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Genealogy: Finding Your Roots

Beginning Your Research

So you want to research your family's history?

While this guide contains a list of sources and information, it is not an exhaustive list so you will still have to do some searching on your own. Additionally, here are some things to keep in mind before you set off on your journey:

  • Take account of the resources available to you. Not all public libraries will have the same resources available to their patrons--it is important to explore what resources your local library card can get you access to. Additionally, your local community may have a genealogical society. Your local library and Google will be your best friends for finding what is available to you.
  • Gather as much information as you can before you start. This will give you a sense of what information gaps you have. Information gathering may take the form of talking to relatives, going through photograph albums or old letters, and locating past genealogy work. You want to piece to piece together as much of the story as possible before setting off so that you aren't repeating work.
  • Come up with a list of questions you have to guide your journey. This can help you shape your search and keep it from being overwhelming at the start. For example, if you have a particular branch of the family you want to focus on, you might make that be what your frames your questions.

Now, as you set off on your search, keep in mind that you may run into road blocks along the way. When you encounter these, you can always reach out for help from your local librarian or your local genealogist.

Creating a Family Tree

It can be really useful to make a family tree to map out what information you have and what gaps you need to fill in. You can do this on a sheet of paper or on the computer. You don't necessarily need to use fancy software to create your family tree, but you find

During this process, here are some things you will want to keep in mind:

  • Maiden Names versus Married Names - Women often changed their names when they married so you will want to keep track of both the name that a woman had prior to her marriage as well as the name that she used after her marriage. Similarly, if she divorced, you will want to note if she continued to use her husband's last name or reverted back to her maiden name.
  • Birthdates - These can be very helpful in separating people who share names in the same family tree. For example, when you need to separate two John Smiths, knowing that one is born in 1960 and one is born in 1890

Unearthing Difficult Stories

During the research process, you may find yourself uncovering information that had previously been considered a "family secret," purposefully hidden by a relative, or forgotten to time. This information may be difficult to process for you and/or your family.

Even if you do not ascribe the same weight to these events as other relatives do, it is important to be empathetic. Morals, societal expectations, and consequences have changed through the decades and what is socially acceptable today was not always so and the stigmas attached to these events carried a heavier weight then which impacted people's choices.