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Genealogy Center: How to Begin

Where To Start

Beginning your family history search can often be a fun and rewarding experience. Researching family history is becoming a popular pursuit as more and more people discover how to locate information about their family and connect with others who are also researching their family.

The best place to start your family history search is at home. Take inventory of things that might be of use to you. For example, you might have copies of birth or death certificates or marriage licenses. These documents will help you determine names, dates and places of important events in your family's history.

As a general rule, start with known information and go backwards to unknown information. This is why most researchers are encouraged to start with themselves and work backwards. As you work with known information, you will be able to discover what facts you actually know and what information you need to locate.

One helpful tool is a family tree or pedigree chart. These charts function as worksheets allowing you to start with yourself and record birth, marriage and death information about your family. Most of these charts extend out for 5 or 6 generations allowing you to discover basic information about your ancestors.

As you begin to fill out the pedigree chart, you might want to talk with older members of your family. These family members may be able to assist you with specific information about earlier generations. For example, a grandmother might be able to tell you where her mother or father is buried.

The Genealogy Center offers beginning classes. Local genealogy societies offer classes and advice as well. There are also books and videos available on how to start your family research. These books and videos will be able to answer questions and provide information that will be of help as you begin your research.

There are many genealogy Web sites on the Internet. Researchers are turning to the Internet as more and more information becomes available online. The Internet also allows them to connect  and share more easily with others working on the same family lines. A word of caution, however, concerning genealogy on the Internet. Not everything on the Internet is documented. Anyone can put anything on the Internet. Use caution when you discover useful information. Compare it with other sources, and check for documentation. Attempt to prove every fact for yourself.

Researchers will not be able to locate everything they need on the Internet. Many records are located in legal depositories and will not be available online. Plan to conduct most of your research in libraries, archives and courthouses. These depositories will house the documents and information that will not only help you locate your ancestors, but will contain actual documentation that can prove when and where your ancestor lived.

The Tulsa City-County Library's Genealogy Center will be able to help locate books and other information that will be of help to you. Many libraries are able to order books from other libraries through their interlibrary loan programs.

Types of Records

Genealogists use many types of records in their research. These records were usually created by local, state, or federal agencies for purposes other than genealogy. However, most of the records are available to researchers. The records will be located in offices administered by the issuing agency.

For example, birth and death records are issued by the state in which the birth or death occurred. By knowing an ancestor's birth or death date, a researcher can contact the state vital records office and request a birth or death certificate for an ancestor.

Using local records, a researcher may be able to locate important information on an ancestor. Local records include newspapers, church records, cemetery records and courthouse records. County courthouses are rich in records of interest to a genealogist. These include marriage and divorce records, land and tax records, will and probates, and court records. These records will be indexed by name and records can usually be copied. Other sources for local records will be public libraries and genealogical societies. They will have old newspapers, city directories and county histories. Library staff and society members will be able to assist researchers and answer questions.

Each state maintains a vital records office and a state archives. Vital records usually consist of birth and death records. Check with the state office for dates when registration of the certificates began. State archives maintain documents that cover state history and events. Examples of state documents include military records, historical documents, state newspapers, state land records, etc. Some state archives may contain photograph collections and oral history interviews. A number of state archives maintain a Web page listing their holdings, research policies and other useful information.

The largest collection of records exists on the federal level. These records, created by federal agencies are popular with researchers. Some federal records of interest include census records, military records and immigration records.

One of the most popular records used for genealogical research is federal census records. The federal census has been taken every 10 years since 1790. The census was taken by state and then by county for the states existing at the time the census was taken. Indexes to the census exist in book form from 1790-1870. These indexes are an alphabetical listing of heads of households. All published censuses (1790-1940) are indexed online.  Between the years 1790-1840, only the names of heads of households appear on the census. Starting in 1850, all names of family members are recorded.

There is a 72 year privacy law in effect for federal census records. Therefore, the latest census available for research is the 1940 census.

Using federal immigration records, it is possible for a researcher to locate their immigrant ancestor. Immigration information was recorded on the 1900, 1910 and 1920 censuses. Researchers can use this information to help locate their ancestor's passenger list and naturalization records. Earlier censuses listed place of birth. This information will help identify the immigrant ancestor and his/her country of origin.

The National Archives contains passenger ship lists for ships entering the United States. A researcher will need to know the date of arrival and port of entry to be able to locate a passenger ship list. Some ports of entry have been indexed. No index exists for the port of New York between the years 1847-1896. Locating these records can prove challenging, but they can be found.

Many immigrants became naturalized citizens after living in the US for a number of years. Naturalization records will be located in county courthouses before 1906. In 1906, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization was created. After that date, naturalization records will be located in federal courthouses. Immigrants applying for naturalization had to record the date they arrived in the US and the name of the port of entry. This information should be helpful in locating a passenger ship list.  For more information,  visit the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services site.

The National Archives also maintains military records for soldiers from all US wars starting with the Revolutionary War. They maintain both service and pension records for each soldier. For the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, bounty land was given to some soldiers in lieu of a pension. These records are also available at the archives. By knowing the state from which the soldier served and his unit, records can be copied by the archives. Some of these records are also available online only at the Genealogy Center through the subscription databases, Heritage Quest and Fold3.

Records relating to Confederate pensions will be located at the state archives in the state where the pension application was made. These applications could be made by the widow of the soldier, if he was deceased or by the children of the soldier if both the soldier and widow were deceased. Most Confederate states did not pay pensions to their soldiers until after 1900.

Using local, state, and federal records, beginning researchers can locate useful information on their ancestors and discover new and interesting facts about their family.