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Your Family Tree #4: Document Everything

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Linda Roorda


As you begin your research, document everything, every step of the way.  Keep some paper files readily accessible, but enter data in a genealogy computer program; I have an older Family Tree Maker version.  I also have “tons” of file folders filled with family research data gleaned from online resources and reputable books, emails with fellow researchers, data from visits to or purchased from historical societies, cemetery data from personal trips, etc.  And then there’s the shoebox filled with several hundred census records on 4×6 index cards.  I also found it helpful to paperclip together each family’s successive census records.

As we’ve been discussing, the key is to seek documentation from reputable sources.  Try to clarify data accuracy yourself as even the best author makes a mistake.  I was very frustrated when the new editor for the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, who oversaw my McNeill article, rewrote part of my work and erred in what I had originally said – instead of asking me to rewrite.  Not being as familiar with the family as I was, she also tied some footnote documentation to the wrong facts, which I somehow overlooked in my final editing, necessitating a correction in a subsequent journal issue, making me look input.  I was not pleased, but kept my thoughts to myself.

As we said previously, it’s helpful to use a family history form, like these at Genealogy Search.   This website has numerous forms to record your data, including blank census forms.  When I first began dabbling in genealogy research, I didn’t have this resource available, or at least didn’t know where or how to find it.  I initially did everything the old-fashioned way by writing it all out on paper.  It wasn’t until I’d typed most family histories for my tome that I was introduced to Family Tree Maker, something which I highly recommend obtaining at the start.  It stores your data, connects extended family ties, tracks individuals and families, makes multiple descendancy charts from any progenitor, includes photos, and helps you make a nice family booklet.

To publish research as I did, you must prove new data (i.e. previously unpublished) or correct previously published data which you’ve proven is in error – both of which I did.  Every fact and every statement you make must be backed by solid documentation, with the source noted for each fact in a respective footnote.  If you make a habit of doing this right from the beginning of your research, you’ll at least prove your own lineage definitively without scrambling around for misplaced evidence.

Edit, edit and re-edit your story.  I cannot stress that enough.  Every so often I’d print out my research, using color-coded paperclips to track each family branch of one progenitor in said draft copy.  Focus on one ancestral line until it’s as complete as possible before moving on to the next line.  Believe me, it keeps you sane and less confused!  Back then, I had so many individual names and family ties in my head that I was a walking ancestral encyclopedia for a time… sharing a lot of early New Netherlands/New York history at the drop of a hat, and perhaps a bore to some listeners.

After gathering as much data as you can about known ancestors, a good place to start researching further is at Ancestry.com.  They have free 1880 census records available, but paying their annual subscription fee will provide access to a greater wealth of records.  As a member, at your fingertips will be census records from 1790-1940 (excluding the lost 1890 records), certain military records, city and national records, land records, international records, submitted family trees, baptisms, marriages, social security death index, phone book data, some books, etc.  These resources were vital to my research, thanks to the generosity of a distant cousin and dear friend, Mimi, who shared her Ancestry site with me.  You will also find family lineages posted at this website; but, be aware that submitted family data can definitely be incomplete and inaccurate as I also discovered.

Another good resource is Family Search, a free website by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Search this website for the free down-loadable Personal Ancestral File (PAF).  Their data includes 1880 census records, baptism and marriage records, death/cemetery records and submitted family data, etc.  Again, be cautious as not all data submitted by individuals is accurate.

Books and documents on microfilm can be ordered and viewed at a local LDS family history center.  Their resources can be invaluable as they include public records not readily available otherwise.  I used the Owego LDS church’s family history center, ordering several manuscripts/books on microfilm.  The editor for my McNeill article routinely flew to the main family history center in Salt Lake City, Utah to aid her editorial work, finding documentation from New Hampshire I had missed on prior researches.

Your local public library is also a great resource of interlibrary loans.  I cannot say enough about the helpful ladies at my local Spencer Library.  They ordered many genealogical and historical books for me.  These books included invaluable town and county backgrounds from New York and other states from their earliest beginnings, including generational documentation on early families.

Elmira’s Steele Library is among those in New York State which maintains a viable genealogical section, and I availed myself of their records for hours many Saturday mornings.  Their great collection includes the “New York Genealogical and Biographical Record”, the journal which published my articles, the “New England Genealogical Record”, early New York county history books, transcribed manuscripts of early New York City records, many family surname genealogy books, books on how and where to search, histories of family names and how they changed over the centuries, D.A.R. lists, and so much more.

Another resource is Cornell University’s library system.  My fear of getting on campus and finding my way around prohibited any attempt at investigating their tremendous genealogical and historical collection.  Most of their material is held in the Olin/Kroch building.  Use Cornell University’s Olin Library website as a guide for searching.   Bear in mind that, just as I was able to do, many of Cornell’s genealogical holdings may be ordered through your town library.

COMING NEXT – Brick walls…


"Homespun Ancestors is written by Linda Roorda. To see more, visit her site HERE

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