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The Beginning Genealogist
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Among the Mississippi Choctaws
Week of December 13, 2009
Genealogy Feature of the Week

Announcing the Newly Updated Site:
Basic Genealogy Documents-Everyone Leaves a Paper Trail

I have learned a few things over the years about researching one’s history.  First of all there is a paper trail to follow on most individuals.  Unless someone has totally lived “off the grid” with no contact with anyone, then there is a record that will provide clues to the past.  

Sometimes you might find a document that conflicts with what you have heard. What do you do?  You continue to research and acquire additional documents and then you will have enough information to make an analysis.

So what are the documents that you as a beginning genealogist will use?
Vital Records–Birth, Death and Marriage Records
Census Record–Federal and state records capture the family every 10 years (sometimes more frequently).

Courthouse Records–Information about property, taxes, and court case are useful.
Land Records-Property ownership can reveal useful info on the life and lifestyle of the family.
Local Records-School records, cemetery records, church records are all wonderful sources of data.
Family Records-Family artifacts, obituaries, photo albums, old licenses, insurance papers, diplomas are useful when the beginner is seeking some general info on elders in the family.

What happens when you find something you never knew? Do you stop the search when you find something unexpected?  The thorough researcher does not stop. In fact it is often finding the unexpected data that drives the tenacious scholar to collect additional data.  Following the paper trail will often lead to answers and provide additional insights into the history of the family as a whole. One tip to remember is to utilize all records when documenting a line.  Again remember that census records are often described as the engine that drive genealogical research.  But vital records---birth, marriage, and death records, are essential, as well as local records---land records, tax records, probate records. These documents connect the family to the local community, and place them in the historical and social context in which the family lived. What about Ethnic Resources–-what are they and should you use them? Keep in mind that genealogy is more than collecting names---the goal is to tell the story. And everyone has a story, and there are documents that will assist you in gleaning more information to let that story come forth.

Study the records as a whole---from the personal archives records—papers, photos, news clippings, expired licenses, insurance policies etc., to the outside records—census and local community records.  All will help you piece together that critical story of the family’s history.