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Basics of Research: Step 3 - Family Records Are The Best!

"Please do not let his whereabouts be known for good reasons…" the note said, quoted in the roughly copied four-page journal of my great grandfather, a copy given to me by a family member.


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"Please do not let his whereabouts be known for good reasons…" the note said, quoted in the roughly copied four-page journal of my great grandfather, a copy given to me by a family member. The note led me to interview other family members. Had I not asked for any and all materials from all family members and been willing to interview people, I would never have known my great grandfather had kidnapped his own son.

The third step in genealogical research is to collect all family and home sources from any and all family members, even the most unlikely. And document them. No repository will have the kinds of records on your family that your family will have. Surprisingly, some researchers skip this all-important step and go right to the Internet.

It takes effort and trustworthiness to get family members to give up their artifacts and documents, even though photocopying makes sharing easier. This means that anything you are given or allowed to photocopy needs to be thoroughly identified right there on the scene where the giver can see his or her name on the back. The materials should be preserved in archival quality folders from the beginning. Once family members see you care about what they have shared with you, more materials will be made available to you.

Then you must ask, and ask and ask for family materials. After requesting family information for years, I was proofreading the final blue pages of our family history, when I received a large envelope containing photocopies of a Wadsworth record book. Included in the book were descriptions of family members. They were all redheads. In none of the many interviews we had done, had anyone mentioned the whole family was redheaded.

Sometimes people are reluctant to give up their family information because they have family secrets they want kept secret. I ran into such a secret while writing the family history. I found only one much older relative who knew what it was, and he completely stonewalled. Bless his heart; he died without revealing the secret.

And sometimes relatives just don't think what they have is important; they don't know what you are looking for. So it is important to kindly, gently educate them. Family records come in four categories: original, compiled, created and found.

The first category consists of original items such as letters; diaries and journals; ledgers; scrapbooks; deeds; citizenship papers; family Bibles and record books; birth, marriage and death records, announcements and invitations; church records; awards and citations; educational and occupational notices such as work bulletins and report cards.

Compilations of materials comprise the second category: obituaries and other newspaper articles; family group sheets and pedigree charts; published histories; unpublished manuscripts, yearbooks. A 1908 Free family reunion program that included all descendants of A P Free as well as his known ancestors is the starting point of all free family research.

The third category consists of primary sources created by you and other family members, such as oral histories and group interviews. Family newsletters and websites fall into this category. The Wadsworth book started with a four-page journal and ended up 434 pages long. Much of that additional information came from oral interviews by committee members.

Artifacts make up the final category of home and family sources. Artifacts can reveal facts about ancestors no amount of writing can duplicate. For example, here are glasses worn by great grandpa. There are intricate whatnots carved by a great uncle. Here is a plate that survived the trek West in 1857. Pictures, clothing, recipes, tools, toys, medals, all tell much about the owners and their times.

Throughout all the other genealogy research steps, continually request family information. You will have to go to relatives' homes to get most of it, but each family member may lead you to another. After a while, you will become known as the family historian and people will send family records to you.

Other Articles in the Series:

Step 1: Genealogy Can Be A Cheap Hobby
Step 2: Documentation Saves Pedigrees
Step 4: Survey Sets Up Research
Step 5: How Many Marys Did David Merry Marry?
Step 6: Genealogy Detecting
Step 7: Publish Or All Your Research May Perish
Step 8: Evaluate and Decide

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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