Southern California Genealogical Society

Beginning Genealogy - Part 2.
By Pat Parish

You need documentation for each fact you have stated on your pedigree chart and family group sheet. Start collecting birth, marriage and death certificates for each person. Make a note on the family group sheet of what documentation you have and where you got it. This is called ‘citing your sources’ and should be done with every piece of information you collect. If the source is written in a book, give the name of the book, the author, publisher and page number. You should have taken a photocopy of the source, but write it down anyway. And write down where the source was found – which library or court house, which microfilm number etc.

Once you have gone backward in time with what you or your family can remember, you start the real detective work. Here is when the where question or journalism comes into play. Most records of interest to a genealogist are found at the county level, so you must know what county your ancestor lived in when each event took place. Sometimes you even need to know what city or town they lived in. This is where the US Census can help.

The census has been taken every 10 years since 1790 and is kept private for a period of 72 years. The latest census available to be viewed by the public is 1930. With the exception of the 1890 which was destroyed due to damage during a fire in 1921, and the loss of some of the early census returns for whole states and/or counties, all of the United States census returns up to and including 1930 have been microfilmed and are available to be viewed by the public.

The LDS church has copies of all the microfilms. The LA Public Library downtown has many of them. The National Archives in Laguna Nigel has all of them. And, there are some Internet websites that offer them. The libraries are free – the websites are not. and both offer images of the census pages, but will charge you about $100.00 per year to see them.

Whether you use a library or the Internet, find your ancestors in the 1930 census. Record all information just as it is written. CAVIT: Everything may not be correct! Census takers made mistakes! Use the information recorded on the census as clues to lead you to where you might find the truth. Pay attention to where and when the census was taken. You know your ancestor lived in that place on the day the census taker was there. That is where you can start your search for documentation of the events in their life. If they have children over the age of 10, look for them in the 1920 and so on.

The census going back as far as 1850 is extremely helpful since it lists the names of every person in the household. Prior to 1850, only the heads of household was named with the number of children in various age groups recorded.

Always take a few moments to check a few census pages before and a few after your ancestor is listed. You may find other relatives living near by.

Think of what kind of documentation there could be for each type of event and search for all of them.

  1. Birth information could be recorded by the county recorder, in a bible record, in a church baptism or in a newspaper announcement.
  2. Marriage information could also be recorded by the county recorder, bible, church or newspaper.
  3. Death information was not usually recorded, as such, by a county recorder, but if there is a will, that would be recorded. Bibles, obituaries, cemetery records might be available.
  4. If your ancestor owned land, there would be deeds – both when they bought mortgaged and sold.
  5. There could be records of court proceedings if anyone sued or was sued.
  6. If your ancestor has a Social Security number, get a copy of their original application. One of the questions asked was the parent’s names, including the mother’s maiden name.
  7. Wills often named all living children and grandchildren, giving daughter’s married names.
  8. Deeds of sale might mention the wife’s name since she had to agree to the sale.

Learn what documents are available for the time period you need and what they might contain. Learn the history and customs for the time and place you are researching. That could tell you how old someone might have been when he or she got married and a timeframe in which to search.

Do not be too rigid in your searching. Realize that names could have been spelled many different ways and still be the same family. Research all members of every family. What may not have been written about your ancestor may have been recorded about his or her sibling and since they had the same parents, that information also applies to your ancestor.

Use the internet wisely. DO NOT believe anything you see. Use the information as clues to help you search. Sometimes people repeat what they believe to be facts and perpetuate false information. Unless someone has documented their sources, they have only given you clues. You must go after the truth yourself.

One of the best uses for the Internet is to find others researching the same family. Use message boards to post your queries and read those of others. Get on surname lists and keep asking questions of those on the list. Maybe you will connect with cousins who have done some of the work and you can share and collaborate.

Happy hunting.



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Los Angeles Area Resources

The Final Goodbye - Obituary Search Tips

Beginning Genealogy -Part 1
Beginning Genealogy -Part 2

Getting Started #1: First Things First

Getting Started #2: Organization

Getting Started #3: Vital Records Are Vital

Getting Started #4: Census Records

Getting Started #5: Correspondence

Getting Started: Hispanic Research

Point of View: Easy Does It-But Do It!

Point of View: It's Never Too Late for a Timeline

Point of View: The Hurrieder I Go

Point of View: State Censuses Fill the Gaps

Put It In Writing: Holiday Memories

Refresher Course: Archivists and Genealogists    

DNA Testing - Researching Outside the BOX!

Civilian Conservation Corps Records

Techniques and Tips - The Search for Free African American Ancestors

Techniques and Tips: African American Research Resources

Techniques and Tips: In Praise of Probate

Researching Dutch Ancestors

Back to Basics: Libraries: Pure Gold!

Back to Basics: Join the PERSI Generation

Back to Basics: Home and Family--That's Where It Starts

Back to Basics: Look for Other American Censuses

Back to Basics: Naturalization Research Can Pay

Back to Basics: There's a Clue Somewhere (Immigration)

Back to Basics: WPA Historical Records Survey

Back to Basics: Criminal Records

Back to Basics: Using a Research Log

Back to Basics: What's on Your Desk?

Were They Quaker? Shaker? Jewish? Mennonite? Baptist?

There's More to Family History...Than Names, Dates and Places

A Musical Legacy

Telling Your Story with Photos

Finding Anne-Marie

Back to Basics: City Directories

Local Resources - LA as Subject

Problem Solvers: Using newspapers effectively as a source for passenger arrival and departure lists

Norwegian Research

Federal Passport Applications

Taking a Second Look

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