The past few years I have been doing some genealogical research on the different branches of my family. For those new to this endeavor I thought I would share some of the things I learned along the way to help you.
Ask your Relatives
First and foremost, if you are even thinking about doing this for your family, start today. The older members of your family likely contain a great deal of history and knowledge that will not be in any records. Additionally, they may have hard copies of records and photographs that you may never obtain if you wait too long.
When asking relatives for information be sure to ask at least for the following:
- Their real full name.
- Their real full names of all the relatives they know and nicknames they may have had.
- Where they were from, where they may have lived.
- How many spouses they had and who they were.
- Where relatives may have died and been buried.
- If there were any children that died at a young age.
These questions, among others need to be asked for each person as the answers to these questions can often be key pieces of information when tying together sparse records.
Of course you may run into relatives that, for whatever reason, are hesitant to provide such information. If this is the case, then perhaps they might reconsider at some point. But to make your search faster and more complete it is best to start with what collective knowledge your own family already has.
Write It Down and Fill in the Gaps
After you obtain this information it is important obviously to write it down and then record it using a service such as Ancestry.com. There are other sites out there but I have found, at least in the United States, that Ancestry.com offers the best user interface and the largest compilation of records to assist you beyond what you may gather from family members.
Another excellent resource that may be of use is www.findagrave.com. This site allows you to search for the grave sites of family members and even provides pictures of the tombstones. This can save countless hours of time and money trying to verify or discover certain vague records.
Of course, others unknown to you may also have information about your family or you may have information that can help others. Some of the best forums for this type of the GenForums. For the McCarty there are these: MacCarthy,McCarthy, and McCarty among others.
Family Genealogy Books
Many times you may find that somebody in your family has already done much of this research or even published books on the family name. These books are real time savers. As you reach out to your family, ask if this has been done and get a copy – before they too disappear.
If you are fortunate to belong to a famous family you may have found that others have already made histories or books that may be of help. I will be doing book reviews on these in time, but here is a small list of books for the McCarty’s:
The McCarthy in Early American History by Michael Joseph O’Brien
The McCartys of the Northern Neck, 350 Years of a Virginia Family by William McCarty and Kathleen Much
McCartys of Virginia by Clara S. McCarty
Gaps too Wide?…Get a DNA Test.
Another way to help bridge a gap that may not be possible any other way is by DNA testing. For the McCartys you would do this here at the McCarthy Group Project. Even if you don’t think you require it, you should join the project anyway as it may help others and even allow you to discover relations heretofore unknown to you.
County and Court House Records
To track down some branches of your family you may have to visit the County Court or Clerk houses where they may have lived. Many of these counties have not yet computerized and made available their records to the different genealogy sites. If you make your way to these court houses be sure to not only look at the birth records, but marriage, divorce and property records. These records sometimes contain more information that you expect. So if you are unsure as to how to search for a person in the multiple record sets a court house may have – ask. Each court house experience can be quite different.