• The Center for African American Genealogical Research, Inc.

genealogy 101

It is important to note that no matter how much time and money you spend on your research, unless you are organized, you will frustrate yourself and your opportunity for finding the truth about your family. Leave those tiny slips of paper alone and get software to help you keep track of which branches actually have leaves and which ones do not. There are a good number of quality Family Tree software companies who will allow you to download their software for free. Take advantage of the opportunity and get started today!

There are seven easy steps to being your research:

Step One: Start With Yourself--

Identify what you already know. Start with yourself and work backward in time by filling in as much information as you can, by memory, on a Pedigree Chart. You will need to know the full name (including maiden names for women) and d Dates & locations for birth, death and marriage.

Step Two: Gather Family Information--

  • Gather your records (Birth, Marriage, Deeds, etc.).
  • Interview Interview immediate family members; compare your memories with those of your siblings, parents, cousins, grandparents, etc.
  • Ask when and where things happened to get an understanding of "place" and "time"- remember, location is key in genealogical research.
  • Record Record the information you get from these interviews.
  • Fill in a Family Group Sheet to organize your ancestors according to marriages.

Step Three: Contact Your Relatives--

  • For relatives who live in other states, start with a phone call and follow up with a letter
  • If relatives live nearby, make plans to visit at their convenience. Ask for permission to record the conversation or to use videotape prior to interview.

Step Four: Write for Copies of Records--

  • Birth, Death, Marriage, Divorce
  • Courthouse Information
  • Land/Probate Deeds, Conveyances, Affidavit of Heirship, Guardianship
  • Tax Records (includes slave information)
  • Voter Registration
  • Social Security Administration

Step Five: Follow Up On Death Record Clues--

  • Legal name of descendant
  • Marital status
  • Parent(s) Names(s)
  • Date and place of birth and death
  • Who verified death?
  • Funeral Home that handled remains
  • Cemetery
  • Verification of social security number

Step Six: Search the Census--

  • Federal Census Records are taken every ten years and are available from 1790 thru 1930. Some local and state census records are also available depending upon the venue.
  • Census records contain: name, age, race, occupation, house number, occupants, literacy, military experience, home/farm ownership, value of property, neighbors and much more.
  • Begin searching with the name of a person you know who would have been included in the 1930 census.
  • If you have trouble finding the person, look for siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. Most families lived only a few doors from each other.

Step Seven: Search at the State and County Level--

  • In many cases, state and local records are the best sources for finding information. For example, many jurisdictions completed census records annually in addition to the 10 year Federal Census.
  • Records also include voter registration cards, tax information (this is important for slavery research), land grants, deeds, wills and probate, some vital records, cemetery listings and transcriptions, criminal and civil proceedings, etc.
  • Most states have an Archives Office that each county routinely sends information to. This is done to free space at the local level as well as to preserve the history of each locale.



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