GETTING STARTED PATHFINDER
Welcome to the captivating world of genealogy. Tracing your family history will prove to be a rewarding adventure. To begin your research you must start with yourself and work back in time. Work from the known to the unknown. Genealogy is more than names and dates, it is the social history of your ancestors. You will want to contact all of your living relatives to find out what they know about the family. Write down everything they tell you – whether you believe it or not. Gather together family photographs, letters, diaries and legal documents. In this way you will begin weaving the social history of your family together. Remember – family trees do not grow in a day.
Suggested Getting Started Guides:
Family History for the Older and Wiser by Susan Fifer, 2010.
Genealogy Online by Elizabeth P. Crowe, 2014.
Genealogy Online for Dummies. 2014.
The Troubleshooters Guide To Do-It-Yourself Genealogy by Daniell Quillen, 2010.
Unpuzzling Your Past by Emily A. Croom, 2010.
Who Do You Think You Are? The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History
by Megan Smolenyak, 2010.
To achieve success in your hunt for ancestors, you must document all of your research.
Remember that the information you gather is not only for you, but also for future generations. Begin by filling out an ancestry chart following set genealogy standards.
Genealogy standards for filling out an ancestry chart include:
Begin with yourself and work back in time.
You are number 1 on chart number 1.
SURNAMES must be written in all capital letters.
Middle names should be spelled out.
Dates should be written as: day/month/year, i.e. 10/June/1875.
Months should be spelled out. Use 4 digits for the year.
Females are always recorded by their MAIDEN NAMES.
Males are recorded on even numbered lines; females on odd numbered lines.
Geographical locations are recorded as town, county, state/province, country.
Filling out an ancestry chart reveals both the known and unknown about your family.
Look at the missing information on your chart and develop a strategy for finding that information. Refer to “Searching Genealogy Records” in this pathfinder as a key to documents that may contain the information you are seeking.
Family Group Sheet:
Secondly, you will want to document your relatives by filling out a Family Group Record sheet for each family unit. This sheet records a married couple and all of their children from oldest to youngest. You will have many Family Group Record sheets recording the family units of your siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.
GENEALOGY PUZZLE PIECES
Researching your family history is much like piecing together a puzzle. To form a complete family portrait you may need to view a number of documents such as census records, vital records, passenger lists, naturalization records, military records, etc. You may have difficulty finding specific information or you may find conflicting information that will force you to re-evaluate the information you already have. Don’t despair; roadblocks are common in genealogy. Find an alternative route by gathering more background information, talking to more relatives and looking at other documents.
Types of Documents:
The documents you gather when researching your family can be primary or secondary.
Primary sources were created at or near the actual event and are likely to be the most accurate. Birth and marriage certificates are examples of primary documents. Secondary sources were created after the fact and tend to rely on information based on memory. Obituaries and census records are examples of secondary sources. Some documents can be both primary and secondary. A death certificate is considered to be both a primary and secondary source because although information about the date and cause of death is recorded at the time of the actual event; personal information about the deceased, such as age, is not verified and may be incorrect.
COMPONENTS OF GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH
Census records are a good place to start your research. There have been several different types of censuses taken over the years such as the federal census, state and local census records, slave census records, Native American census records, the 1890 Police Census, etc. U.S. federal census records are taken every 10 years and began in 1790. From 1790 to 1840 federal censuses contained only the names of the head of household and are not an “every name” census. A federal law requires that census records remain private for 72 years.
Every county for the U.S. Federal Census is divided into enumeration districts (ED), that is, a geographic area covered by a single census taker within one census period. Refer to: The American Census Handbook by Thomas Jay Kemp or The USGenWeb Census Project at: http://www.us-census.org/help/questions.html.
Census records for the United States, Canada and Britain are available on the Ancestry.com database. The HeritageQuest database has US federal census records.
New York State Census records can be accessed from the Suffolk Cooperative Library System for the years 1855, 1865, 1875, 1892, 1905, 1915 and 1925. New York is divided into assembly districts (AD) and each assembly district is divided into election districts (ED). New York State Census information can be found at: http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/genealogy/nyscens.htm.
The 1890 Police Census was an “every name” census of New York City taken by the Police Department because New York City authorities did not feel that the 1890 Federal Census gave an accurate count of the city’s population, which meant that they did not get a correct representation in Congress, or receive proper state and federal aid. This census covered the island of Manhattan and the West Bronx. The 1890 Police Census is available on microfilm and can be viewed at the Patchogue-Medford Library.
American Indian Census: Due to a law passed on July 4, 1884, Indian Agents took separate censuses of American Indians from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Each census list has the name of the tribe, the Indian agency, the state and the name of the Indian agent who is taking the census and the date the census was taken. Each person is listed by his/her Indian name, English name, gender, relationship to the rest of the family and their age. Indian census rolls are on microfilm at the National Archives for the years 1885-1940. Refer to: Native American Genealogical Sourcebook by Paula Byers, 1995.
Slave Census Schedules: Slaves are listed on federal census schedules for the years 1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830 and 1840, appearing in age groupings by the name of the slave-owner. Separate slave schedules were taken in the 1850 and 1860 censuses; however, slaves are not listed by name but under the slave-owner. In 1870, federal census schedules began to list the surnames of all nonwhite persons as heads of household. Refer to: Black Genesis: A Resource Book For African-American Genealogy by James Rose, 2003.
In addition to federal census records, the United States took the following special censuses from 1850-1880: Agricultural, Industry, Mortality and Social Statistics. These special censuses can be viewed at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society.
Censuses were also taken in many European countries. The Family History Center Library has microfilm and print indexes of censuses taken around the world. For a complete catalog listing of their library holdings go to: http://www.familysearch.org. Click on “Search,” then click on “Catalog.”
You cannot fill out your ancestry chart without accessing vital record information - birth, marriage, and death records. Vital records can be found at the municipal or state level where your family members lived. There are indexes to vital record information online and in print. Marriage licenses are extremely valuable to the genealogist because they usually list the names of both the bride and groom’s parents using female maiden names. US death records reveal where a person was buried and the cause of death.
Religious records predate civil registration and are a wonderful substitute when vital records are not available. Church/Synagogue records consist of birth, baptismal, communion, bar and bat mitzvah, marriage, annulment, and death records.
Marriage announcements, obituaries and cemetery records may reveal information about the family’s religious affiliation. Records are often with the local church/synagogue. If the institution no longer exists, the regional denominational headquarters may know where the records can be found.
The Steerage Act in 1819 required the formal tracking of all passengers arriving in the United States from foreign ports. These records were kept on large sheets called Customs Passenger Lists and held the following information: name of ship and captain, port of embarkation, date and port of arrival, passengers name, age, gender, occupation and nationality. The Family History Center Library and the National Archives hold surviving lists. Once the U.S. Office of the Superintendent of Immigration was created in 1891, immigrant passenger lists held all of the information of customs passenger lists plus the passenger’s marital status, last residence, final destination, amount of money carried and if joining a relative – their name, address and relationship. In 1906 a physical description of the immigrant was required, their place of birth and in 1907 the name and address of the closest relative left behind.
Passenger arrival records were processed at the following New York centers:
No central processing center before 1855
August 1, 1855-April 18, 1890 – Castle Garden
April 19, 1890-December 31, 1891 – Barge Office
January 1, 1892-June 13, 1897 – Ellis Island
June 14, 1897 – December 16, 1900 – Barge Office
December 17, 1900 – November 29, 1954 – Ellis Island
Ship manifests were created at the port of departure by a ship official who copied down names from the official documents of emigrants. Indexes to ship manifests are becoming increasingly available in print and from online databases. The Ellis Island Passenger Lists, 1897–1948, are fully indexed. Passenger lists after 1906 show the passenger’s city and country of birth. Locating information about the passenger ship used to carry your ancestors is another component of your research. For a listing of passenger lists in print resources refer to Genealogy Resources at the Patchogue-Medford Library. Note the following selected resources:
The Family Tree Guide to Finding Your Ellis Island Ancestors by Sharon Carmack, 2005.
Passenger & Immigration Lists Index, 1985-S/O. (Also on the Ancestry database).
Ships Of Our Ancestors by Michael J. Anuta, 2002.
They Came In Ships by John Philip Colletta, 1993.
Index To Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving At New York, 1820-1846. (Microfilm)
To become a citizen of the United States an immigrant first had to file Declaration of Intent papers and then wait 3 to 5 years to become a naturalized US citizen. Naturalization records offer typical information about a person such as birth date and country of birth. Pre-1906 naturalization papers were filed in county courts. These papers show the name of the individual, his/her native country and the date the naturalization was given. Naturalization records issued after 1906 reveal information about when the ancestor immigrated to the U.S. including the name of the passenger ship and date of arrival. The certificate of citizenship gives a physical description of the person and in later years is complete with a photograph.
Military naturalizations were also granted for aliens who served in the U.S. military during time of war and received an honorable discharge (1862). They were permitted to skip the declaration of intention process and directly file a petition for naturalization.
Women are rarely found in pre-1922 naturalization records because married women and children under the age of 21 derived citizenship from their husbands and fathers.
Refer to: Guide To Naturalization Records of the United States. A guide for naturalization records can also be found at: http://www.germanroots.com/naturalization.html. There are several print and online indexes to US naturalization records. Complete holdings are available through the National Archives and Records Administration.
Immigrants were required to register with a local court from 1802 to 1828. Adherence to this law varied from court to court. The Registry Act of March 2, 1929 allowed for the legalization of immigrants who arrived prior to 1924 but for whom no immigration record could be found. The registration Act of 1940, also known as the Smith Act, required aliens aged 14 and over to register with the INS and be fingerprinted.
Military records consist of service records, pension records, and bounty-land records. Service records for the years c.1775-1916 are available by submitting NATF Form 86 to:
National Archives and Records Administration, Attn: NWCTB, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20408-0001.
Military Service Records for c.1917 to the present are available by submitting form SF 180 to: The National Personnel Records Center, 9700 Page Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri 63132-5100.
Pension Records include veteran pensions as well as pension applications of widows. Copies of military pension claims (1775-1916) can be requested by submitting NATF Form 85 to NARA in Washington D.C.
Soldiers who sought land as a substitute for wages filed Bounty-Land Warrants. To access bounty land warrant applications (1775-1855) submit form NATF Form 85 to NARA in Washington D.C.
World War I and World War II draft records can be found on the Ancestry.com database.
Refer to Genealogy Resources at the Patchogue-Medford Library for books we own about military records.
Information about where a person was buried in the U.S. can be found on a death certificate or an obituary. Cemetery records give the date of death and the names of other persons buried in the same plot. Indexes to individual cemeteries many exist in print or online. Cemetery indexes may be accessible through the library or historical society in the town where your ancestor was buried. Refer to Your Guide To Cemetery Research by Sharon Carmack (2002).
The Social Security Administration was established in 1937. The Social Security Death Index database contains the names of persons with social security numbers who died from 1962 to 2011. This index is available from the Ancestry database, as well as FamilySearch.org.
Genealogists can request a copy of the original social security application for a deceased individual by submitting Form SS-5 to the Social Security Administration, OEO FOIA Workgroup, 300 N. Green Street, P.O. Box 33022, Baltimore, Maryland 21290-3022. Requests should include a copy of the death certificate and a statement of relationship to the deceased.
Wills are documents that transfer property of the deceased to heirs. When a person dies leaving a valid will, he is said to have died “testate.” When a person dies leaving no valid will, that person is said to have died “intestate.” The process of transferring property to heirs is known as probate. Wills are probated in the Surrogate’s Court of each county. Refer to: New York State Probate Records: A Genealogist’s Guide to Testate and Intestate Records by Gordon L. Remington, 2002.
Searching American Probate Records by Fran Carter, 1993.
Land Records, Maps, Atlases & Gazetteers:
United States land records are great tools in tracing the migration of your family. The buying and selling of land was recorded in deed books held within the governmental jurisdiction that had authority over the transfer and held at the county level.
Valuable guides on this topic include:
Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records
by Patricia Hatcher, 2003.
Walking With Your Ancestors: A Genealogist’s Guide To Using Maps and Geography
by Melinda Kashuba,2005.
Historical atlases and gazetteers are particularly helpful because many country boundaries have changed over the centuries, i.e. the country we now call Poland was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Resources include:
Place Names of the World: Historical Context Meanings & Changes
by John Everett-Heath, 2000.
Where Once We Walked: A Guide to the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust by Gary Mokotoff and Sallyann Amdur Sack, 2002.
Placenames of Russia and the Former Soviet Union by Adrian Room, 1996.
City & Telephone Directories:
City directories are published listings of residents and businesses showing street addresses. Some directories list a person’s occupation along with his/her address. Directories are important in locating a person’s address in order to determine the Enumeration District or the Assembly District/Election District in ordering census microfilm. The Patchogue-Medford Library has city directories on microfilm for Manhattan from 1861 to 1933, Brooklyn from 1861-1913 and 1933/34 and for Queens for the years 1902, 1904, 1906-1910 and 1912.
The Suffolk Cooperative Library System has telephone directories on microfilm for Suffolk County from 1910-1974. They can be requested through Interlibrary Loan.
Surnames were not used until the Middle Ages but they can give clues to genealogists who have come to a brick wall in their research.
There are four types of surnames:
Geographic – place of residence – John Eastwood
Occupation – Matthew Shephard
Patronymic – Tom’s Son – Thompson
Descriptive – Robert Longfellow
Some ethnic groups following naming patterns for given names:
First Son – Paternal Grandfather
Second Son – Maternal Grandfather
First Daughter – Paternal Grandmother
Second Daughter – Maternal Grandmother
The first passport was issued in July 1796. Passports became popular in the 1840’s but until the outbreak of World War I (1914) American citizens were permitted to travel abroad without a passport. Passports are only issued to people who could prove their citizenship. Passport applications can be searched online on Ancestry.com in its collection, US Passport Applications, 1795-1925. Applications made after 1925 are held in the custody of the passport office in Washington D.C.