Find Your Ancestor

About Our Freedom is dedicated to providing resources and assistance to help you document your ancestor prior to 1876. This includes the following eras: Reconstruction, Emancipation, Civil War, and Slavery.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Documenting recent deaths

We expect a great many new researchers will be trying to identify more about Civil War ancestors with this February's theme being "African American's and the Civil War"  for Black History Month.  We hope to be a great support to those who are starting out fresh.  The blog posts on this site are being entered so that if you start with the first post, you will be able to make better sense of this process.

This journey can be quite exciting, and very easy to get off track.  I have started anew many times in my research, and I am happy to do so again on your behalf this time.  Those of you who have mastered the basics, just stay tuned.  We are heading toward sharing resources and ideas for identifying ancestors who lived during the Civil War and Reconstruction Eras.

After you have filled out a pedigree chart, you may look at the empty spaces where names should be and feel overwhelmed by it all.  Don't be.

Also, some advise to pick an ancestor that you want to learn more about the most.  I suggest you focus on the first person on one of your ancestors that is missing information like birth or death dates and places.  You will discover that as you locate records to fill in those details, you will find links to the missing folks the previous generation.  So, start with yourself and work out from there.

Documenting the death would be the most logical place to begin researching your ancestor. Be sure you have relied on original documents.  There are primary and secondary documents.  Primary documentation originated at the time of the event.  A birth certificate is a primary document.  The birth information on a death certificate is secondary documentation.

Primary documentation is more reliable than secondary, but sometimes secondary is all we have.  One of the most popular resources used for documenting recent deaths would be the Social Security Death Index.

Social Security Death Index at FamilySearch Internet

 Let's search for my grandfather, Emory W. Vance, who died in Ohio:

I entered basic information, his first and last name, and the state.  It is best not to put too much information in at first.  This way you are certain of bringing up the record if it is there.

Search for Emory Vance from Ohio

Search results:
Results for search:  Emory Vance of Ohio

Here is the information gleaned from the SSDI:
Social Security Death Index for Emory Vance of Ohio.

"This index is a master index file of deaths reported to the Social Security Administration. It has been kept since 1962, when operations were computerized. The index includes about 50 percent of deceased persons from 1962 to 1971 and about 85 percent of the deceased persons from 1972 to 2005. It also includes a few deaths from 1937 to 1961. As of 2005, the index contained 76 million death records." See FamilySearch Wiki: United States Social Security Death Index  to learn more.
Next time, we will cover more information that you can glean from the original Social Security application and how to access that information.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Who is the most neglected person on the tree?

Many of us drive right into research forever neglecting the easiest and most important person to document for future generations.  After all your efforts, just imagine your grandchildren one day scrounging around looking for records to document your life.  What significance is your research if you do not link the past to future generations?
Man in the Box, By Joe Shlabotnik

Remember to document the history of your life, and it won't hurt to pose for a few extra photos either!  You should also write an autobiography.  It may seem like a difficult task, but just get a box.  Put it in a place where it gets in the way.  Spend time putting everything that you come across about you into this box.

Next, categorize everything according to time periods in your life (birth, childhood, adolescence, teens, young adult, adult, senior).  Then identify the significant events that occurred in each time period.  Be sure you have gathered records and photos to document significant events.

Create an outline which includes each time period and significant event.  This outline will become a great help in writing your history.  Be sure to include the reasons why you made certain decisions, lessons learned, and how you felt along the way.

As you research your ancestors, you can share your experiences for future generations and help them appreciate certain ancestors you feel you are most like.  Be sure to touch on historical events and how they impacted your life (9/11, African American president, the economy, etc.).  Discuss how the world that you lived in is different from that of your forebears.  Include a description of the particular challenges that you face.  Share the hopes and dreams you have for your future posterity.

Gathering records and photos, organizing them, and creating you outline will help you find the inspiration to begin writing.  Set a goal to write a little at a time on a regular basis.  Take small bites toward writing a complete history of your life.  Your children and grandchildren will treasure it more than anything else. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Taking a look inside my research folders

Research Folder for George A. Tucker (1883-1932)

We began discussing the items that go into my research folders.  We have already mentioned that I use a the Resource Checklist to jog my memory about any items I may have in my possession or that a relative may share with me.  I make copies of all the original records and photographs and place them in the research folder.

I paste the CensusTools Genealogy Research Log to the inside of the folder to log the items that I have placed in it.  This helps me to be able to glance quickly at the items that should be in the folder, and I am able to know right away if I have found a record type already.  Remember that I mentioned that I create a folder for each person listed on a document, and I place a copy of the document into each person's folder.

Let's go over a few other items that I create for each folder.  I generate a Pedigree Chart and a Family Group Sheet for each individual that I research using a family history database.  These items are placed in the research folder and are easily accessible if I need to refer to information about a spouse, parent, children, or siblings.  If I am at the archives and my hunt for an ancestor turns up cold, I can quickly turn to researching the next obvious closely related person.  This has enabled me to make full use of my time.  I often spend an entire day at the archives where I am able to fully exhaust resources because of how well organized my research folders are.

I also really like the Biographical Outline at Family Tree Magazine.  They have many different free forms there to help you with organization. You can browse the different forms here.  I will be using several of them in articles forthcoming.  The Biographical Outline can be found under Basic Charts and Worksheets.
Basic Charts and Worksheets

I like to extract the events in my ancestor's life and record them here in the order that they occurred.  It is really important to have a visual when you are researching where you can refer to the time period and place where an event occurred.  If my ancestor moved around a lot, I still could easily identify when and where he went to school if it was previously recorded on the Biographical Outline.

It is really important to search systematically for documentation as well.  If you begin with the last event in an ancestor's life (burial usually) and move backward documenting events in order, it is much easier to locate documentation. Sometimes your sixth sense kicks in, and you can just about determine where to look for you ancestor or which records would be most helpful.  It is so much easier for someone else to help you if you are at the archives as well.

Armed with the above resources in your research folder, you can simply ask to know which resources are available to document your ancestor during a particular time and in a specific place.  Having asked that very same question often at my local archives, I always seem to learn about records that I did not know existed.
Research Trackers and Organizers

The Research Calendar, found under Research Trackers and Organizers, will help you keep track of the places you have looked for your ancestor and resources that you have discovered.  This is another form that I keep in the research folder.  After I began using the tracker, I stopped wasting time checking the same resource again, and I was even able look for more than one person at a time.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Where is the greatest arsenal of resources?

The greatest arsenal of resources are right within your reach.  They are the records and photographs in you own personal record vault at home. Outside of collecting oral history, this is the most neglected source.  Often we jump online or go toward outside resources too soon when we should gather everything that mentions a family member's name in our own home.

Ask extended family
We need to also consult our oldest living relatives for old obituaries, photographs, or old letters that they may have in their homes.  It is too great a challenge to just dive head first into online databases or archives without the foundation of oral history and personal documents to help you positively identify your ancestor.

How to start
Start simple.  Get a cardboard box,  Spend time gathering.  Place everything you find in the box.  Get manila folders.  Everyone has a preferred filing system.  What has worked the best for me has been to create a folder for each family member I find listed in a document.  If I find a document that lists more than one family member, I create a folder and make a copy of that document to place in each individual's folder.

Individual Folders
Putting individual records into individual folders.

Resource checklist

This is a great checklist of the type of resources that you may find at home or in the possession of an older  relative:
Family and Home Sources Checklist

If I was going to the home of a relative to conduct an oral history interview, I would mail a copy of the "Family and Home Sources Checklist" ahead of time.  I would ask the family member to look around for a few weeks to see if he or she could find any of the listed resources in his or her home.  I would ask them to gather them for me to review when I came to visit.

My experience

You never know who you may discover through extended family members.  I research every family member even if they are not directly related.  Because if this, I have gained so much knowledge about my ancestors.  I have had extended family share photographs that I would not have had.  I do not have photographs of some of my ancestors, so it is so wonderful to look into the faces of cousins and see resemblances.  The stories they have shared have included tidbits about our common ancestors as well.

You will find that the folders start to fill up nicely, and you are able to understand more about each person.  When I go to the archives or visit a family member, I just grab the folder of the individual I am researching.

Individual Folder

Research Log in pasted in folder of Ora Nelms (Foster)

This helps me to quickly identify the record types which I am gathering, and I can easily see what I am missing for each individual.  I try to collect everything I can on an individual especially if they are my ancestor or in the same family group as my ancestor.  I do this because it takes the guesswork out of who the end-of-the-line ancestor is connect to.  Usually, I connect to the next generation when I find a resource that mentions the person by name.  This method has helped me to identify many details and has keep me from duplicating my research. I do not have to wonder where I left off in my research.

In the next article, we will talk about Research Folders a little more and a few other records and logs you may include to be more efficient.

See also Gather Records and Photos on Hand

Previous Post:

Decide who you would like to trace

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Getting Started: Decide who you would like to trace

Are you curious about ancestors who lived during slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, or Emancipation?  Does you family have any oral history about this ancestor?  You will want to record and extract the details of those stories.  You may find them very useful very soon.  In my own research, the oral history interviews that I conducted and preserved have provided important clues.  I have been led to land records, census records, voter's records from 1868, Senate testimonies, wills, adoption records from the 1870's, and much more.  I will share my successes, and I hope you will be comfortable in doing the same. 

This is a great overview from FamilySearch that will remind you of the places where you can find information when you get started:

The Oral History Interview:

I found this tree in a beautiful park not far from my house. It's branches reach so far out, and they are very close to the ground. I could not walk under them. I wondered what this tree would say if it could talk.

My thoughts turned to the people in our lives who have been around long enough to give a perspective on life which we could find useful. They can help us to understand a bit more about who we are and what life is all about.

We just need to stop long enough to ask the right questions and listen. I have been very fortunate to have been able to formally interview a few such people. I have been able to find clues which helped me to discover the names and whereabouts of ancestors. I have also been blessed to discover how much I have in common with my forbears. Every time I get stuck in my research, I find someone to interview. I ask about names, dates, and places, but I also let the person I interview tell their stories. I record and transcribe these interviews because I find myself referring to them many times.

Even when my subject insists he or she does not remember much, they eventually are able to recall important details sometimes days later. If you do not know where to start or even why you should start, interviewing your oldest living relatives is the first and most important step. Remember that even second interviews have been successful in uncovering more information.

Need help with what to ask? Visit the following site:
50 Questions For Family History Interviews
See "The Oral History Interview."

You will find resources and helpful tips here on this journey.  If you have not done so already, fill out a pedigree chart.  Do not worry about what you do not know already.

Resource from

The next step would be to choose an ancestor who you would like to learn more about.  Fill out two Family Group Sheets, one with that ancestor as a child and one with him/her as a parent:

Family Group Sheet
What a great way to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the war that brought freedom! Next, we will discuss the greatest arsenal for finding resources to help you trace your ancestor.  Please share this resource with others who want to research an ancestor and do not know where to start.

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