Introduction << Research Records <<
Below are descriptions for the episodes of
Ancestors. Each episode deals with different types of genealogical records. They
will tell you about a type of record and how to use that record to get information about your ancestors.
| Records at Risk
| Family Records
| Compiled Records |
| Genealogy and Technology
| Vital Records
| Religious Records |
| Cemetery Records
| Census Records
| Military Records |
| Probate Records
| Immigration Records |
| Writing a Family History |
Records at Risk
The lives of our ancestors were a lot like our own, and the records they created
represent the same life events we all experience. Tragically, thousands of
irreplaceable records are destroyed every day. But around the world, heroic
efforts are being made to preserve them, including the struggle to reconstruct
genealogies destroyed in the Bolshevik Revolution, the massive microfilming
efforts of the National Archives, and the work of Steven Spielberg¡¯s Survivors
of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.
Some people believe that genealogical research is conducted almost exclusively in archives, libraries
and courthouses, but the reality is that one of the richest resources is often our own homes ¨C or those of our
relatives. Before venturing out on research trips, it is well worthwhile to look through scrapbooks and photo
albums, closets and drawers, attics and basements to find any family records that contain genealogical information
about your family.
Compiled records -- comprised of information gathered, assembled and, with a bit of luck,
indexed from other sources -- are usually an enormous time saver in genealogical research. They
allow us to benefit and build from the work already done by others and save us from countless hours of pouring
through original records.
Genealogy and Technology
How many "Smolenyaks" do you know? Computer resources help Megan Smolenyak find
cousins she didn't know she had, both in the United States and in the Slovak
village of Osturna. Experts elaborate on how to use computers and the Internet
in seeking out family connections.
Many birth, death, and marriage certificates still exist. In the United States, they¡¯re called vital records,
while outside the U.S. they¡¯re generally referred to as civil registration records.
These records about the events that shape our lives are considered primary sources
of genealogical information because they were recorded at the time the event took place. They are also excellent sources for confirming names and
dates you¡¯ve found in secondary records.
Very often, religious records are the only source for information in early American
communities, and in Europe, church records sometimes began decades or even centuries before any
government registration. Even in more recent years, when it is possible to obtain birth, marriage
and death certificates, it is frequently worth the effort to secure the corresponding
church record, as the details revealed may complement those in the vital record.
Cemetery records are a favorite resource of genealogists, and for good reason. They often contain clues to
long sought dates, family relationships, military service and much more. And even if the inscription on a tombstone
fails to reveal more than the most basic of information, there¡¯s something about visiting your ancestors¡¯ final
resting place that somehow brings you that much closer to them.
Census records are invaluable. Each one contains precious names, ages, birthplaces,
and relationships of our ancestors. Depending on the questions asked by the census taker, you might discover
when your ancestors arrived in the U.S., how they made a living, or any of dozens of other clues to your family's
past. These records -- brief "snapshots" of our loved ones -- allow a personal look into their lives that few records
Millions of American citizens have served in the armed forces, so chances are good that one or more of your relatives served at
some time or another in the military. If they did, the military offices kept records about them and their service. Even if your family has no tradition of military service, it's still worth checking to see if ancestors who lived
during the war periods did in fact serve. For many reasons, there are relatively few American families whose
genealogies would not benefit from a search of military records.
One of the best and most underused resources in genealogical research is newspapers. Researchers dismiss
them for a variety of reasons, but the genealogical details
and historical context that can be found in newspapers make it worth the effort to look through them.
The passing of a loved one is a trying time in any family, but in later generations, the death of that ancestor can provide
a wealth of valuable information to the family historian. Experts discuss the various records that are generated by the probate process
and some of the interesting details found in wills.
America is a nation of immigrants, so the entry into this country is a dramatic turning point in most of our
family histories. To find actual evidence of our own ancestors' entry into America, immigration records are the key, as these are
the documents that most directly link us to the homelands of our ancestors.
Writing a Family History
At some point, many genealogists decide that it's time to shift effort from
collecting new information about the family to sharing it with others. Writing a
family history is one of the most effective and satisfying ways of doing this.