By Brenda K. Smith
Treasure Coast Genealogy Society
When starting a family history, always start at the beginning, with yourself, assuming you are tracing your own family.
You will need a pedigree chart. A pedigree chart is a chart of the direct line of your ancestors. A copy of this chart can be found on the Internet, at your local library genealogy department, or from any genealogy nut you might know.
This is the skeleton of your genealogy puzzle. You are number one on the chart, your father and all male ancestors are even numbers; female ancestors are odd numbers.
On this chart will be recorded the name, birth, marriage and death dates and locations of each person. You will probably carry this with you to keep track of who you are looking for, and which pieces of your puzzle need to be found.
You will be amazed at the thrill that will come when you can add just one little date or place on this little sheet of paper! Sounds dumb, huh? Try it.
The second form you will fill out is a Family Group Sheet for each marriage on your Pedigree Chart.
On this form is all the information about this individual family, including their marriage date and location and all known children. Children are listed in order of birth with the oldest listed first. Dates are always listed as day, month, and year. Consistency avoids confusion.
There are many computer genealogy software programs to choose from or it can certainly be kept on paper. When choosing a computer program, be sure that it has a GEDCOM utility, which allows you to import and export your data to another program. This is essential for sharing your information with others, or moving your data from one program to another. You may end up trying several programs, before you find one you are comfortable with.
Even when you use a computer program, you will still need a system to keep the hard copy of the original documents you will collect. This can be in file folders, notebooks, or any other way you decide to safely keep your documents in an acid free environment. There is no right way or wrong way.
It can be organized around surnames or family groups. Many books, articles and kits have been sold to help genealogists organize their material, and still most genealogists have a stack of papers (or several) that they don't know what to do with!
In the long run, it will be your own personal preference as to how you organize your photos and documents and notes in a way that they can be easily found when needed.
The next step is to gather all the information you know about yourself, children, parents, grandparents, etc. Birth records, marriage records, Bible records, death certificates, newspaper records, etc, are all pieces of the puzzle of telling the story of each generation in your family.
These are the pieces of "proof" that are needed to make your family history come alive and be taken seriously.
Oral histories from Aunt Josie and Uncle Bill are wonderful and need to be included, but legal and hand-written documents are the proof needed to back this up. They will definitely be needed if you decide to join any hereditary organizations such as the Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution, Colonial Dames of America, etc. Just keep in mind from the very beginning, that you need to get copies of these documents, and make good notes of where and from whom, any information came.
Contact other family members, interviewing the oldest living relatives. Often, casual conversations about family and their memories of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, and where they lived, died, old stories, etc. will reveal a wealth of information. Using a recording device is a great way to get this on record without having to obviously interview someone, writing everything down. Relaxation is the key, and this brings out the stories, good and bad, and often family photos and mementoes will follow.
Try to find others researching common ancestors. You may be surprised how many genealogists are out there. Just the casual mention of the word "genealogy" usually brings an immediate response from almost any group of more than two or three people. Join the local genealogical society and any other group that might have information or members that might help trace your family.
These included societies in the areas where your ancestors lived, ethnic organizations, military societies, religious organizations, etc.
Not everything sold on the Internet, or anywhere else is honest. Be aware of the many scams that are out there waiting to take your money with promises of giving you your personal genealogy, or millions of surnames.
This usually means you will get a list of Web addresses, such as Ancestry.com or Rootsweb.com, or lists of names copied out of the phone book. One of the oldest is the selling of your "Coat of Arms."
Except for a few individual exceptions from some parts of Eastern Europe, there is no such thing as a coat of arms for a surname or family name. Coats of arms belong to individuals, not families or surnames. For a person to have a right to a coat of arms, they must have either had it granted to them or be descended in the legitimate male line from the person to whom the coat of arms was originally granted.
If you are a Scot, you must prove that you are heir to a properly matriculated Scots coat of arms. If you use the arms of someone else, then you are usurping arms. Therefore, the coat of arms, or family crest, does not belong to everyone using the surname.
Just remember, when working on the Internet, that if it is too good to be true, it probably is. I will be writing much more about Internet research in later columns.
A great place to start your research is www.cyndislist.com. This site will give you a link to almost any subject you need more information about.
Brenda Knight Smith is a charter member of the Treasure Coast Genealogical Society. For more information or help, contact her by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.