Family Tree Search
Basics of Searching for Your Family Tree
As a brief summary of your family tree search, let's talk about the "how to" and then the presentation of your findings. Many people are content to use the information provided by others to complete their genealogy, and much of this information is accurate - especially if it is documented. However, if it is not documented, then this type of family tree search is deemed to come from secondary sources. Sources that fall into this category are such things as indexes, folk tales, compiled family histories, narratives, personal histories etc. The term "secondary" is used because the information was not written down at or near the time the event occurred. Inaccuracies are likely to abound in secondary sources.
Primary sources are those that were written close to the time of the event, and preferably by someone with first-hand knowledge. Data sources such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, church records of christenings and burials, land deed records, wills etc. fall into this category, and are much more likely to be accurate sources of names, dates and places. Even censuses, although compiled by an outsider, were made up of information usually given by someone with intimate knowledge of your ancestors while they were still alive.
Many web sites are available to assist you in your search for your family tree. Some merely give you indexes or transcriptions, while others allow you to view original documents. Footnote.com prides itself on using original records. Familysearch.org allows you to access secondary sources, for the most part, although they have partnered with The Generations Network to allow users to view some original census records and are making more original records available. Ancestry.com combines both. Be aware when you are using anything that is indexed (this is what has been done if you are requested to enter the person's name, a date or place) because the likelihood of error is compounded. Not only does the indexer have to type accurately, he or she must also be able to read the handwriting in the document. If you cannot locate your ancestor using the spelling with which you are familiar, it helps to think of various other ways the name could have been spelled or how the indexer may have perceived the name.
Many original documents are available on microfilm at various libraries, government offices and other repositories. These will be invaluable in the search for your family tree. Although some of this film is available online, to see most of it either requires you to order the microfilm and have it shipped to a convenient location near you, or to travel to the location where the microfilm is kept. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the largest Family History Library in the world (located in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA) but also has 4,500 Family History Centers throughout the world to which they will send microfilm.
Once you have completed your family tree search, there are a number of ways to present your findings. In the past, people involved with family history published books about their findings. Years ago, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were requested to submit family group sheets and pedigree charts for at least four generations. Desktop publishing allows you to present the findings of your ancestry search to people you select. Websites such as OneGreatFamily.com are becoming increasingly more popular as a way to allow others to see the fruits of your own family tree search. And, of course, people blog. If you enter the name of an ancestor into a search engine such as Google, you are likely to find a large number of responses. Not all of them will be your ancestor, but one of them might be - and that source may lead you to more information.
However you conduct your family tree search, it is in everyone's best interest for you to be as complete and accurate as possible. And please do share the results of your hard labor!