I have had several friends who have asked me recently about how to do their genealogy. Usually the comment I hear is, “I have no idea where to start!” or “All my ancestors are gone” or “No one really remembers anything in our family.” And my all-time favorite line, especially when it comes to Irish records, “all those records have been destroyed so we’ll never know!”
Well, I’m here to tell you that even if no one remembers who your great-grandparents were, all is not lost. In fact, there are many records available to aid you in your research.
So let’s take one of the questions I often hear: “I have no idea where to start!” Simple answer, start with yourself! Write your information first. Add your name, date of birth, place of birth, and if you would like baptismal information. Remember, there will come a time when someone will want to hear from you. Add any information you would like to add, such as your education, interests, and perhaps where you were on vacation and your occupations.
Most of us know who our biological parents are and we may have some record of their lives. If they are still alive and you don’t have much information to start with, ask them questions about their parents, dates of birth and death, and where they may have grown up. Obviously, if you are adopted, the search can be more difficult, but depending on the state in which you were born, there are also a few options.
Once you’ve collected some information, keep it organized by using a pedigree and family group chart, either by following the paper route that you can get copies of at many libraries or download online, or by using one of the computer programs available. They’re available. I use Family Tree Maker, but there are others that may work for you too. You may have already gathered enough information at this point to publish two or three generations or even more than that.
Start looking at some of the free online sites, like familysearch.org or the National Archives (nara.gov). You can probably find valuable information in records such as the U.S. Census. Determining the location of an ancestor from a census enumeration will allow you to search for county history books for that region, obituaries, and even vital records such as birth certificates, marriage and death. Church records from that region would also be a valuable source. I wouldn’t start checking any foreign registrations until you’ve first exhausted almost all the possibilities in the U.S. There are several other online sites like Ancestry.com, Findmypast.com, and Myheritage.com that can be helpful too, though you’ll need a subscription for these sites.
Many believe that Irish records no longer exist and the chances of finding something are slim or nil. That rumor is absolutely false. Not all records were destroyed in the Four Courts fire in Dublin in 1922. We are now discovering some copies of church records that were never sent to Four Courts for archival and some pre-1900 censuses still exist and now appear online. There are also several census surrogates that are also available online that were also on file outside of the Four Courts building.
What could also be useful for the new researcher is a workshop or course offered by many libraries and even some societies offer an online workshop. Some programs, such as the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, also offer certified and non-certified programs and courses for the family historian. If you’re ready to take that trip to Ireland, the Ulster Historical Foundation also offers two Family History Conferences each year from its office in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The conference includes research at the Northern Ireland Office of Public Records and a day trip to Dublin to research the National Archives of Ireland, the Register of Deeds and the National Library of Ireland.
Well that’s a lot of information, but once you start rolling, many of these records will be very familiar to you. Just remember, the key to starting your family research starts with YOU!