Genealogy 4 Beginners

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Diaries and Letters

If you’re lucky, you may have found or inherited a diary or your ancestor’s letters. How many movies have been made by people’s personal diaries? For example, Anne Frank’s horrific account of the holocaust!

Diaries can be rich in information and fascinating. Most diaries are either in a bound book or some kind of notebook. Letters can also be rich in information and history. Dates and addresses are crucial to the genealogist. They can place your ancestor in a certain time and place in history.

Never separate the letters from the envelope or give the envelope to stamp collectors. Often a postmark may be the only clue to the date of the letter and your ancestor’s place of residence.

Letters that have multiple pages should never be separated. It is vital to preserve their page order. Some letters have funeral notices or newspaper cuttings. They are usually vital to your research.

Sometimes reading the handwriting of diaries and letters is difficult. Don’t get discouraged. It’s interesting how soon you can get use to people’s handwriting. The key here is to persist and don’t give up. Often you can find someone in the older generation that is familiar to that style of writing. Seek them out. You could be pleasantly surprised.

Don’t skimp on any details, or you could miss some vital clues. Think like a detective. It works! An abbreviation in one letter may be spelt in full in another. A name beginning with “G” may be spelt in full or more easily readable in another letter or diary page.

Now that you have identified family names, make notes. Interview other family members that may know something. If you have a computer and scanner, scan some important pages and email sections of the document to others to help you identify people and places. Start searching records such as census, heritage records, birth death & marriages and so on.

Diaries and letters can enable you to do some detective work. It could open up new lines of ancestry you never knew existed. Enjoy!

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Dating Pictures

George Eastman introduced the Kodak camera in the late 1880s. During that period the snapshot became in vogue, as amateurs shot pictures. By the 1920s most families purchased their own simple cameras and started snapping shots.

If you have some old photos, how can you date the photos? Here are some tips.

If there are houses or buildings in the background, check out the type of fencing used to mark the boundaries of properties. In the 1920s wooden paling fences were popular in marking boundaries. Take note of any buildings. Check your local library for old newspapers that report new constructions, demolitions or fires in the neighborhood.

Look at the clothing worn by people. Look particularly at women’s hats and dresses. For example, deep crowns and narrow brim hats were popular in the 1920’s. Swim suits during that era was ankle length and covered their arms. The man’s suit is important. Styles can vary over different generations. For example, in the 19th century men wore baggy lounge jackets, light pants and dark wait coats with a white shirt and tie. Long moustaches were popular in the 1890s to about 1920. Women often wore their hair in a loose bun on the top of their head.

Sailor suits were popular to little boys and girls during this time period. They also wore petticoats but little boy’s petticoats were tucked into their trousers and they had short hair cuts like men.

When dating pictures you should take into account all aspects of the photo. Consider the background, buildings, fences, environment, people’s dress and style. Sometimes you could be lucky and find a date on the back of the photograph, or the dates could be mentioned in a letter or diary. Finally, check the print on the back of the photo. it may indicate the type of development used and the studio. With a little further digging you may be able to contact photo labs such as Kodak and get an approximate date when the film was developed.

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Births Deaths & Marriages (Original Vital Records)

Most governments keep records of births, deaths & marriages. These are known as original “vital records”. They are usually the most reliable source of information and are a must to build your Family Tree. These records contain vital information to help you link your Family History. They are considered as your primary source of information because they contain all the information you need regarding your Ancestor. These records are usually highly accurate because they are legislated by Governments and the information is recorded close to the actual event. Governments have the responsibility to ensure accuracy and that all vital records are recorded at a timely and correct standardized form within the geographical area.

Vital records are official documents and are kept at the local government office. Older records are archived. The good news is that most Western countries began keeping vital records at a National level in the 19th century. Any vital records beyond that time can be found at parish churches and local registers.

Please note: in the United States the registering of vital records is the responsibility of each state. Therefore, you have to approach each individual state to obtain records. In Canada each province and territory has this responsibility.

When researching these sources be aware that in the 19th century many vital records were not recorded. Many people refused to register and some communities were isolated. As time went on, compliance has become almost 100%.

These vital records contain valuable information such as name, gender, place of birth, mother’s maiden name, Father’s name, race, occupation and so on. So you see, vital records are an important part of your research. They provide reliable, accurate information that will establish the correct line of ancestors.

You get vital records from your government authority that deals with vital records. Most are available on the internet for purchase.

Nick Grbin is Web Master of Genealogy 4 Beginners

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Are you related to English Gentry?

Think back to the 19th century in Great Britain. What constituted someone as Gentry? The gentry were mostly landholders who owned a minimum of 1000 acres of land. Refer to Burke’s Landed Gentry for a list of Victorian and 20th century landed gentry. In towns gentry are listed as “Private Residents”. You should consult post office and trade directories as well. Finally, check out parish registers and examine the births, deaths and marriages from 1837 and the 1841 to 1901 census records. Visit your local Family History centre and examine these records. Hopefully, these records will describe them as gentry or gentleman.

Check out the website of the National Archives. Often you can find references to gentry and aristocratic families. You should note that most gentry’s families date back during and before the 19th century. There could be a possibility that some families ceased to be gentry.

Another rich source of information is Newspaper & Magazines. If you suspect you have a gentry’s ancestor who lived between 1731 and 1868 there was a Magazine called the Gentleman’s Magazine. This magazine often published information about important citizens. You might find an article about an ancestor or their birth, death or marriage notice. Newspapers also mention important events about people’s lives. Check out your local library to track down these publications.

Other good sources are polling records. A gentleman was entitled to vote if they owned a certain amount of property and derived a certain amount of income. Check out the poll lists for names. Examine family Coats of arms. In order to receive Coats of arms, gentlemen had to prove they were entitled to it. They did this by showing their ancestors used the same coat for at least 80 years; This was then recorded officially if they paid set fees. Refer to the Harleian Society publications.

Check out any government records such as Tax & land transactions. You should find many transactions that indicate persons as gentleman. Finally it is worth examining wills & court records. Just like modern times there were many disputes over rights, wills, debts and so on. As you can see, there are many avenues to trace gentry. There is a good chance that somewhere down the line you may be related to gentry.

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Friday, March 03, 2006

So you want to do your Family History?

Where do you start?
Nick Grbin

Genealogy is like a big Jigsaw Puzzle! If you don’t put the pieces together correctly, you’ll never see the full picture. So where do you start? This is the most common question asked. The answer is start with yourself and work backwards. Don’t get tempted to skip a few generations and run the risk of researching the wrong line. It’s better to be methodical and approach your research step by step. That way, you’ve less likely to research someone who isn’t your relative.

A simple but effective way to research your immediate generation is to construct a chart of your family as far as you can go. Then interview and ask your relatives, especially parents and grandparents to fill in the gaps and add more information. This will kick start your research and probably provide about 100 years of history. Be sure to document this well. In particular, identify each person with personal information such as the following:

  • Name
  • Important dates such as their birth, death and marriage (if applicable)
  • Their occupation and interests
  • Their relationship to other members of the family
  • Their birthplace address and other places of residence

To make this task easier, download a free Pedigree Chart and Family Work Group Sheet here!

  • A Pedigree Chart allows you to list your pedigree such as your parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so on.
  • A Family Work Group Sheet allows you to record the information of your entire family.

You need to print multiple copies of the above charts. Purchase a 3 ring binder to store the information. The charts will save you a heap of time and effort because it organizes your information in an orderly and simple format. You will soon notice what important information is missing and what is incomplete. Don’t worry this is perfectly normal. This is where the fun begins as you begin to research more carefully. Organizing your information this way will help you avoid the pitfalls that most people face. It will help you establish the proper groundwork. Take small steps; don’t go too far back yet. Be very sure about the information you have before you take the next step. Otherwise, you will end up researching the wrong ancestor. I recommend you document all your research so that you don’t go over old ground.

So, how do you fill in the gaps from your charts? I suggest you circle any missing information to highlight the gaps. As already mentioned you start with yourself and work backwards. You should bring together and document your own life first. Gather any records such as education, photographs, birth certificates, marriage, journals, and family bibles and so on. Then do the same thing for your parents, grandparents etc. All these documents could be a great source of information, providing important dates of events, places of residence, occupations and so on. It will bring your family history alive. If you’re visiting relative’s homes, be sensitive to their feelings and respectful. Ask permission to obtain copies of any documents, such as wills, Birth, Death and Marriage certificates. Official documents are a great source of information. They provide names, dates, places and information about other relatives. Involve them in your project. Explain you are personally interested in their personal history and tracing your roots.

Family documents, photographs and other documents can provide valuable information and point you to the right direction in your research. Often photos and documents have dates and places written on the back of them. This can guide you to where to search for official records. Open your mind; often deceased ancestors have left many sources of information such as scrap books, old family bibles, wills, Birth, death & marriage certificates, letters, postcards, journals, military records, Biographies and so much more.

As you speak to your family find out where relatives were married and buried. Churches and Cemeteries can be a good source of information. When visiting the cemetery photograph the tomb stones of your relatives. They usually provide accurate dates and sometimes may reveal names of relatives you never knew existed. Often family members are buried in the same plot or nearby. Nearby unmarked graves may indicate children that died in their infancy? Contact the cemetery administrators for more information.

Summary of sources to research:

  • Birth, Death & Marriage Certificates
  • Family Bibles
  • Wills
  • School Reports
  • Photographs
  • Scrap Books
  • Letters
  • Postcards
  • Journals
  • Military Records
  • Biographies
  • Churches
  • Cemeteries


Be patient, persistent and don’t completely rely on people’s memories. They can be inaccurate. The most reliable information comes from primary official sources, but you should have an open mind. You never know where you could pick up a lead. Keep all information no matter how insignificant it may seem. Often a piece of information that doesn’t initially fit makes perfect sense later when new pieces of information become available. Then the jigsaw puzzle begins to reveal its full picture. Finally, be organized and keep detailed accurate records.

Your next step will be to utilize community, state, national and worldwide resources. If you need help and want to save a lot of time and money check out my Genealogy Starter E-Book. It contains valuable information on how to start your Family History, outlines a 5 step quick guide, reviews the best internet sites, shows you where to get free Computer Genealogy Software and outlines numerous resources worldwide to do your research. Go to - where people find experts
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