<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Genealogy for RVers
NOTE: While this is designated as an ARCHIVE FILE, it is retained despite the date of first publication because it offers information of continuing current interest and/or for its historical perspective. Please be guided accordingly.



Subject: Family History Research...Tracking down your Deadfolks

Instructor: Joan Taylor

This is genealogy presented in an entirely different way -- discovering the personalities of one's ancestors in addition to learning their names. For me, this was a new, and absolutely fascinating concept of genealogy.

How to get started? Begin with yourself. Write down everything you know about yourself and your family. Talk to your family -- cousins, aunts, grandmothers, etc. about their recollections. (You may find several versions of the same family story!) Look for records of ancestors in your home or your relatives' homes. Does anyone have old letters, diaries, photos, etc.? If a story involves someone still living, collect, verify and document that story, but respect that person's privacy. Be prepared for what you may find.

Read a "how to" book. No matter how excited you are about getting started on your search, learning the basics first will save you hours of time in the long run. Don't go too far too fast.

Learn about your local area resources. Focus on local collections first, and then consider other resources. Start your formal research with the U.S. census. We were cautioned not to use the most recent census (1930), as it has not yet been fully indexed, and unless you know the street address of a relative, you will likely have little success. Things will be easier if you start with the 1920 census. Don't assume accuracy, when people are involved, errors and omissions do occur. Early census takers were often semi-literate, and their spelling was imaginative. If no one was home, the house often wasn't even counted! Before 1850, only the head of the household was counted, his wife and children were considered chattel, and their names unimportant.

It's important to be organized. Date your work. If you use abbreviations, make sure to use ones you'll understand when it comes time to transcribe your notes. Cite sources and document your material. Keep hard copies of all emails you get and those you send, and keep copies of all other correspondence. Update your data on your computer as soon as possible after finding new information, or you may forget you had it. Back up your data.

Some research places don't allow the use of pens (people have been known to write in research books), so make sure you have pencils with you. Some places have banned the use of "Post-It" notes and flags, so be prepared to mark pertinent places with non-adhesive markers. Put your name, address phone number and email address on all your notebooks.

Libraries and resource collections include county historical societies, public and state libraries and National Archives. Local branches of the main library in Salt Lake City is an excellent source. One does not have to be a member of the church to use LDS resources.

In the U.S., records were usually kept at the county level, so you will need to know the county where your ancestor lived. County names have been changed over time; an ancestor may never have moved from his home, but the county name will be different. Knowing when "new" counties were formed and from which county they were formed is essential.

Vital statistics, especially birth and death, were inconsistently recorded, and often the provider of the information was inaccurate. The one transaction that was most consistently recorded was a land transaction; if your ancestor owned land, you will have an easier time "tracking him down". These records can be found at the county level, so you will need to know his county of residence.

How about using the web to assist in research? Joan stressed that web databases should be used in addition to and not as substitutes for original research. Misinformation can and does occur, usually the result of careless research, ignoring the necessity of checking the original record whenever possible or documenting sources before passing on results. Many pros have discontinued using the web for research because there are so many mistakes. If you are sharing your information with other researchers, don't automatically accept online (or any) data as accurate without working back to the original document iwhenever you can.

Used with caution, the web can provide incredible opportunities for genealogy research. One of the biggest advantages may not be convenient access to information, but connecting with "cousins" -- other people researching the same lines as yourself. You may meet these persons on line, and also in person when you travel to other states or cities to do research.

While a computer will not do your research for you, it makes data organization faster and easier. Joan provided the class an extensive list of web sites -- on-web tutorials for beginning researchers which offer reliable information for beginners. Family Tree Maker, Family Origins and Legacy are three of the best basic programs. Cyndi's List is extremely well organized, easy to use and frequently updated. Site resources are massive, comprehensive and virtually all-inclusive. Use the web sites with free stuff first, before you decide to buy.

Message boards (bulletin board forums), mailing lists, groups which communicate via email, and newsgroups, public message boards on just about every possible topic, are other areas where you can get research information. Just remember that, while the web is fantastic to browse, it must be kept in perspective, and information that you cannot check yourself is undocumented and should be marked as such.

Combining travel and research is easier RVers in pursuit of "deadfolks", but certain pre-trip preparation will make your research more enjoyable and productive. Among the tips Joan gave us were: 1.Locate a place to stay. Cities can be difficult to navigate if you have no toad. 2. Make a list of just which ancestors you're looking for in a particular area, and just where, (local library? County seat?). 3. Organize and update before you go and as soon as you get home. 4. Verify the days and hours the research facility is open, what sort of records it has, and are they accessible to researchers. 5. Bring only what you will need to research the particular individual or family.

Before I took this course, I thought of genealogy as a series of "begats", a dry listing of names on a chart. This course taught me how wrong that notion was. I look forward to tracking down my "deadfolks" one day soon.