by Linnea Travis Miller
Genealogy The science or study of family descent
As I sit contemplating my research from last year, I can truly state that I had a very good year!! How about all of you?? When it comes to studying your families, it's always good to have a goal for each year. That helps to keep you focused amidst all the sidelines you may venture into during your research. It's very important to keep good, organized notes, so you don't have to retrace your steps and make extra work for yourself.
I have found keeping a log of my activities is an excellent way of knowing where I've been and where I want to go next. I keep a correspondence log to record letter that I have sent, listing the postmark date, as well as the date I received the response. I also have a column for personal remarks regarding this query.
In addition, I keep a copy of the letters sent and received in an individual family file folder for future reference. Whenever you are sending correspondence, it is important to include a stamped, self-addressed envelope for a response, as well as an offer to pay for any copying costs. You often will receive a quicker response because of this, especially if the people cannot help you out!
Another important log to keep is an actual research log. I separate mine by census records, church records and the like. Each family and generation had their own set of research logs. I keep these in notebooks, so when I am researching a specific family I have everything all together and can refer to what I already know about them and then add to it.
When your actually doing your research, it is important to know what information you are actually finding. There are two kinds of information you will find: primary and secondary information. A primary source is one which had its origin with someone directly involved with the event being reported. Secondary sources are everything else and they should only be used as clues to find other verifying data.
What does this mean? Well, in 1997, a primary source would be a birth certificate, the death information on a death certificate, or a marriage certificate. The birth information on a death certificate isn't considered primary because it has been recorded many years after the birth and probably by someone who was not there at the birth. The birth information on the death certificate is considered a secondary source. Also, delayed birth certificates are considered a secondary source. A delayed birth certificate is issued sometimes years after the actual birth. Sometimes you will find that although you know a parent or grandparent was born in 1918, his/her birth certificate was not issued until 1939 or later! Birth certificates or other corroborating evidence of birth are necessary for a Social Security application and for entry into the armed forces.
When my Dad enlisted for World War II it was found that the courthouse which held his birth certificate had burned along with all the records, so his birth certificate had to be re-issued based upon other (baptismal) information. His birth certificate, although official, is a secondary source, since it was a delayed filing.
Most of the information found on a census return is considered secondary information. The only primary information on the census data is the residence of the family. The ages, birth places and all other dates, except the date of enumeration, are all being recorded long after the event happened. Plus, sometimes this information was not even given by a family member, rather a neighbor, since the family was not home when the census-taker visited! An obituary is a secondary source, except for the death date and funeral information, since this is being given by someone who was not there at the time of the other events. Always be on the look-out for misprints, also!!
Tombstones may be used as sources, also. If you can see that the tombstone appears to be an old one, erected at the time of death, then the date of death can usually be considered a primary source. The birth date is secondary, since it was recorded long after the actual birth with information given by another person. If the tombstone appears to be a new one (which it should have been erected a long time ago) then all dates should be considered secondary!
For some people, you may find two, three or even more different dates for birth and death. Study them and try to determine when each was recorded. Choose the one you feel was recorded closest to the time of the event and use that one as your "best guess:' Keep the notes on the other dates, since you may find something in the future to absolutely verify the date, and it may not be the one you chose! The odds are with you that your careful determination of the one recorded closest to the event is the correct one, though.
On your research log, be sure to record if your source is "primary" or "secondary", since this will let you know if further research is needed for your information! The more primary and verifying secondary sources you can find will determine how good of a family history you have. Also, on your log, make sure you cite the exact source: if it's a reference work, cite it with the author, publication date and page number: if it's a cemetery, list the lot and plot number. You'll never have too much information to pass along to future family historians.
Okay,so how do l go about getting leads to find this information? Start with yourself, then work backwards. Gather your primary information - your birth certificate, baptismal certificate, marriage certificate. Check with your parents and ask them for copies of the same for them. Some states are very sticky when it comes to requesting copies of birth certificates for people born in this century. If it is not for you, often a death certificate must be furnished for whom you are requesting a birth certificate, and then you must be a descendant or even a member of a state certified genealogical group!
Next, talk to your parents and grandparents about themselves and their parents. I have found recording my conversations to be a valuable highlight of family research. You not only get the information, but the stories you'll hear about their life and times are the really interesting part of genealogy! You'll even have their voices for future generations. If you can video tape them, that would be an added bonus. As you are recording information about yourself, your parents and grandparents, it allows you to find out even more about your ancestors and where they may have lived and what their occupation was.
Besides talking to your older family members, ask them what they may have in the way of family mementos like a family Bible, diaries, photo albums, family jewelry and the like. Look through them together, ask questions, record their responses. If they have especially old photo albums, find out who the people in them are and write the names down! If you're lucky, they may even give some to you.
I have two very old photo albums of my grandparents' families from Sweden In the late 1800's. Going through them with my mother, we are very ignorant of the people, other than direct family, who are pictured. It's a shame, since now that we are finding more out about the families, we do not know if we actually have a photograph of a particular ancestor. The best thing about the photos, though, is that when I visited and "found" my grandmother's family still living in the farmhouse in which my grandmother was born, they had many of the same photos! The language-barrier, though, prevented me from pursuing the exact names and relationships of the people.
So, a very important part of your research and recording of your family history must be to talk to the older family members and friends NOW and find out as much as you can, before it is too late. Try to organize your family files and include correspondence and research logs so as not to retrace your steps in the future. But most importantly, have FUN!
So, happy hunting!
Check out Linnea's Web Site with Genealogy information for Annville, Lebanon Co. PA
Note: This is a reprint from the February 1997 issue of, "The Legacy Magazine," a division of US Legacies.com
Copyright 1997 The Legacy Magazine
All rights reserved, Unauthorized reproduction in any manner is strictly prohibited
without the prior permission of
"The Legacy Magazine" or Linnea Miller