Tag Archives: Cemeteries

Beginning Principles: Important Records

If you are a beginner, you might not have a good idea of all of the different types of records one can find for their ancestors. As you gain experience, take classes, read blogs and books, watch webinars, and so on, you will gain a greater knowledge of some of the details you can really find. However, let’s start with some of the basics.

  • Vital Records – These include birth, marriage, and death records. What a beginner might not know is that they are a construct of the 1900s for the most part, especially what we think of now as a “birth certificate” or a “death certificate.” Those were not required by states until the early 1900s. And even then, it took quite some time for various counties to become completely compliant with those laws. However, you may get lucky and find births and deaths registered even earlier depending on the time and place. I do a lot of Wood County, Ohio research. They have birth and death records back into the 1870s. Baptism records will be found if your ancestors were members of a church that conducted infant baptism AND recorded those baptisms. Marriage records, on the other hand, have been recorded for quite some time, this is one record type that you will find going back to the 1600s in the U.S. not only in civil records, but also in church records.
  • Census Records – These are quite possibly the best record for quickly putting together family groups, and sometimes, several generations. Federal census records began with the U.S. Constitution. The first federal census was conducted in 1790 and every 10 years thereafter. However, not all survive. What most beginners don’t know is that nearly the entire 1890 census was lost in a fire. Only a few scraps remain. Some states conducted state censuses usually on the years ending in ‘5’ and only for a time.
  • Newspapers – And in particular, obituaries, are one of the best records for getting started with your family history. Obituaries usually give a good biographical sketch of an ancestor, who he/she married, who their children were, who their parents were, etc. Other newspaper articles are helpful too. Items in the “gossip column” or “social news” section can pin family members down in a time and place. If something bad happened, an accident or intentional event, that usually made the front page.
  • Cemeteries – Tombstones and cemetery records are quite useful in tracking down ancestors. When I first started, Find A Grave was only about famous people. I did a lot of cemetery visiting across the U.S. Now, I don’t have to (though I still like to) since Find A Grave has expanded to try to catalog all burial in the world.

These are some of the “basics” when it comes to records for the beginning genealogist. I will discuss some of the more “advanced” records to be found next week.

Preparing for a Research Trip – Involving Family Members

My son Ethan helped to find an elusive tombstone. Photo by Cari A. Taplin
My son Ethan helped to find an elusive tombstone. Photo by Cari A. Taplin

I am a mom with two children still at home. When I began this genealogy journey my son was just 5 months old. He’s almost 13 now and my daughter is 10. Sometimes it’s a challenge to get them to be involved and not grumpy when the car takes a side trip to visit a cemetery or library. When I take a research trip to Wood County, Ohio I am usually there to visit my family and often our trips are too short. I like to combine the research with the visiting to maximize the time we have together: “Hey grandma, let’s go to the cemetery and you can tell me about your great-grandparents and their families.” Taking your family along on research expeditions can be a fun way to get them talking about your ancestors and getting them more interested in what you are doing.

I’m not above bribery. When I take my children to a cemetery I offer them a small fee (25¢ for even looking) and a prize for who finds the tombstone (50¢). It motivates them and makes it easier for me to have little energetic legs tromping around the cemetery. My son is especially good at finding the tombstones. I don’t know how many times I’ve taken him to the cemetery, given him the name we are looking for and he’s off in a flash, zig-zag across the cemetery. In no time at all I hear “found it!” sometimes even before I’ve had a chance to get started! (By the way, he is for hire.)

With the older family members it is sometimes just nice to get them out of the house and to a place they probably haven’t been in a long time. My grandma especially likes to drive around out in the country reminiscing about times gone by, who lived on which farm, who she went to school with, and the fun (and not so fun) times she had. My dad seems to like the thrill of the chase, like finding items on a scavenger hunt. If you have reluctant relatives, you might offer to buy them lunch if they come along.

Combine your research trips with visiting with relatives. Take notes (well, not if you are the one driving) or record conversations on your phone or with a digital recorder. Or have an able person in the car take notes while you’re driving. At any rate, conversation will tend to revolve around what you are looking for. Memories will be triggered when you are looking for Great-Aunt Martha’s grave. You’ll want to be sure to get those memories down on paper.

Involving your family members in your research jaunts can be very rewarding and fun. It might give you the opportunity to connect with some relatives you don’t get to see very often. Whatever you do have fun and enjoy the journey!