Tips, Tricks, Hints,
Remember there is no sure fire way to find your family members, whether you are looking for your relative born in 1700 or for your Birth Family.
But, we hope to give you some helpful ways that we and others have found that elusive family member.
OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS:
Your best source of information will be other family members. You may have some you haven't talked to in years, or have never talked to at all. Now, is the time to get out the family address book and start making calls or writing letters. You'll be surprised to find out who else in the family is doing the same thing you are. I found tons of papers from family members I'd only ever heard mention of. I've now met them, and have a great relationship with them. If they are doing research, they will love to know someone else is, too.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT THE OBVIOUS
Sometimes we can get so caught up in looking that we truely forget the obvious. If you know your grandfather's name and about when he was born or died. Look for him in the social security death index. If he was born after about 1890, he may have had a number. If he did, you can file for his application. It will give you his place of birth, his parents names (mother's maiden), then you can get the birth certificate (if he was born after about 1910), that too, will give you lots of information. If you know when and where he died (again after about 1910) File for his death certificate. Lots of info there as well.
Another great source of information is obituaries. That's right, most of the time an obit will include such information as parents, siblings, and decendents. If you are looking for a living person, and find the obit of a deceased relative, you may find out Ann's married name and where she is living now (or was at the time of the relative's passing). If you are looking for other decendents, you'll see where that relative was born and when, which may help you to find them in a census for that time frame.
MORE ON ALL THESE RECORDS BELOW
These are a great source of information, but not always 100% accurate. Many times names were misspelled, or family members left out. No one had to verify there name or age for the census taker. If they weren't home, sometimes information was given by the neighbors, and if they didn't read or write well, the name may not be spelled correctly. We were looking for Wasson's and found them under Waren. Also, they may have used initials instead of full names. If you can't find William George Smith, try looking for W.G. Smith. When searching the census by name, if exact match doesn't work try the soundex, if that doesn't work, make up your own spellings of the name you're looking for. You might find it.
Another thing to keep in mind, most families usually lived close to other family members. If you are looking for great grandpa Jones, and find him on page 1, don't stop, check a few more pages, you just might find his in-laws, or another brother, or his parents. One county census can end up being a gold mine of information about the entire family.
ANCESTRY.COM OR OTHER FAMILY TREE SITES
Now, these are great sources of information, as long as you remember a few things.
1) The best way to use the information you get off these trees is a source of guesses. ALWAYS verify all the information you get. Sometimes people will get information from one tree from another, if the first tree had errors, they will get passed on. Try to find the ones that give sources, and check those sources. If nothing else, it will give you the paper work to back up what you say.
2). Try emailing the person that put up the tree. Ask them how they fit into your tree, and where they got their info. If they email is no good, then really look at the information and the dates and see if you can figure out what sources they used.
3) The main thing is don't automatically assume what you see is what you get. People are human and errors happen. If you see an error, it is fine to let the person know just make sure you give them your source information to verify what you are saying, and don't get upset with them. They took the time to put it up to try to help others. Make sure to give them that credit.
PAPERWORK, PAPERWORK, PAPERWORK
Don't forget to document ALL your work. Even your notes about people you aren't sure of. Ancestry and other sites have several free forms to help you keep your records straight. I find the family group sheets are great for keeping families straight. Keep all your notes on certain surnames together. Then when you get a line figured out. get it all set up in ancestor sheets and family group sheets, and that will make easy access for other people you will find to see if they match that line. Keep track of places you have looked for information and what you found there. Then you'll remember later, if that is a place to go back to. I have files, and files, of notes, family sheets partially filled out, etc. They are filed in one box, and my semi-finished ones (I say that because are you ever really finished with a line?) in a folder easily accessable. Makes it much easier when I find a possible lead to either match it, or disprove it.
Looking for an obit in Calilfornia, but you live in New York? Check the web, there are several volunteers that do live in California (or any of the other 49 states) that would be willing to look it up for you. Most of the time all they ask is you do at least one local lookup for someone else. They are quite helpful, and I've seen where they will do obit lookups, headstone pics, and several other things for you.
DON'T GET STUCK ON THE MAIN TREE
Remember that women change their names when they marry but men don't. An obvious thing to say? Well, think of this. You're looking for grandma Ethel, but don't know her husband's first name, but you know she had a brother named Charles. Find Charles, his name won't change and he'll be easier to find. His decendents, might know who Grandma married. And there you go, you've branched out on the tree, and made it back to the main tree trunk. This process works for other searches as well, the men are always easier to track. Even if you are looking for a living relative. Find the brother and you can usually find the sister even without knowing what her last name is now.
These boards are extremely popular. You can post by surname, state, county and even city. You'd surprised at how much information others are putting up, or asking about that you may know. I found a great relative with all the information on one line of my family in a message board. He even sent me all the hard paper copies of wills, deeds, and more. We talk all the time now, and it's wonderful. The main thing is make sure to post properly. A post like: I'm looking for information on N.B. Smith will not get you a lot of results. Be as specific as you can: I'm looking for information on N.B. Smith born 1-10-1852 in Tennessee, he moved to Ark and changed his name. Am trying to find what his birth name really is. He married Francis Pearlee Thompson in Daisy, Ok and had we think 11 children. This gives more information so I know if their N.B. Smith was born N.B. Smith, they are not looking for the one I have in my line. But, I have one I heard changed his name and left Tennessee and was born about the same time, it might be worth checking into. The more specific you are the more chance you are to get a response. There are millions of people doing the same research you are, and you're likely to find lots of cousins with the right information.
BIRTH, DEATH, AND MARRIAGE RECORDS
These are now becoming so easy to find online. You might not get the actual record online, but you can usually find an index of names for almost any year in almost any state. Once found in an index, you can send to that state for the actual record. Death and Birth records usually run at the most $10.00. Marriage records vary by state. Remember though, these records were usually not kept at courthouses until after the early 1900's in most states. Some states do have records in the late 1800's so it's worth checking out. These records can be a great source of information, or at least they can give you the paper records to back up your information.
Death records can be misleading, if the next of kin giving the information didn't really know and guessed at it. Unfortunately this did happen. So, on a death record, you may need to do more investigating.
One of the best sources of information, and one of the most overlooked. But again, be careful, not always 100% accurate. Information was given by whoever they could get it from. Could have been next of kin that knew it all, or next of kin that guessed a lot. So, once you get the information, use it to investigate further. Most newspapers are now on microfilm. Sometimes they are indexed sometimes not, but think about the last obit you looked at. You got the person's parents names, their siblings names, their children's names, who passed before them and what state and/or city their survivor's live in. Depending on whether you are looking for deceased relatives or living ones, the obit can provide LOTS of information. Obituaries were sometimes printed in papers before death certificates were even issued. There are several old newspaper sites on the internet, plus the library usually carries all old papers for their city/county/state.
SOCIAL SECURITY APPLICATIONS
Did your mother know her grandfather but doesn't know anymore? And there is no one else who seems to know? Check to see if Grandpa had a social security number. If he did, you can find him in the social security death index. For $27.00 if you know for sure it's him, $29.00 if you need them to search a little for you, you can get a copy of the application he filled out to get his ssn. He would have had to put the following information down to get his ssn:
His name, place of residence, where he works and who for, father's name, mother's name (maiden). If you can't find a birth certificate to give you this information, you can get it off the application. Then you'll have another generation of grandparents to start searching.
These are usually housed in the state archives. Where census records can help you keep track every 10 years, these directories can help fill in missing years. They are almost like our current phone books. They list by head of household, so you can sometimes get narrowed down the year the male spouse died if you find the female as head of household in a certain year. They can also lead to you church records, they show you where the person worked, and where they lived, which might help find them in a census if you're looking in one that isn't indexed, or their name might be spelled wrong in , you'll have an idea of the enumeration district to check in. Some of these directories can be found online but, again check with your state archives or library to see where they are in your state.
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