She was a beautiful, young Irish maid, working in a wealthy English household. Her employer’s oldest son fell in love with her. When he announced intentions to marry her, his parents said they would disown him. He married her anyway. Then, bride and groom ran away to live happily ever after. “Her name was Mary Cordial,” my maternal grandmother Marilyn Matilda Dietz told me, that distinct glimmer of pleasure in her eyes—the one she always had when she retold this story. “And you are her legacy.”

This blog is a resource for those who want to--have to--find out more about who they came from.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Where To Begin?


If you want to begin researching your lineage, here are a few simple steps to help you get started.

First, buy a notebook with a good binding. A school “black marble” notebook works, as do the fancier perfect-bound journals sold in bookstores. Write GENEALOGY on the cover, plus the last names you plan to research. This will help you differentiate when you have more than one notebook (I have four now.)

Next, talk to family members. I’ll bet you know your grandmothers’ maiden names, but you don’t know your great grandmothers’. Mom and Dad can supply this info, and if they’re no longer with us, their siblings will be able to provide the information. Ask if anyone knows of a family historian, as one probably exists. Most of these are willing to share the information because—let’s face it—there’s a specific and very small demographic interested in your particular family research. Ask them what they know and offer to share information.

Write down everything you can learn about your grandparents, great-grandparents and so forth in your GENEALOGY notebook. No detail is unimportant. You’ll be surprised how tidbits about hobbies, careers, relocations and so forth will aid you in your research.

Then, try the free genealogy websites like FamilySearch.org. See if you can find your relatives in the databases there. Keep in mind that user-submitted information can be and often is incorrect. For example, I found my Thomas Bullock married to a Jane McBride—definitely the wrong person—but the location in Brooklyn and the children matched perfectly; apparently, someone found Thomas in the 1880 Census, assumed he was the same one married to their Jane McBride, and submitted the information as correct when it was anything but that. (You know what happens when one assumes—and if you don’t, you should watch “Odd Couple” TV show reruns to find out.)

NOTE: You will need to confirm the information you find out in some secondary way before you can begin believing it’s accurate. Never assume.

You might want to start a trial subscription with a genealogical research site like Ancestry.com, where you can access census records. When searching the census, work backwards. Find your grandparents in 1930, then 1920, then 1910 and on into the past. You may find them living with their parents (your great grandparents), and then their parents living with their parents (your great-great grandparents) in the 1800s, and maybe even those great-greats living with their parents, your great-great-great grandparents. (How cool is that? Very, no?)

Where possible, order supporting documentation. If you find out that your great-great grandfather died in Brooklyn in 1934, order his death certificate from the NYC Municipal Archives (it can be done online). This document will likely give you his date of birth, maybe even the place of birth, as well as the names of his parents and their birthplaces. Ordering a woman’s death certificate will often yield her maiden name.

Keep your supporting documents in a special place. I started off with a folder; now I use a binder with plastic sleeves, so I won’t have to hole-punch anything.

Once you’ve confirmed the information you’ve found is correct, search for the new family you’ve found, looking for new leads. You’ll be stunned and pleased by how far back you can get, and how quickly.

Have fun searching! It’s very addictive, but it’s also very rewarding.

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