Discovering Ancestral Roots through Technology and Genealogy

kropekk_pl / Pixabay
kropekk_pl / Pixabay

A new industry has been created from the human curiosity to know who our ancestors are and where they came from. From the entertainment and mass media spotlighting genealogical stories, like Alex Haley’s Roots and television show “Who Do You Think You Are,” combined with technological advancements, have led to an explosion of genealogical attention.  Innovative .com databases like Ancestry, Fold3, Newspapers, and Find a Grave, have contributed by indexing and publishing searchable historical or archived records and documents previously difficult, if not impossible to find.  Overall, the Internet has become a massive digitized repository of data, photographs and videos, instantly providing a plethora of information with people worldwide—just waiting to be shared at a click of a mouse.  So just where do you begin?

What Genealogical Sources exist?
Today, we fill out the United States Federal Censuses every ten years, just as our ancestors did beginning in 1790. We register our birth, marriage and death certificates, but this was not always the case long ago. An ancestor making the trek to the courthouse was met with extreme economic and travelling burdens during the pioneer days; thus registering records was not compulsory until after 1905.    So, what other records can you look for to advance your research beyond the census and vital statistics records?

Most of us come from families who immigrated to America. With this in mind, there are Passenger Lists, Immigration, Naturalization and Citizenship Records, which show when your ancestors arrived in America, from what land of origin and by what ship.  There are schedules that kept track of your ancestor’s real estate and personal property value; these would include Agricultural Schedules, Land and Property Records and Probate Records.  Church Records reflect your ancestor’s religious beliefs and church location.   Male ancestor’s Military Records show what war campaign they participated in, if they died in the war, or received Pensions or Bounty Land Warrants for serving.  Also, keep a look out for Societies and Fraternal Organizations they belonged too.   Mortality Schedules, Cemetery, Funeral Home Records and Grave Marker Inscriptions give details of an ancestor’s death.  Newspaper clippings and City Directories are also places to find relevant information.  Across 1800s America, many counties published books with biographies of their leading citizens. Currently, there is the Social Security Application Form SS-5, which offers specific information about your ancestor, his parent’s names and home address.

How to Find these records?
There are many places to find genealogical documents, from free to paid subscription services, as well as institutions. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), State Departments, local historical museums and libraries can be helpful to visit., and are informative online repositories.  These are just a few places to expand your research with. 

There is a vast array of sources that can be beneficial in your family history research. Remember to keep a notebook of the places and dates you have visited so that you do not waste time returning repeatedly to a source, especially if the site was not helpful to you.

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