Monday, September 05, 2005

Finding Your Ancestors in Census Records

Exactly how many children did Great Aunt Martha have? What year did Grandma and Grandpa get married? What did Great Grandpa do for a living?

All these questions, and more, can be answered by using census records. I am going to specifically speak on the U.S. Federal Census Records. There are many websites that have U.S. Federal Census records available for you to search. Some do it for a fee while others are free. You can also find census records at Family History Centers (operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), the public library, genealogical libraries and archives. Again, some of these places are free while others charge a small fee to use the facility or order microfilms.

There is a great Beginners Guide to the US Federal Censuses on the Tennessee GenWeb. It has a ton of useful information and a chapter on each census taken. This also gives some history and background information about each census.

When I sit down to do research in a census, I like to print off a blank census form from that year. I do it from my genealogy software program, Family Tree Legends. They have a section of 'Blank Forms' that you can print off and every census year is accounted for. It is a lot nicer than the way I used to keep track of what I found! I used to just make my own little chart on a blank piece of paper. This way is much more effecient and organized.

My two favorite websites for census research are Heritage Quest, which I get free from my public library website, and Ancestry, this is a subscription based site but you can use it for free at many public libraries and Family History Centers. The 1880 census is also available for free at FamilySearch. There have been many times when I can find an ancestor at one of these sites but not the others. This is because different people do the data entry from the microfilms. Sometimes the entry maker does a terrible job of spelling the name. So always check more than one site. If you find a name that had been indexed wrong, make a note on your paper of the mistake so you can always find it again (and tell other relatives how to find it). Searchable indexes are so much faster than trying to go through a census page by page. But you will often have to try many variations of name spelling to find the right person. I have never had much luck with the Soundex search, but do try it. This is a search for names that sound like the name you are searching. I have much better luck with typing in variations myself. Don't be afraid to play around and try several different searches. Sometimes the search I think is the most ridiculous is the one with the best results. If you can't find the family by searching the fathers name, try the mothers or a childs. A lot of genealogy research depends upon experimentation. If searching these indexed census records doesn't work you'll have to begin scrolling through the microfilms!

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Using Photos in Your Famiy History

When putting together your family history don't forget to include photos. We've all heard the saying "A pictures worth a thousand words." Photos of our ancestors are priceless. Now you might be thinking that you don't have any ancestral photos. Even if you don't chances are someone in your family does.

With todays technology there is really no reason that everyone in a family can't have a copies of all the ancestral photos. There are several options.

The photos can be scanned onto disks and given to each family member. This is my favorite choice. There are several advantages to the scan method. The photos will always be available. New disks can be burned at any time for new found relatives or if one is lost or destroyed. Copies can be printed off by each family member when they have the time and means to do it. You can make pictures any size and turn color photos to black & white. The list goes on. I also believe this is the most economical choice. It does take time to scan and label the pictures, but you will be so happy you did!

Pictures can also be taken to any store with a photo kiosk and prints can be made for everyone. This is by far the most costly idea. You would also have to take the time to go through each photo and label it. This idea is great if you only have a few photos to share and a few people to share them with.

Now you could also take all the pictures to a colored copy place and make colored copies with several on a sheet and label the paper as you go. This can be relatively fast and inexpensive, however the quality and longevity of the copies will not be very good.

I hope I have convinced you all to scan your photos and make them available to all your relatives. Family reunions and get togethers are the perfect opportunity to share these precious photos. I have been able to do it and it is very rewarding.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Are We Related?!?

I was just thinking that I should post my surnames here so my distant cousins can find me. You can also visit my family tree at There you can search my tree for common ancestors. I love GenCircles and highly recommend it to help you find distant cousins and clues to research. Anyway, here are some of my main surnames.

Pemberton, Westerterp, Baker, Murray, Kidwell, Gant, Bouwhuis, Robinson, Bosscheiter, Newman, Killian.

I have spent most of my time researching my husbands line. Here is a list of his surnames.

Anderson (Clausen), Sinamark (Sondermark), Mikisek, Nemec, Christiansen, Michelsen, Diedrichsen, Reisner, Rehwinkel, Mercer, Streepy, DeWitt (Witt), Current, Stanclift (Stancliff).

Jay T Gant and wife Ethel May Robinson with children Frank and Arlene. Spring/Summer 1922 Posted by Picasa

Getting Started

The most important thing to do when beginning your family history is to gather the information you already have around your home. Everyone had birth, marriage and death certificates available for themselves and immidiate family members. Gather these together in one location, like your desk, file cabinet or a document box.
You will also need a Family Group Sheet and a Pedigree Chart. These are readily available to print of the Internet or at a Family History Center in your area. You can even download the Personal Ancestral File (PAF) software for free from The PAF program allows you to print blank Family Group Sheets and Pedigree Charts. These sheets and charts are essential for anyone who wants to research their family history!
Now that you have your family records gathered together, use the dates and information on them to fill in the blank spaces on your Family Group Sheet and Pedigree Chart. Don't forget to record where the dates and other informaition came from! If another relative looked at your chart they would want to know where you got your info from.
Always start with yourself and work your way back to your parents, then to your grandparents, etc. Some people try to start with a fameous person from the 1800's and prove they are related. That will only get you frustrated and just doesn't work.
Once you have exhausted all the records at your own house you need to ask your parents or other living relatives for the information they have. Find out if there is a member in your family already doing genealogy and get in touch with them. Do NOT rely on the information from other peoples memories! Ask for records and documentation that you can then look up to PROVE the information they have shared. I have gotten plenty of misinformation from relatives. Whether the information is correct or not it gives you a great place to begin your research. Think of it as a clue in a mystery you are trying to solve.
This should be enough to get you started. Gather those records and start filling out your charts!