOWS! From a program for the Oklahoma Genealogical Society, February 4, 1985, given by Mrs. Lois M. COPLE.
1. The courthouse may not have burned totally. Some records may have been saved because they were in an annex or wing that didn't burn. Don't always rely on what the 'Handy Book for Genealogist' or the court clerk says.
2. There may be/have been 2 courthouses in the same county.
3. The records may have been reconstructed or re-recorded, and remember that deeds sometimes are not recorded for years after the transfer. (Also check with county abstract offices).
4. Check neighboring counties for deeds, probate records and marriages. It may be necessary to go out a second or third county away for a marriage record. People who elope do not go to their own town courthouse for the license.
5. Check everything in the courthouse where the family went to and the county where they came from if the county is known. Many sold land to relatives before moving on.
6. Check the parent county/counties Land records and the State Land Records for those counties. In the case of territory claimed by two states, check both state records. If your problem is in the Fire Lands or a Military District, check the parent States records.
7. Check the progeny (those that were formed from your county) county/counties for Land records that may have been recorded at a much later date.
1. Census Records
2. Mortality schedules.
3. Military records and Pensions.
4. Federal Land Grants, Homestead States.
5. Immigration and Naturalization.
6. DECENNIAL Digest. This index covers the years 1658 to 1906 and is
found in most law libraries. It indexes cases that went to appellate or higher courts.
7. Federal court records. (Remember that Federal records are records of the Revolution and records created since that time.)
1. Census - State and Territorial.
2. Militia and Pension.
3. Birth and Death records.
4. Tax Records: Real, Personal and Poll.
5. Land Lotteries, Land Grants, Homesteads.
TOWNSHIP OR TOWN RECORDS:
Items vary according to the state. In Ohio I saw a list of men available and of the right age for Military duty from the late 1800's. Other states may have townships that function like a county or a city and have the equivalent records.
1. Birth and Death records.
2. Marriage records.
3. Cemetery records.
4. Tax records.
5. City directories (more currently, phone books).
1. State Archives and Libraries.
2. County Historical Societies.
3. College Libraries.
4. Local Libraries.
5. Private Libraries (D.A.R., S.A.R., Railroad, etc.) In all of these
libraries, be sure to check the versicle files.)
1. County Histories.
2. Town and City Histories.
4. Genealogical and Historical Society Quarterlies.
1. Church records, Church Historical Libraries.
2. Funeral home records.
3. Cemetery records, Sextons Records, and transcripts of cemeteries made years ago.
4. School records, College or Grade.
5. Title and Abstract companies.
6. Private Land Co. such as the Holland Land Purchase in NY.
1. Bible records.
2. Photo albums.
3. Baby books.
4. Insurance policies.
5. Family letters, diaries, ledgers.
1. Lineage Societies.
2. Masonic Records.
3. Fraternal Records.
BOTTOM LINE: Analyze your problem and decide:
1. What information you really NEED!
2. What types of documents may provide that information!
3. Then analyze the locality or localities where that proof may be found.
From a program for the Oklahoma Genealogical Society, February 4, 1985, given by Mrs. Lois M. COPLE.
BACKWARD FOOTPRINTS - Lila Kobs Hubbard, Family Genealogist & Research Historian:
Recall the story of the Tortoise & the Hare? Slow steady progress in genealogy is a must when trying to locate or trace the movement of immigrant ancestors. Genealogy is a science and should be approached from a scientific &/or historical like approach. Someone recently described genealogy as a huge jigsaw puzzle. This is true, gathering bits of information piece by piece seems unproductive until the pieces start to fit together. When a picture begins to emerge it is possible by carefully planned research to seek information to fill in the missing pieces. All avenues of research in the United States should be exhausted before a genealogist tries to trace the family line to its place of origin. This approach may seem like drudgery & it may seem boring even appear to be unrewarding! Who said it would be easy? No one, I know. There is an old saying, "A job worth doing is worth doing well." These suggestions are not to lighten your burden but more to direct & suggest advantageous routes for successful research. Valuable only if you keep very accurate records of your research. The search is on so start with you & your family.
Relatives may think they know nothing but some of them really do! Family stories, documents, member ship applications, old letters, etc. may give you a lot of small pieces to your family puzzle.
THINGS TO ASK ABOUT OR WRITE ABOUT:
1. Family records
2. Bible Records
3. Family Letters, Stories & Traditions
4. Employment & Societies Records
5. Wills, Deeds, Etc.
6. Certificates, Awards, Discharges, Etc.
8. Books of Remembrance
9. Diaries, Printed or Manuscript Family Genealogies
If you find church information, or know the place of worship of your
ancestor don't overlook the following types of church records:
1. Membership Records
2. Birth, Marriage & Death Records
3. Baptism Records
4. Confirmation Records
5. Communion Records
6. Society or Board Minutes
7. Church School Records
8. Church Cemetery Records
9. Church Archives State or National Levels
Contact the proper authorities in Hometown, U.S.A. for help or search
City, Town, Village Records:
1. Birth, Death, Marriage & Divorce Records
2. Tax Lists
3. School Records & Board Minutes
4. Town Histories & Historians
5. Newspaper Files (Obituary & News items)
6. Cemetery Records & Gravestones
7. Mortuary Records
8. Town Clerk's Minutes
9. Genealogical or Historical Societies
10. Libraries - many have genealogical information on the
local level & may have hometown newspapers on microfilm.
11. Military Records, Statues, plaques, etc.
Your next move is to research County Records (Remember that old County boundaries change! Get a good atlas.)
1. County Census Records
2. Court Records
3. Wills, Administration & Guardianships
4. Marriage Licenses/ Bonds & Divorce Records
5. Birth & Death Records
6. Land Records
8. Tax Records
9. School Records & Board Minutes
10. Naturalization Records
11. Orphans Court Records
12. Old Folks or Veterans Homes
13. Hospital & Mental Institutions Records
14. Military Records
15. County Histories with Biographies & Genealogy
16. County Genealogical & Historical Societies
The next step forward is to search state records. You may be re checking
some of your already located information but do realize humans make mistakes & dates could have been entered incorrectly or even the minister in waiting months to record a number of things could have missed recording a marriage & did it later:
1. Birth & Death Records
2. Marriage & Divorce Records
3. Land Grants
4. Census Records
5. Tax Lists
6. Military Records. An Adj. General's Office provided the name, for a genealogist, of a GREAT
UNCLE. The nameless male had existed in stories but his military records were only obtained because his name, company & regiment were sent from the State of Missouri.
7. Court Records
8. Hospital & Mental Institution Records
9. State Archives
10. State Genealogical & Historical Societies
The research now goes to national records & much can be done at your
nearest branch of the National Archives or by mail, using the proper forms, with the NARS in Washington, DC:
1. Census Records
2. Military Records
3. Pension Records
4. Old Soldiers Homes Records
5. Bounty Land warrant Records
6. Records of Civilians During Wartime
7. Records of American Indians
8. Records of Black Americans
9. Records of Merchant Seamen
10. Records of Civilian Government Employees
11. Passenger Arrival Lists
12. Immigration Records
13. Passport Information
14. Naturalization Records
15. Land Records
16. Claims Records
17. Court Records
18. Records of the District of Columbia
19. Miscellaneous Records Including Social Security
20. Cartographic Records (Maps & Descriptions)
21. Organizational & Multi -Society Records
Your FOOTSTEPS BACKWARD may be difficult but if your research has been extensive, exacting & you are a 'lucky person' you will have the proper information to begin your FOREIGN RESEARCH. There are many fine genealogical societies in other countries that are
willing to assist an American genealogist but PLEASE remember when writing to send International Response Certificates as a SASE is useless. Overseas postage costs about four times our normal postal rates.
GENEALOGY BY MAIL:
From web site: http://pcm.pcmedia.com.au/tags/docs/correspd.html
One of the most enjoyable ways of performing your genealogical research - certainly the most economical - is through correspondence. Most people find varying degrees of success in the pursuit of data through the writing of letters, and even those who are unable to accumulate much data in this way usually find rewards in other aspects of the endeavor. The establishment of new relationships or the re-cultivation of old ones brings unexpected and indescribable gratification. Attention to a few simple rules of correspondence etiquette will bring more satisfying results. Here are ten basic rules for your consideration.
Use large envelopes (No. 10) and be sure to affix adequate postage.
Always include a SASE (Self Addressed, Stamped Envelope) with your letters, unless you are told not to do so. This SASE should be a No. 9 size envelope. It does not need to be folded to fit into the No. 10 envelopes, resulting in a less bulky, more attractive, and more business-like mailing piece. If you expect many pages of text to be returned to you, enclose a second stamp for your respondent to use, should it be necessary.
Rarely, almost never, use a small envelope for inquiries. They are acceptable however for your acknowledgments and "thank you's".
Be brief. In your contacts with officials, ask only one question in any letter and explain only the facts absolutely necessary to get your answer. Brevity is the rule also in your initial contacts with potential "cousins". You may establish a "chatty" relationship later on, if both of you seemed so inclined. If you do, incidentally, it is likely to turn into a most rewarding relationship. Many opportunities to travel to ancestral localities have resulted from these relationships.
Write only when your mind, body, and eyes are fresh. Write carefully. Write carefully. Write carefully. We ALWAYS do, right? WRONG? Usually, in our haste to get a letter completed or to catch the mail delivery that day, we are not nearly careful enough. Avoid strike overs, both typed and hand written. YOU may know what it says, but the reader has two guesses, either of which may be the wrong one. Strike overs are the most dangerous when dates are involved. Keep in mind your initial letter is your introduction. It will set the stage, probably permanently, for your future relationship.
Label all pages, charts, envelopes, etc., with your name and address and date them all.
Be a "Giver" as well as a "Taker". Offer, and mean it, to exchange data. Answer queries you see in genealogical publications with any answers or clues you can offer. Don't just sit there and wait for your queries to be answered.
Include payment, if you know the cost, of copying, etc., or make it clear you will reimburse for it promptly. Then do so, promptly.
Procrastinate overnight. Reread your letter the day after you write it. If it says what you thought it said and is easily understood, mail it. If possible, ask someone who is unfamiliar with the subject to read it. If that person understands you, it is likely that your intended recipient will, also.
Acknowledge, always and promptly, any response you receive, whether or not that response has brought the desired results. You may wish to include another SASE with your acknowledgment, asking that your contact keep it in his files in case he should come across something for you later. Always reimburse postage for any reply.
You may wish to write your question on the upper half of a sheet of paper, leaving the lower half for the response. Anything you can do to make the action easier for your reader is advisable. If you suspect your contact may want to keep your letter for his files, include a carbon copy with the original. He can then keep whichever he needs, or he can return both to you.
Some people like to say "If you have no information for me, won't you please drop my SASE in the mail. That way I'll know you did receive and consider my request," or words to that effect.
Advertise that you will perform research in your local area records in exchange for research in another area where your interest lies.
For special favors, where payment is not expected to compensate for value received, send a personalized or localized gift. Products indigenous to your locale and sometimes easily acquired are often highly valued in another area. A small item handcrafted by you demonstrates your special gratitude.
A neatly addressed envelope is a must, of course. Individualize it with colorful postage stamps appropriate to the subject. Use other "stick-ons" on the back of the envelope, or use rubber stamp designs. This is not recommended for business letters to public officials, but it may bring some enjoyment to your "cousin" contacts.
Federal and state census records, vital statistics, and records kept by a variety of churches and other organizations are just the beginning of the many storehouses for family historians. The swiftest and most comprehensive research begins at one of the seven NATIONAL ARCHIVES located across the United States. Among other collections, these archives house census collections, region-specific naturalization documents, and passenger lists.
More accessible than a branch of the NATIONAL ARCHIVES and potentially as useful, the thousands of MORMON FAMILY HISTORY CENTERS around the world deliver access to an indexed database of 360 million names. They also provide indexed census records from the United States and other countries that the main branch in Salt Lake City will ship for a nominal fee (see "Searching by Phone").
FEDERAL CENSUS RECORDS - are likely to produce the most accurate and fruitful beginnings for your search. Available at the National Archives and through the Mormon Family History Centers, these records range from the years 1790 to 1920, with a 72-year privacy act protecting the more recent data.
To view the document, you have to determine first off who would have been considered the official head of the household in a given year. Names convert to codes through a system referred to as "soundexing"; the access code then leads directly to the page of the census as it was copied that census year. Listed underneath the family name are the address as well as the ages, countries (and sometimes cities) of origins and birth, and even occupations. Such complete documentation can link parents and children through generations of migrations and expanding family trees.
ARRIVAL RECORDS - New York State began to officially document immigrants in 1855, when ships were docking at Castle Garden, a fort located near Ellis Island, in New York Harbor. Beginning in 1890, as an added means of tracking the thousands of people arriving in this country each year, the federal government became involved in processing immigrants. By 1892, two years after the opening of a federal processing facility in New York, U.S. agents on Ellis Island were routinely asking immigrants for specific places of origin, including cities and sometimes counties or provinces. These arrival records now reside in part at the National Archives and will soon be made available at
the Ellis Island research center, which is slated to open by the year 2000.
NATURALIZATION RECORDS - When a law passed by Congress in 1906 turned over naturalization responsibilities to federal courts, the information inscribed on the documents significantly increased. Parents' names and specific cities and regions of origin - even photographs - numbered among the data commonly collected by 1920. Records of naturalization ceremonies performed in a circuit court reside in either the county or state office in the city where the court was convened.
SOCIAL SECURITY - These records may be useful for finding a deceased family member who applied for a Social Security number after 1930. The records, which often contain incomplete or inaccurate data, can be accessed on-line at an interactive site: ssdi2/ancestry.com/ssdi.
PASSENGER LISTS - To aid government researchers interested in knowing where their citizens migrated, Dr. Ira Glazier of the Balsch Institute for Ethnic Studies at Temple University, in Philadelphia, indexed the records of passengers who arrived at U.S. ports from Germany, Italy, and Ireland before government agencies installed documentation systems after the turn of the century.
The passenger list is one of the most important documents for genealogists - it's the link between the Old World and the New." Contained on the microfilmed originals are records indicating names and, at times, cities of origin, the ages of the passengers, and the exact date the embarked and arrived.
The records contain errors, mostly the result of confusion, including the infamous anglicizing and straightforward misspelling of names. Many records, federal census documents included, may have missed your family entirely Keep searching, however, trying alternate spelling and later census years, for example, and something just might turn up that surprises you.
CLOSER TO HOME:
Write letters to city, county, and state offices to locate vital records, including birth, death, and marriage certificates dating primarily from the turn of the century.
You may also discover land deeds and land records, both of which were often kept at a courthouse near the family's first residence. The local judicial authority, such as a county courthouse, also frequently houses naturalization records that were not processed before a federal circuit court. Many church dioceses retain baptism and other records that may hold clues, provided that you know the religion your ancestors practiced and the church where they worshiped.
Many of these sources, however, will not have the resources to assist in genealogical research, and tapping into these wells of information will require more patience and persistence than searching through the National Archives. The best chance of finding what you're looking for is to send a letter to the location, such as a courthouse or church. Indicate the name, dates, and where the person lived, as the more information provided, the better the likelihood of getting a reply.
When the county courthouse reports "records missing", write to the State Archives. With changes in county clerks, they are not always informed when records have been moved, usually as space limits their capacity for storage.
SEARCHING BY PHONE:
Perform the bulk of your initial research in a NATIONAL ARCHIVE, as this will curb the expenses in time and money required by the other avenues.
Possibly the most comprehensive source of genealogical information contained by a nongovernmental agency, the MORMON FAMILY HISTORY CENTERS provide easy access to remote documents. More than 2,800 centers are located around the world, and close to 3,000 visitors per day pour into the center in Salt Lake City. Call (800) 346- 6044 for locations and more details.
For sources of family history in other countries, contact the general consulate representing your ancestors' country of original for international genealogical resources. Call (212) 555-1212 or (202) 555-1212 and ask for a particular embassy.
You can contact the Hispanic Genealogical Society of New York by calling (212) 532- 3662 or access its Web site at:
Forums exist on-line where you can network, look for help, and post the names you are researching. Because so many different services exist, start with a YAHOO or NEXIS search for a family name or the topic "genealogy."
Inspiration and a variety of ideas come from OUR FAMILY, OUR TOWN, a publication of the National Archives and Records Administration. The book covers research topics as broad as census records and as specific as the "Philadelphia Seamens's Protection Certificate Applications." To order, call (800) 234-8861.
LIVING RELATIVES - To locate a missing relative who is presumed living, requesting a search through the Salvation Army's Missing Person's Bureau may yield results. You'll need to provide the name and a description of the individual; the fee is 425, and the success rate is 31 percent. Call (800) 315-7699.
A VETERAN'S ADMINISTRATION HOSPITAL where a relative might have received treatment can also put you in contact with a living relation. If the person's status remains on file, the VA will forward a letter from you, allowing the relative to respond directly if he or she wishes to do so. These records are confidential and confined to the hospital where the patient was treated.
USING VITAL RECORDS:
Birth certificates and death certificates and other vital records contain valuable information, but they are sometimes expensive to obtain. Before you decide not to order them, keep in mind that they sometimes contain additional information that corroborates or conflicts with your present information, such as surname spellings or different dates.
Each state maintains vital records and decides where to keep them. Death certificates may be in the possession of the county but the state may also have a copy. Sometimes counties transfer their records elsewhere, possibly to the state archives. Therefore you have to know where to look for the records. Ancestry's Redbook as well as Everton's Handybook for Genealogists list every state and where to find records as well as when the county was formed and the years for which records are available. You may also find that information on the Web if you do some searching for the state's web page.
A start at the county in which the event took place should be your first step. A call or a letter to the proper office will usually tell you whether they have the type of record you are looking for and the cost to copy it for you. If they don't have it, they may be able to tell you where to obtain it. Cost could vary depending on whether you need a certified copy or a non-certified copy. Generally, for your research, a non-certified copy will suffice but for legal matters, you may need a certified copy. They both contain the same information.
Keep in mind, that a great deal of records were lost during the Civil War due to fire. The Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402 has an inexpensive and helpful booklet "Where to Write for Vital Records" . When you request your records, be sure to provide complete information. Give the full name, and any other names that the record might be under. If you are not sure of the date, give the closest approximation you can provide - or a range of years.
Delayed birth certificates are common if the person was born prior to the date of keeping records. They were sometimes obtained by the individual so they could obtain other forms of identification such as a passport or to obtain Social Security. Sometimes recent birth records may not be available to you unless you can prove a relationship to the deceased person. Some states will not provide a birth record at all unless you prove the relationship. If it is your parent, a copy of your own birth record will help. Consider using census records to prove your relationship - or a death certificate if you have one - or an obit. The reasons for these rules, which vary from state to state, is that birth certificates can be used to obtain a new identity by obtaining driver's licenses, passports, etc.
Keep in mind when obtaining death certificates, they are only as good as the person's knowledge who gives the information. A child or a sibling would probably be more aware of the facts than a neighbor or a friend who may not know all the facts.
Marriage licenses are sometimes the only proof of a marriage - but keep in mind, the marriage may or may not have taken place. Sometimes you can find a church record to confirm that the marriage occurred.
More and more records are being transcribed, published in books and/or placed on the web but remember, in transcribing them - they are subject to errors on the part of the transcriber.
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