Genealogy Research Services
We believe our ancestors want to be found, as much as we want to find them.

Self-Help Tips On Family Tree Creating And Ancestor Searches

Jump to anywhere on this page:
        ~ Ideas if you are just beginning
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Prove the information with documents
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Hitting walls and why they might be there
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Review your family tree periodically
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Finding Grandpa forms
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Software samples
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Website links


 Are you just starting out?
        If you are just beginning your family tree, there are three basic steps: gathering data; creating the tree in some type of software; and searching for records and sources to prove what you have.

        If you like, you can use any of the forms on this page to gather your data, using one sheet per family group.  (If you need more room for children, use another sheet and just number the pages "1" and "2", etc.)  Fill in as much information as you know, even if it's only "died in England" or "born about 1872".  Pass the forms to your relatives, to glean any tid-bits of information they might know that you don't.  Scan photographs and old letters or postcards and documents that you have, and ask your relatives to do the same.  Check any family bibles for written information in the leaves, or newspaper clippings that might have been tucked in the pages.  Jot down notes and stories from family lore, which are often solid clues on where to search.

        In whatever software you choose, you should always start with yourself, and go back through time with your family.  Find a software program that fits your needs the best, either maintained on a website online or solely used on your home computer.  The genealogy software for use on your computer can be found for free by downloading from the internet, or you can purchase the software packages either using internet downloads or CD's.  Some examples of software are noted below.  Enter the data that you have gathered and make notes like "Per Aunt Sally, Jan. 2013" or "Per letter in possession of Mark Smith, Sep. 2012".  Make notes on conflicting information, as well, like "Possible death date of 1924 is per Aunt Sally; death date of 1926 was per conversation with mom in 1983".

        Track whole family groups through time using census records to verify (or narrow down) those birth years and birth locations, as well as, to see if other relatives were living with your direct line at some point.  By keeping your research to just your direct line, you are in essence putting blinders on.  Families quite often stayed together, and by tracking that sibling or cousin, you may find clues as to where the family lived overseas.


 Why you should prove it to yourself:
        While your goal should be to document your sources, and have copies of as many records as you can find for your family, keep in mind that there are various degrees of accuracy.  Every document or record created is only as good as: the information given to the document creator at that moment in history; the information written correctly (meaning that the person speaking said one thing and the person writing it down wrote another thing); the information that was transcribed by others. We are all human and we all make mistakes.  Sometimes our ancestors lied on purpose, for example, either to get into America, or to get into a world war because they were afraid of rejection.  Another example is the earlier in a person's life that a document was created, the more likely it is to be the most accurate.

        Whenever possible, it is critical for you to be able to see the original documents or records yourself.  You can not trust a transcriber's interpretation of the spelling of your family name, or the numbers in their ages.  For example a transcriber might have interpreted a last name as "Rose" when it was actually "Ross", or interpreted an age as "54" when it was actually "59", or they may have left out the birth state or country that was shown in the original image.

        Using all the various documents and records available for your missing grandpa, and viewing them all as a whole package, is the only way to put his life together as a complete unit.  One census record from 1880 is not enough evidence to prove that he arrived in America in 1876, but 2 census records and an obituary might do the trick. Only then can you really start hunting for him prior to 1876.

        Another area to find clues on your grandpa is online family trees, found at various websites.  However, I suggest never trust the other trees without first trying to prove that the information in those trees is accurate.  I use other online trees for clues, but I have to prove the data somehow, and will often contact the tree creator and ask questions on how they came up with their information.  People who are doing their own genealogy research will often give their distant relatives all the data that they have found.


 Hitting walls:
        There are many reasons why there are walls.  Sometimes it is as simple as looking in the wrong place.  I once helped a man, who I met by chance, who spent weeks looking in County Cork, Ireland, for his grandmother to no avail.  After about 10 minutes of looking, I found a 1910 census record for the family.  It showed she was born in Wisconsin, but her parents were born in Ireland.  He didn't realize the importance of a census record and how it can help find information on the family.  Another example is, if you're missing grandpa happened to move in with one of his granddaughters who lived in Nebraska, after his wife passed away in Wisconsin, then you've got to search where the granddaughter was living and not just search in Wisconsin for him.  Follow the whole family, not just your direct lines.
        
        Sometimes there literally are no records any more because of fires, floods or wars.  If records are not available online or have not been microfilmed, you might not have the means to travel to the cities or towns to view them on site.  Death record information is often supplied by relatives who might not know where grandpa was born exactly or who his parents were, or might have only known that his mother was "Mary".  This misinformation is carried into the newspaper obituaries and onto grave markers.

        If your ancestors lied about their ages, you might have a hard time finding them.  For example my great grandmother lied about her age because she was 5 years older than her husband.  Another example is my great grandfather lied about his age to get into the NYPD back in 1880 because he was too young.  These relatives carried that lie to their graves, in fear of being found out and reprimanded somehow by their employers, friends, and family I suppose.  The most common area of age issues, besides incorrect census records, is the WWI draft registration cards.  I found that most men who have conflicting birth years have changed their year of birth so that they could get into the war in the first wave of registrations.


 Do you already have a family tree created?
        You also want to make sure that the direct link between you and your missing grandpa is proven.  Review how you got your information, and determine its accuracy.  For example, did you get his birth year from one census record or was it from someone else's online tree?  Try to start from scratch with him again.  Coming back to a person, after a period of time has elapsed, will sometimes give you a fresh look and you will have new ideas on where to search.  A time delay might also allow another database to be uploaded to the internet.

        If you have an Ancestry.com family tree, there are two areas that cause big issues: Clones and "Living" people.  
Periodically go through your listing of all names, to verify that you don't have any clones (duplicate people sometimes created in your tree by merging other family trees to your tree, or by merging records to a family group.)  If you have clones, you need to be careful on which person to delete.  You don't want links to their parents and siblings lost, and you don't want to loose any records that you've already attached to the clone.  You'll need to verify which person is the clone, and which person is the real McCoy.  I can offer ideas on the best way to clean your tree if you spot clones.  

        Also pay attention to the people in your tree that are still living.  Ancestry.com does not automatically default a person to "living" status (preventing the whole world from seeing their full names, birth dates and birth locations).  Review your tree to make sure they are marked as "living", by seeing that word in the "death" fields on a person's profile page.  If you need to correct it, click the "edit this person" tab and select the correct box, then save your changes.


 Finding Grandpa Forms:
        These helpful tools can be freely distributed and used for your personal research.  The Individual Family Group Sheets have two pages, and are available in Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and PDF formats.  If you need assistance either opening or saving them, please email me.

        To print:  Click on the links, which will open in a new window on your browser, and print them.  You can then scan and email the completed forms to me.

        To save:  Right click on link, select "save target as", and choose a name/number series for its title.  For example: VanDyke1, VanDyke2, etc.  This will allow one form to be saved for each family, as well as, allow you to edit the forms individually.


 Some genealogy software links:
            
FamilySearch.org
            Legacy Family Tree.com
            Ancestry.com


 Links to some websites that I use often:
            
Family Search.org
            Ancestry.com
            Find A Grave.com
            Google.com
            US Gen Web.org
            
        Ireland sites
            
National Archives.ie - Census Database
            Ask About Ireland.ie - Griffith Valuation Index
            Ireland Reaching Out.com
            Roots Ireland.ie
            Irish Graveyards.ie

        Netherland sites
            
Digital Resources Netherlands and Belgium.net
            Trace Your Dutch Roots.com

        Newspaper sites
            
Chronicling America.loc.gov
            Old Fulton Postcards.com
            Newspaper Archive.com
            News Library - Newsbank.com


        If you are interested in a particular country, and need some ideas on websites available, please email me.  I will gladly poke around to see what's out there, and email you the links that I find.  There will be no charge for this, since it truly will only take a few minutes of my time.  The whole point of this website is to help people find their grandpa!


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