You've now started a basic genealogy. If you need a review on the first steps, go back and review. Or perhaps you'd like a bit more information on organizing your research.
Up to now, you've talked to your family members, and organized your preliminary research. It's time to learn a little bit more about sources.
Primary & Secondary Resources
Not all research sources are created equal. Original documents, such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, church records, census records, military records or legal documents are usually referred to as "primary" sources. Diaries and journals are also good primary sources. Primary sources are items created close to the time the event occurred.
Primary sources are your most reliable clues to your family's history.
Secondary sources are usually compilations published based upon original sources. Things like published family histories, compilations of records (i.e. a for a county or a state), or cemetery transcriptions. These types of records are most useful as hints or clues toward further research.
In either case, the key is documentation.
Identify your sources to save you time, and assist researchers who might come after you. Documentation provides credibility to your work, making your efforts much more valuable. In genealogy, every fact needs at least one citation.
Of course, you're probably sitting there saying, "That's great, but, what do sources have to do with my next steps?"
The answer? Everything.
Anything that comes now is detective work. And detective work requires you know your sources.
So, take a look at your research. What gaps are there in the "story" of your family? Maybe someone was unsure about a fact, so you need to verify it. Or maybe there are family mysteries no one's ever researched or discussed. Which of these gaps are you most curious about? Follow your curiosity.
But, where to look?
One of the first places you should start is with the census records. These can be accessed online or through libraries and research centers. U.S. Government Federal records center have all census records from 1790-1920. These can be searched for your grandparents and great grandparents. These will tell you where your family lived.
Knowing where your family lived forms the basis of your next searches, where you hunt for family history documents such as obituaries, tax records, land records and wills.
Send for copies of vital records (birth, death, and marriage records) for those relatives you know or find. These records usually have names of mother and father, or other surviving relatives.
Family History Centers (FHC), operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) are a great source of primary resources. They are located nationwide, so there is likely one near you. These are outlets of the Family History Library (FHL) which houses the world's largest collection of genealogical information. If the center near you doesn't have the records you are looking for, they will order them from the FHL for a small fee.
As genealogy research becomes more popular, many libraries are building their own family history sections. Look for special collections at your local library. If you are in Colorado, the main branch of the Denver Public Library has an excellent genealogy collection.
Other resources to track down include Social Security records (beginning in 1935) and military records (available through the National Archives).
You may find unexpected resources on the internet from genealogy sites, including people who are researching the same lines of surnames that you are. You may be able to share information.
Remember to be considerate of your relatives and their privacy in the course of your research. Be cautious about sharing information about living family members, and don't share the information without their approval. Also, be respectful of fellow researchers or family members that are unwilling to share information with you.
You may consider joining your local genealogy club or Historical Society. These groups can be very helpful in your research. They may also offer classes in research, which might provide you with other avenues to explore.
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