Families are like fudge: mostly sweet with a few nuts. OK, let’s find those nuts for you.
One great place to get started is the Internet, so get comfortable, put on some music you can sing along with without really listening, have pen and paper handy and tell the family you’ll see them later. You are about to go back in time.
There are several sites that are beneficial, but DO NOT allow these sites to do your work for you.
The best-known is Ancestry.com. This is a subscription site. They offer a 14-day trial, but they want a credit card number up front mostly because anyone who signs up forgets to unsign on the 14th day. I forgot to tell you, didn’t I, that genealogy is addictive? Well, get ready. You won’t know what you did with your time before chasing dead people.
Ancestry.com is a great site. It offers up-to-date census records and an opportunity to see who else is researching your people. But it does cost. If you’re not quite ready to invest in the Net, then try some of these others.
Rootsweb.com is a sister site to Ancestry, but is free. It will list anyone by the name of your ancestor. So, you really need to know a spouse or parent’s name or dates of life to sort through and pick yours. One good thing about Rootsweb, though, is that you can get the names and email addresses of others researching the same family. Then you can email that person and discover how you fit into each other’s research.
I found a first cousin for my mother-in-law on Rootsweb. She was the youngest of seven born to the youngest of at least seven and knew very few of her first cousins. I took her to meet the man. He was 87, and she was 84. His first question upon meeting her was, “You got arthritis too?” It was great.
Another good site is FamilySearch.org. This site is sponsored by the Mormon church. Their records include volumes of information from other countries as well as the United States. Again, to sort through to your ancestors you need more than just one name.
I know what you’re thinking – it was a long time ago – how many Tom Jones can there be? Zillions. I’m looking for Henry Weber from New York/New Jersey, so I looked at the 1892 directory for New York City. There were almost 200 Henry Webers listed. And don’t forget that parents were notorious for naming sons after the fathers.
Another free site is USGenWeb.com. At this site you specify a state and the county you want and find out what is available.
And now is the time to brag on Wise County. Two ladies, LaDarla Keith and Sue Tackel, have done a tremendous job of recording every tombstone in every cemetery in the county. Oh, if they would just travel the country teaching others how to do that. Wise County has some excellent sites. Most county sites will offer marriage records, death records and some offer links to wills, contracts, and birth records.
Sometimes our ancestors hide from us. They appear on a census record, but then disappear during the 10 years before the next census. We also are surprised at how mobile the people of yesteryear were. After all, with no cars, planes, buses and very few trains, they had to stay in one spot, didn’t they? No, they did not.
What we often find is someone died on the trip from there to here and is buried along the trail. The website Findagrave.com can help with that. So can Cemeteries-of-tx.com if you’re researching Texas deaths. This site is expanding to include the neighboring states, but it’s mostly Texas.
Almost all websites for genealogy offer a message board. Simply submit a short list of the names you are researching and others will find you. I looked for a woman for more than 10 years. A couple of years ago, she found me. Her husband was on Ancestry and saw a notice I had put out with her name in it. Her grandfather and my husband’s grandfather were brothers. We’ve corresponded numerous times since then, working together to untangle the apron strings.
Now a word about those who have the hobby of genealogy. They are, for the most part, the nicest people in the world. I have met very few that are stingy and selfish with their research. I have hundreds of pictures that others copied and shared with my parents through the years. Even if there is not a lot in common with their research, people are willing to help.
Most hobbies allow you to buy a kit to assemble, provide directions to work with, or at least a picture of the finished project. Genealogy does not do that. There is a kit of sorts – it’s called Family Tree Maker. It is a program to purchase for your computer. This program will allow you to enter all data as you compile it. It’s your organization, your file cabinet, your brain if you will. You simply cannot remember all that you will learn. There is a place for pictures on Family Tree Maker as well.
While the Net makes it convenient to research at odd hours, do not ignore the facilities available to you. The County Clerk’s office is a great place to visit. You can get copies of marriage licenses, research deeds, and check out maps. Each county has one. There will be a cost for the copies, but it is not much. There are also museums and libraries. The Wise County Heritage Museum has a wonderful area for research. There are census records to be read and several files of local family histories. The cost to use that space is one dollar unless you are a member of the Historical Organization. The History of Wise County volumes can offer great data. The Decatur Public Library has computer access and periodically offers how-to sessions for genealogy. The librarian can also help you access Heritage Quest, a site for looking at census records. The Emily Fowler Library in Denton allows you to get a technology card and has the library edition of Ancestry.com. It also has a well-stocked research area that includes books of information from many different states. The Gainesville library has also proven valuable to me since my husband’s family lived in Cooke County as well as Montague County.
Feeling a little nutty yourself? Well, yes, it can be overwhelming, but just take it one name at a time. You will soon find yourself swimming in information. After all, each person has two parents, four grandparents, and so on. Start with one name and see how far back you can get with it. Then go to the spouse of the original person and trace it. You will be delighted in what you find. You will be frustrated at what you can’t find. You will catch yourself talking to the computer and, yes, to the dead people. Your family may catch you talking to no visible person.
That’ll just make you one of your family’s nuts – and at that point you’ll know you’re not far from the tree!