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# Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Doing Genealogy Almost From Scratch
Posted by Diane

Q. Both parents and my grandparents are deceased, and I know little about either parent’s family. I tried to get vital records and was only able to able to find my father’s death certificate in New Jersey. I know the street where the family lived in Philadelphia some time ago and I believe I have an aunt living somewhere in Pennsylvania. Do you have any ideas for how to approach my research?

A. You don’t have a whole lot information to start with, but you can learn more. First, sit down and make a timeline with everything you know about your family, even if it doesn’t seem genealogically important—names, dates and places of birth and death, jobs, high school, residence, vacations, etc. They’re all clues.

Include any of the family members (such as your aunt) you do know of. If you don’t recall the dates associated with an event, make your best guest or create a separate list. Use the information on your timeline to help you find these records:
  • Marriage records: Request your parents’ marriage license and certificate from the county clerk where they were married, or look for it on Family History Library microfilm (run a place search of the city or county where they married). Rent the library’s microfilm by visiting a local Family History Center.
  • Censuses: Search each family member whose name you know in every available census during his or her lifetime. You can use HeritageQuest Online or Ancestry Library Edition at libraries that offer these services; use Ancestry.com ($155.40 per year) at home; or check microfilm at a National Archives and Records Administration facility, large public libraries or a family history center.
  • Old telephone books and city directories: Larger local libraries often have these listings of residents going back years. You may be able to search by name or address, and you’ll see where the person lived and his or her occupation.
  • Deeds: If you know a person’s name and address, you can request his deed records (assuming he was a property owner). In general, they’re at county courthouses. You can search Philadelphia historical deeds and other records at the city archives, which has an excellent Web site explaining its holdings.
  • Death records: Since you know when and where your father died, look for a will and/or probate records in court archives. (The September 2008 Family Tree Magazine has a guide to finding will and probate records.) Search local newspapers for an obituary, and look for cemetery and funeral home records, too.
  • Military records: Was your dad or grandfather the right age to have fought in any wars? Records of 20th century wars aren’t as readily available as prior conflicts, but you can find WWI draft registration cards (which covered virtually every man of age between 1914 and 1917) on Ancestry.com (or use Ancestry Library edition) and WWII enlistment records on the National Archives’ Access to Archival Databases site.
  • Newspapers: Run a name search in newspaper indexes such as NewsBank (available through many libraries)or GenealogyBank ($69.95 per year, a monthly rate also is available). You might find birth and marriage announcements, graduation notices, obituaries, articles about school activities—you never know.
  • High school yearbooks: If you can find out where a family member went to school, look for yearbooks. Some local libraries have them for the area, or contact the school the person attended.
Research names of people who come up in your search, even if it’s not clear they’re related—you might find clues about your parents.

Explore the collections at state archives in places where your family lived (click here for the Pennsylvania archives’ site). I’d also suggest reading a how-to genealogy book, such as Unpuzzling Your Past, 4th edition, by Emily Anne Croom (Family Tree Books, $18.99). It’ll show you where to look for basic records and give you strategies for solving genealogical problems.


genealogy basics
Tuesday, July 22, 2008 9:56:19 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
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