Southwest Oklahoma Genealogical Society

Suggestions for Beginners

1. BEGIN WITH YOURSELF AND WORK BACK IN TIME! That means gathering your own "vital" records--possible "marriage" record(s) and definitely "birth" record for you. Utilize basic forms such as family group sheets & a pedigree chart. Purchase at least one good "how to" book for your personal reference library. Consider purchasing genealogy software to computerize your work as early as possible.
2. MISSPELL YOUR SURNAME in as many ways as possible. Search for each spelling of the name to avoid the most common of all pitfalls in research.
3. VERIFY INFORMATION when possible. Evidence comes in all forms. Just because someone printed it doesn't make it credible. Be wary of scams. Avoid being trapped into purchasing a "Family Crest" or Family Surname History and more recently, a DNA Kit.
4. USE PENCIL FOR UNPROVEN DATA on forms. Change to ink or type when evidence of proof is located.
5. USE FAMILY GROUP SHEETS to organize your research. Begin by filling in the blanks (using pencil) with names, events and dates that you think to be correct. If you are married, you will be listed on two sheets (as a child and as a head of household). As evidence is found to link past generations, piece together the entire family unit using one group sheet per family. Don't be surprised if future evidence disproves some of your findings.
6. USE PEDIGREE CHARTS (also called Ancestor Charts) as a map to your direct line ancestors. You will be number 1. Each of us has 30 possible ancestors to identify in order to complete a five-generation pedigree chart. We also have the possibility of 26 different surnames to search. Keep your research goals focused to avoid chaos.
7. YOUR HOME SOURCES and those of your relatives might supply evidence such as family bibles containing vital statistics, birth certificates, baptismal records, baby books, newspaper clippings, writings on photos, deeds, abstract of titles, wills, tax records, diaries, journals, scrapbooks, military records, and more.
8. INTERVIEW THE ELDEST OF YOUR RELATIVES FIRST. Also locate distant cousins. They could open doors to new ideas. Carefully record all family stories and use the information as clues.
9. SEEK OUT WHAT OTHERS HAVE DONE ON YOUR SURNAME OF INTEREST. From the Library of Congres to your local library, each collection will be unique. Check library card catalogs for family histories which might include your lines. Join surname associations, particularly if your surname is unusual. Periodicals, such as Everton's Genealogical Helper, may help you find others working on your surname. Attend family reunions. Share your research with as many people as possible. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope with requests for information.
10. CONNECT EACH RESEARCH OBJECTIVE TO A GEOGRAPHIC AREA. Find out what was happening to others in the area at the time of your ancestor's life. Write to the local library for titles of appropriate books and periodicals to examine which might help you learn more about the local history. Seek out addresses of genealogical and historical societies in the area. Include an SASE.
11. RECORDS ARE FOUND IN UNUSUAL PLACES. Make a check list of those you want to seek out and keep a record of the places researched. Don't forget church, school and lodge records.
12. COUNTY RECORDS ARE A MUST! They will include marriage records, deeds. probate records (wills, inventories, settlements, guardianships, etc.), civil records and tax lists.
13. STATE RECORDS include census, land and military. These may be located at the State Historical Society Archives. Others, such as vital statistics, may be located at the State Health Department or early ones might be deposited at the County Clerk's office and elsewhere. "How to" books offer much information about archival holdings in each state.
14. FEDERAL RECORDS include the Federal Census (taken every 10 years since 1790). Census research places each ancestor in a geographic area and starting with the 1850 census lists family members by name. Each census year offers different data.
15. NEWSPAPERS offer a variety of information. Seek out obituaries and other events during the ancestor's life. Old newspapers on microfilm are often housed at the State Historical Society Library. Many can be inter-library loaned.
16. DEATH RECORDS are not limited to obituaries and death certificates. Locate the cemetery of burial and note inscriptions on his tombstone and those around him, which may be related. You may need to contact funeral directors for burial indexes if the local libraries do not have them.
17. DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT! As you find evidence, document on the backside of the record where and when you found it. Be as complete as possible. Photocopies of original documents are best, but often extractions are necessary.
18. PICTURES ARE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS. Protect your heirloom photos, as well as your current photos. Make copies of those you want to preserve. Black and white copies will last the longest. Only use gummed corners when mounting photos in scrapbooks. Seek out archival paper for mounting. If you utilize advanced technology to preserve your images, be aware of any limitations.
19. DEVELOP A FILING SYSTEM immediately so you can easily retrieve each record. Remember that one record may have evidence concerning several people. Extract every piece of information possible on as many family group sheets as it takes prior to filing the record. Designate a number to every piece of evidence.
20. "FINDING" TOOLS may be available to assist you during each step of your research. Learn to love libraries and enlist the aid of the genealogical librarian and reference librarian in each location. In preparation of a new search, check your local library for items such as "how to" books, atlases, maps, guides to libraries and archives, addresses, inter-library loan, U.S. telephone number searches, and other information. When traveling long distances to research facilities, call ahead for pertinent information, including hours open.
21. SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY and join those in the areas where you are searching--at least during the time you are researching there. These groups will be your best connections to people who can assist you. Check back issues of periodicals for pertinent information. The most up-do-date information about new sources will be found in periodicals. Do not overlook them.
These Suggestions for Beginners were compiled by Aulena Scearce Gibson.

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