Start With the Living

by Christine Sievers

Now that you have found the direction of where you will be starting your research, it is time to start gathering all the documentation. The first record you should include is a birth certificate, yours. Make a copy of it to put in your genealogy files. Take a close look at it, and you will find how helpful birth certificates of ancestors can be. The information included varies from state to state, era to era. Mine includes, among the usual statistics, where I was born, the place of residence of my parents, their occupation, how many previous live births my mother had, and my mother's maiden name. There are a lot of clues in that document for future generations of genealogists. The maiden name of my mother is of particular importance, as that can sometimes be a difficult fact to find on your female ancestors.

If your parents and grandparents are still alive, now is the time to let them know about your endeavor to record the family history. Not everyone will be enthusiastic about your family research. Genealogists are delighted when they find skeletons in the closet (it makes for an interesting family history), but not all family members, especially older ones, may as keen as you are. Your probing for family stories needs to take this into consideration. It is important to put your relatives at ease, and with the right questions, you can glean a lot. Interviewing Mom and Grandma: Oral History Tips gives you some good ways to go about this. Then, Capturing the Past is a quick and easy primer for interviewing.

The important aspect about your interview is to have your relative become an ally in your research. You are going to ask if you can see their birth certificate, even better, make a copy of it. Remember to ask for permission and restrictions from any living relatives to share their information beyond yourself.

If you are successful with your interviews, you will have obtained your first family documentation, and some stories that will make your family history come alive. These stories will be the clues for further research. - Rumors, Gossip, and Little White Lies will show you how to approach these stories. Don't forget to record your own memories of important events. Using the question techniques you learned as an interviewer, you can spark your own memory and understand what future generations would like to know about your life.

Your next documents will be death certificates. Before you go on your search for these records, ask your older relatives if they have copies of their parents death certificates. Inheritance may have required them to obtain them at one time. They may have other documents in their possession that they may be willing to share- marriage certificates, baptismal, old letters, bibles and diaries.

Don't despair if they have very little in the way of documentation. They may know who does. If you have come to a brick wall among your relatives on these records, use any clues from your interviews to give you a direction. My next column on finding death certificates will talk about how to go about your search, because death certificates are the first document you should try to obtain on your dead ancestors.

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