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Exploring First Family Certificates

If you ancestors were among those early settlers in virtually any part of the United States, they may qualify for a Pioneer or First Family Certificate, in the state or county where they settled. First Family certificates are a marvelous way to document and share with your children and grandchildren, the stories of these hardy souls.


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Not very many people in my family are interested in actual genealogy research, but they all love the stories. So compiling and sharing the stories of of your ancestors is a great way to connect with family and preserve a record for future generations -- you don't know how long it might be before someone is interested enough to dig into your research and extract all the stories.

And if you need motivation or a place to start, consider looking into your research for a family that qualifies for a Pioneer or First Family Certificate. Many genealogical societies, in the interest of better documenting the history of an area, offer Pioneer or First Family Certificates for those with ancestors, typically a direct-line descendant, who lived in an area in its earliest days. And it isn't an overwhelming undertaking.

For example, I have Texas ancestry on both sides of my family, dating way back. In those days, migrating to Texas was so common that back home, the only notice was a simple message left on doors and fence posts, "G.T.T" -- Gone to Texas. One branch of my family filed on a land grant in 1842; that family qualifies for several of the Texas State Genealogical Society Certificate Programs, among them the "Gone to Texas Pioneer Certificate" and the coveted, "Texas First Families Certificate." What we don't quality for is the "Descendants Of Texas Rangers Certificate" -- I have yet to find a Texas Ranger in my history. In addition to those defined by state, several counties also offer certificates, as do other, more specialized societies such as the Texas Scottish Heritage Society.

Similar to joining a heritage association, applicants are required to prove their ancestor was in the area within the period specified. To see what certificates are available that might apply to your ancestry, you might want to check the respective state and county genealogical societies, and you may also want to check Cyndi's List, which lists many. Once you find a certificate of interest, you will also want to see if your ancestor or family of interest has already been documented -- the names are often posted on the Society's website.

In addition to just being fun, the benefits of acquiring a First Family Certificate are many.

  1. Provides focus. Researchers can sometimes feel overwhelmed, trying to go in too many directions at once, rather than focusing on a single research objective, with a firm goal in mind. The First Family Certificate provides that focus, just select family that you believe meets the certificate requirements and then set out to prove them.

  2. Offers opportunities learn. With a firm objective in mind, you have the opportunity of exploring new sources, discovering new facts and networking to accomplish your goal.

  3. Encourages documentation. Documenting research is one of those things that is easy to procrastinate, especially when considering your research as a whole. Documenting for a certificate application helps you take it one step at a time, making it more do-able.

  4. Lends credibility. Given the nature of the task, the completed First Family Certificate demonstrates personal accomplishment and can speak to your credibility as a researcher.

  5. Provides benefit to others. In addition to the benefit of sharing it with your own family, First Family Certificates become a matter of record that can benefit others, as well. First Family lineages are often published in book form by the Society. An added benefit is that the record becomes a concrete backup for your research on a that family.
And if all of that isn't reason enough, the First Family Certificate is nice to display and offers an interesting conversation piece for visitors. And because it's a tangible thing, and carrying some weight of authority, the certificate provides opportunities for teaching your children and grandchildren more about history, making it more relevant as told through the life and experience of their very own ancestors. It can become an heirloom, passed on from generation to generation. It could also make a meaningful gift, if you were to do the work on behalf of a parent or one of your children. And what makes the pioneer certificate especially meaningful is that it allows us to honor those ancestors, just everyday folks who forged the way in this country.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2012.

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

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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