Picture of Dennis Prue

Dennis Prue

Dennis has been researching family trees for more than 30 years. His expertise has been invaluable in helping to break through brick walls.


This Old Tree, November 2017

Your Family’s Vital Records and where to find them.

There are many sources that are available for doing research. The problem stems from either not knowing where to find the records or they are not accessible to non-professional Genealogists.

The old advice “start with what you know” is where to begin. Record the information you already know about your family.

When I started, I used 3 x 5 cards to record when and where my parents were born and married. I also listed my brothers and sister as well as my parent’s brothers and sisters.

Once you have documented the information you gleaned from your parents, it’s time to ask others in your family if anyone has done a family tree. You may have cousins or other relatives who are researching the same family.

Later on I was able to get a few family group sheets. I transfer the information from my cards to a family group sheet because the sheets had more space to add a spouse for adult children in the family and I used the blank back side to record other information that I had found on each individual family member.

This is where I put my sources. Some of my sources could be by asking living relatives when and where they were born and married. Sometimes I used obituaries as a source of information. Another great source was using census information to help fill in grandparents and great grandparent’s families.

Today many of these forms can be found online i.e. family group sheets. Another chart that is very useful is a pedigree chart. The pedigree chart is the reverse of a real tree, instead of you being the new twig at top of tree. In the Pedigree, you are the crown root and you are showing off the limbs that have been found. Also this chart is a good snapshot of what you have found and what is still missing and needs more research for missing people and information.

The holidays can be both fun and stressful. This year try to ask a few questions of your relatives about your family and if they know of any stories or facts about the family.

Do not demand that they answer your questions or fill out family group sheets. Many relatives are not interested. Some time it’s the in-laws that are interested in the family history and tree.

Once you have acquired all the family information from relatives, another relatively easy way to get information is visit your local cemetery. If the graveyard is not local or there is three feet of snow on the ground, try to search online at “Find A Grave” website. Not all cemeteries are listed and some are not fully done but you may find some of them and you can build your tree from these sources.

Remember if you can see the original record i.e. copies of birth, marriage or death that is great. In some locations that not possible due to state laws restricting access to the individual records.

Other great places can be State or Provincial Archives, major Historical Societies and Libraries. Many have microfilms of official records. The internet is opening up more records but you still need to review the information to see if the information you have is actually your family and not another family with similar names.

Another source out there is Google Books. They have collected a lot of family histories from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. One I found was on the Rockwell Family of North America done in 1873.

I had some information in last month’s column about Dennis Hale and Mariah Dickinson on Mariah’s first husband, Joseph Rockwell. The information is not as completes as I would have liked but it confirm information of what I had found as well as others had recorded. This information was from an Alexander Rockwell who was a cousin to Joseph Rockwell.

The author of the book was Edward Rockwell and he published the book in 1873, much closer in time to the events of that time and recorded the family as known in the 1870’s. The information at that time may be information that cannot be found in the present day. Joseph Rockwell was the son of Benjamin Rockwell and Susannah Tapley. Joseph married Mariah Dickinson (she was called Mathilda in Rockwell History).

The book listed the four children: 2 sons, Hiram married to Jane Cochran and then to Christiana Bragdon; James married to Abigail Shaw; 2 daughters, Sarah married to Daniel McGlaughlin then to Patrick Parker; Lydia Letitia married to James Keegan.

If you have a local Genealogy Society or a Family History Center, please visits them for help and advice. Most genealogists are willing to help you with advice and short cuts to doing good genealogy research.

Many genealogical computer programs exist today and a lot of them have free versions to look at. Find one that is easiest for your use. Genealogy can be a fun and enjoyable past time. Genealogy is like putting a puzzle together.

Creative Commons License
This Old Tree, November 2017 by Dennis Prue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at ac-gs.org.