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Genealogy: Your Family's Hometown

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Take with you the names, dates, and locations of your family members who resided in the county. Your goal is to find their birth dates, marriage dates, spouses, and death dates as starters. Stay alert for records that mention the churches they attended or their religion. (Knowing that, you can later determine if the church left records naming them.) A record showing where they were buried can supply you with leads. Each major event in their lives that has associated records can help identify their relatives and reveal snippets of their lives.

Your purpose is to find everything that could bear on your family. Nothing is too insignificant to note. Write down fully in your notes the day of your library trip, the name and address of the one you visited, and in which book or file you found the information so that you can find it again. In library holdings you might learn the following:

Tree Tips

Ask at the library for the name of the official county or city historian. They, too, can point you to local collections, and may even be the custodian of some of the records themselves.

  • Birth date and birthplace
  • Names of parents
  • Death dates and town or township
  • Marriage date, place, and spouse
  • Biography, possibly with photograph or pen sketch
  • Military service
  • Names and addresses of relatives and when they moved into the county or left the county.
  • Occupations of parents and relatives
  • Acreage owned by family members

You may initially be unable to locate something specific. Stick with it. As you learn more about the records, your success will increase. And with each success, your enthusiasm for the search will increase, too.

Shelves of Possibilities

After you start browsing the library shelves, you will begin to learn the many resources available. Books and finding aids of every description exist. Look for such things as these:

  • Old Settlers' files
  • Obituaries/necrology/funeral records
  • Tombstone surveys
  • Vertical family files
  • County histories and indexes
  • Published vital records
  • Published deeds, probate and court records
  • Scrapbooks
  • Gazetteers and atlases
  • Voting registers
  • City directories
  • School records
  • Artifacts and photographs

Old Settlers Remembered

Many counties have projects to preserve information on their earliest settlers in what are commonly called “Old Settlers' files.” These may consist of recollections of descendants, biographies, or even taped interviews. Examine them for any of the surnames of your family who resided in the county. Note also the name and address of anyone who submitted information; they may be alive or might have family members still living. Contact with them could yield some wonderful memorabilia. Just remember not to accept what is written as “fact” until you have verified it.

Genie Jargon

Necrology is a list of people who died within a certain time frame, or a collection of obituaries. You may find the collection so titled in the library.

Death Records

Many local libraries have indexed their early obituaries or established a necrology file. The content of the obituaries varies. Normally, those in smaller towns were more extensive than in larger cities. Check this file for members of your family. (See Obituaries and Genealogy.)

Genie Jargon

A vertical file is a collection of resource materials, usually pamphlets, letters, clippings, and others. It is normally arranged in manila folders and filed in alphabetical sequence by subject or name.

Vertical Files: Just Waiting to “Talk”!

As interest in genealogy intensifies, libraries receive letters of inquiry from all over the country. To preserve these, they often create “vertical files,” a set of folders stored in a filing cabinet usually by the family surname. Included may be letters, clippings, Bible records, photographs, research notes, charts, and others. These can yield new clues, and equally as important, may supply names of others seeking the family.



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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy © 2005 by Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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