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.

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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     I actively promote useful social networking and genealogy resources. I currently am building communities and assisting others on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Plus.  I am a regular presenter at genealogical societies, libraries, and family history centers. Visit my website to learn more.

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