Is There a Family Tree Goldmine Hiding in Your Attic?
- Most armchair genealogists today are so conditioned to look for just about everything online that they often forget some of the very basic "old school" methods that worked so well years before anyone had even heard of the Internet. So, turn off the computer, get up from your desk, and get ready to do some down and dirty family tree research the way it used to be done.
Where to start? Well, if your parents or grandparents have an attic, prepare yourself for a dusty afternoon of rummaging through chests and boxes looking for old family records. Papers to look for include: property deeds, military service records, birth and death certificates, and old wills. Take a notebook, and write down the name of each document you find, as well as any dates, and any names (both of people and places), which are mentioned.
How will you use the documents and these names and dates? Try entering the names into any of the online search resources you're no doubt familiar with. One of the reasons so many people get frustrated with their family tree research is that they simply can't find much - if anything - online. The more names and information you can uncover using more traditional methods, the greater your odds of success when you try today's "cutting-edge" methods. Remember, as you learn new search techniques, your family tree will take shape from ALL the pieces of the puzzle that you discover.
Letters from the Past
When you find an old letter, one that's perhaps a couple of hundred years old, you're listening to the voice of your ancestor, in his or her own words. The ink will be faded, and it might take a lot of effort to read the letters. Rather than ruin your eyes or become frustrated, take photos of the letters, or copy or scan them, and have them enlarged. Then transcribe (copy by hand) as much of the letters as you need to help you to identify the person later. Include any dates; also take note of the addresses on envelopes, and the dates the letters were posted. As you go through old letters, many of the names will be completely unfamiliar to you. However, don't ignore them. Write down each name in a master list. If you use a spreadsheet program you'll be able to sort the names alphabetically. The deeper you go into your research, the more you'll come across the same names, and you will figure out just who these people are.
Old Account Books
Families in the 19th century kept careful accounts. These account books can be of several kinds. Women kept household accounts of money spent on food, fuel and other household necessities. Farms and small businesses kept accounts of their business transactions. In addition, fathers kept family accounts with their wills. Any money that was advanced to a child against his inheritance would be carefully written down, along with any repayments, and any amounts outstanding would be calculated against the child's portion of the inheritance when the father died.
Diaries and Journals
People in the past were more inclined to keep a diary or a journal than we are today. Travelers kept diaries of their explorations, and students kept diaries when they went to boarding school. Read any journals you find carefully, and make a note of people and places that are mentioned. These will help you later on.
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