What Is Genealogy
Why Study Genealogy?
How Far Can You Go?
3rd Party Stories
Cite Your Sources
When tracing your family history, you will gradually build a network of contacts with relatives. As you do so, ask them for copies of any genealogical notes or manuscripts that they may possess. Many families contain at least one family member who, during the past three or four generations, has undertaken some research or composed some kind of family memoir. The data generated by such efforts may exist in almost any form: a file of genealogical charts and random notes; a short filial biography never intended for publication; or a massive compilation filling several boxes and representing years of effort.
It is worth going to considerable effort to locate any such genealogical manuscripts. They may be tucked away in some corner of a relative's closet or attic. Another good place to look is the local historical society or public library, or one of the country's major genealogical repositories such as the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston or the library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City.
Another source of information, which may be helpful in locating genealogical manuscripts, is family associations. There are several hundred family associations in the United States, each of which brings together people descended from a common ancestor. These family associations have published various items such as newsletters, annual reports, or even compiled genealogies, and these may contain information on almost any American surname. To determine which family associations might be pertinent to your research, contact the reference department of a library with major genealogical collections or consult the newsletters of local societies.
Another idea is to advertise your search for family manuscripts in the query columns of several genealogical magazines. Your query could be worded as follows: "Wanted: information on the Albert C. Jones family of Ipswich, Massachusetts, 1800 to 1850. Especially interested in genealogical manuscripts compiled by members of this family." You may also place ads in local periodicals, such as county historical society newsletters.
You should not limit yourself to manuscripts in your search for family history. As well as inherited furniture, silver, and portraits, many American families possess Bibles, heirlooms, letters, diaries, wills, deeds, photographs, and military papers. How much of this type of material your relatives own, depends on many factors: when your family's American experience began, how wealthy it became, how frequently it moved, and how much it valued a sense of history.
If your family was here by 1800 - and probably around one hundred million living Americans are descended from the twenty-five thousand New Englanders of 1620 to 1650 alone - it could well have made and lost several fortunes, moved great distances from its ancestral home, and become widely scattered over the past two centuries. For such "pioneer" families, many recent photographs are likely to exist, but little or nothing may have survived from the period before the American Civil War. Of course, your search will be easier if you happen to belong to one of those rare American families who have lived in the same New England town or Virginia parish for a dozen generations. On the other hand, you may be the fourth or fifth generation of a 19th century immigrant family, your great-great-grandparents being some of the millions of Europeans who came here after the Civil War in search of freedom and work in the New World.
Whatever your family history, the more sources of information that you can use, the sooner you will start to learn about your roots, and the more detailed picture that you will be able to build.
Here is a list of some of the most important places to look for genealogical information:
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