The siblings were not
born in 1880, so that census would do no good and by
1910, they were probably not living with their parents.
The 1890 census was 99% destroyed and for all practical
purposes, does not exist. Learning what is available on
each census is a basic bit of knowledge for genealogists.
2. International Genealogical
The IGI is the
world's largest genealogical database with births and
marriages of over 300 million people worldwide. What
makes it so valuable is that it is derived from primary
sources. Information from the birth/marriage records of
many U.S. counties and European churches has been
extracted to the IGI. It also contains unverified
information sent in by individuals, but you can easily
tell which is extracted and which is submitted. This
information is available free of charge at any LDS Family
History Center as well as many public libraries.
The Mormons (Latter
Day Saints) are interested in genealogy for religious
reasons but you don't have to be Mormon to take advantage
of their work. They have amassed an incredible collection
of records from all over the world. These records are on
one and a half million rolls of microfilm and are housed
in a giant library in Salt Lake City. If you can't get to
Salt Lake, they maintain branch libraries known as Family
History Centers where you can rent the microfilms for a
few dollars each. I can't imagine doing genealogy without
using this resource.
Grandma and the rest
of your older relatives should be where you start. The
biggest regret family historians voice is that they
didn't ask questions when they could. Since you always
start from what you know and work back from there, you'll
take what you learn from Grandma to make family group
sheets and pedigree charts.
Next, you'll probably
want to write to the county courthouses to get vital
records (birth, marriage, death) of all the people on
your pedigree chart. The National Archives, home of the
census and important immigration and military
information, is probably your next stop. Then you'll want
to explore all the goodies at the Mormon library and on
4. Determine where
the town is located and how boundaries have changed over
Whether you are
searching in Elk Garden, Virginia or Vörstetten,
Germany, knowing the location is vital to being able to
do your research. And not only do you need to know where
a place is now, you need to know where it was
when your ancestors were there. Since for the US, the
county is the keeper of many of the records, knowing how
county boundaries have changed tells you where to look
for the records of your ancestors.
Other parts of the
world have their own "genealogy of place."
German records, for example are mostly kept at the local
level. Kingdoms, duchies, and states all changed
boundaries over time.
Having names and
dates without places is useless and does not tell you
anything about the lives of your ancestors. Whenever I
see a "genealogy" on the Internet with just
names and dates, I click the Back button. The people
listed may be related but I have no way of knowing.
5. Died without a
Before you spend your
time and money climbing your family tree, learn the terms
used by genealogists so that you can communicate with
others. Find a book at your local library or a site on the Internet that discusses the
principles of genealogy and these basics concepts:
Primary vs. secondary evidence
Record groups: census, vital, military, church,
probate, land, immigration
construct a query
6. First cousin once
what families are made of, so be sure you know the terms
used to define a family. And don't think a fifth cousin
is too distant to care about -- you'll want to know all
the branches of your family and you'll meet many of them
7. 8 May 1904
Always use a 4-digit
year -- the year 2000 problem is nothing new to
genealogists! Put the day before the month, as they do in
most countries. Spelling out the month helps avoid
There are conventions and standards used by genealogist.
Learn how names, dates, and places -- the basic building
blocks of genealogy -- are written before you start
entering the information on charts or in your computer.
8. None of the above
Always use a woman's
maiden name. If you don't know a person's name, don't
substitute another one.
Some other name and place conventions are:
Do not use titles
such as Mrs., Dr., Jr., III, or Esq. in a person's name.
They are relative terms and not part of their name.
Write US places as city, county, state. Since the county
is vital to doing US genealogy, don't leave it out. Look
it up if you don't know it. There are standard
conventions for other countries as well.
9. 1 - 2 - 3- 4
The baptismal record,
recorded at the time the event occurred in the most
reliable. In general, the closer the record to the event,
the more reliable. Another consideration is who supplied
the information. The census information was probably
given by a parent but could have been given by a neighbor
or a child. Keep in mind that if it had been the 1840
census instead of the 1850, no names other than for the
head of household are given and other family members are
just "hash marks" under sex/age range columns.
Information on a death record is usually filled in by
someone who was not present at the birth and so birth
information is second-hand information. Unless the family
history book includes sources, the information in it can
be considered merely clues for you to research. Same for
undocumented information you find on the Internet.
Surnames were used
long before they were commonly recorded. You will
probably not be able to trace back to when surnames were
first used. (There are some exceptions, for example the
early Dutch in America.) So how your ancestors got the
name will not help you find them.
Before this century, spelling was not important, most
people could not write, and foreign names were mangled or
contorted. Over the many years since your ancestors first
started using a surname, it could have changed in ways
you could not know. For these reasons, saying something
like, "Our Elliotts have always spelled it with two
L's and two T's" may mean you'll miss some important
And don't forget that the surname you have is not the
surname of all your ancestors. It is, in fact, your least
reliable line, but often the one pursued most vigorously
by men (yes, men) who are newcomers to genealogy.