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How to start tracing your ancestors

If you would like to know more about your Mabry ancestors, but only know the names of your grandparents or great-grandparents, the following suggestions may be helpful.

1. Start by interviewing the older members of your family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.). Take good notes as you ask them about earlier generations, family traditions, family Bible records, obituaries, where their ancestors lived, etc.

2. For each person, try to get the following information:

  • full name
  • date of birth, including county and state
  • date of marriage, including county and state
  • date of death, including county and state
  • place of burial

3. Most states began keeping birth and death records about 1910. If your earliest known ancestor died after that time you should write to the bureau of vital statistics in the state where he/she died to ask for a death certificate. This document usually gives the date and place of birth of the deceased and the names of his/her parents. Thus it is often an easy way to trace your family back one more generation.

4. Look for the census records of your earliest known generation. These are often available in the genealogy section the libraries in larger cities or at "Family History Centers" located in Mormon churches in larger communities. Census records in 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, etc. give the names of all persons in the family along with their ages and the state where they were born. The 1880 census also lists the birthplace of the parents of all individuals named. Census records for 1790, 1810, 1820, 1830, and 1840 give only the name of the head of household, but list the sex and age category for all others in the family. Libraries with good genealogy collections will often have indexes of the census records through about 1860.

5. Later, you can look for more details. You'll be amazed at how many records your ancestors left behind including:

  • deeds showing when they bought and sold land
  • military records
  • marriage records
  • wills and other estate records
  • court records
  • military records
  • cemetery records
  • tax lists
  • and many more!

6. Buy yourself a good book about genealogical research. Any good bookstore or library should have at least one good book that will tell how to find these records and how to organize your own records as you collect more and more information about your ancestors. Here are two good examples:

  • Croom, Emily, The Genealogist's Companion & Sourcebook, Betterway Books, Cincinnati, OH, 1994.
  • Greenwood, Val D., The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, 1974.
Want to learn more about genealogical research? RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees. If you are just starting to trace your family history, are serious about it and are willing to devote some time to learning the proper research methods, there is no better place learn how to do genealogical research. This site is like having your own tutor.

Another good resource for African Americans is: Research suggestions for African-American Mabrys



September 2014