The most important quest you will ever take is the one in which you delve into the origins of your family history. Seeking to know more about your relatives and ancestors is a great way to learn more about who you are in this big world. The family tree also provides some fascinating hidden stories that may intrigue and surprise you. To begin your journey into the past you need a good starting point. There are several ways to gather information.
What Do You Know?
You already have some knowledge to use as a starter guide. Begin by recording details about your own life. Add your name to the family tree first. Include the names of your mother, father, spouse, children, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. There may be some gaps due to lack of information. That’s okay. You are off to a great start.
Ask Family Members
Inform your relatives that you are working on the family genealogy and ask them for details about relatives they knew growing up. Many times an older relative will have vivid memories of their childhood days spent listening to elders tell stories.
This can give you lots of good material. Take detailed notes or bring a digital recorder with you to record the conversations.
Look for Vital Records
Put your detective hat on and search for important records such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, school reports, diaries, old letters, old photos, family bibles and treasure boxes. Some of these items may be stored away in the attic or basement. Get permission from relatives to look through their stored items. These searches can uncover some golden nuggets.
Check the U.S. Census Records
The Federal U.S. Census has decades of information about people from across the country. Every person that ever appeared on a census can be found in this massive database. Use the information you already know about your family and look for familiar names. Match the names to known residential areas and dates.
Download Family Tree Software
There are forms online available for easy download that let you fill in the names as you discover family connections. Forms allow you to keep track of all the different generations. You can also stay better organized and see where there are gaps to fill in.
Double Check Names
Names are tricky when doing genealogy research. Some names may sound similar but be spelled completely different. One incorrectly spelled name can lead you down the wrong path. You could end up including a person not related just by getting one letter wrong. So, be sure to double check the spelling of each name as you look through old records.
Include Your Sources
It is important that you record the source of all information included in your genealogy research. That means that you create a citation by writing down exactly where you got a relative’s specific information. For instance, if you found out from reading an old newspaper that your great grandfather held an important position, you would record the name and date of the paper.
Citations are a valuable resource that you may need to see again to double check facts.
Researching and recording your family history is time consuming, but ultimately a richly rewarding experience.
Derek is currently blogging for GTL DNA, a DNA diagnostics center that provides home DNA testing kits. He enjoys helping people with their genealogy and genetic testing questions.
Like most of you, genealogy is a hobby of mine. I think we all would like to have more time to build our family tree, and we would like to more easily track down our ancestors. With Ancestry.com recently updating their 1940 U.S. Census to make searchable Brooklyn, New York City and in fact all of New York State, we have just had our job made much easier.
That was something we had been expecting, and waiting for. What was not expected, was the release of the 1892, 1915 and 1925 New York State Census’s. As I am sure most of you can relate to, I have a branch of my family tree that has remained a mystery for years. When I hear Ancestry.com has indexed the 1940 census I immediately type in that same name I have typed in a hundred times before – John N Murray, Born 1882 in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York. The results this time however, were very different. There was no immediate match in 1940, but at the top of my search results, right next to my saved records from 1900, 1910, and 1930 were 2 perfect matches that I had never seen before. The 1915 and 1925 New York State Census Reports.
There has been a New York Police Census of 1890 out for many years, but it is basically useless, this State census is however, the opposite. Including such information as address, names of all family members, ages and profession, this report is every bit as informative as the U.S census, and in fact appears to be modeled after it. It includes everything you would expect to find, except the birthplace of each parent (which I have found is incidentally not included in the 1940 U.S. census).
In this specific case of John N Murray Sr, Born 1882, I knew who he was married to in 1910, a Miss Catherine Twyford, a clothing store saleslady from the same Red Hook neighborhood (I have spent many hours searching all her siblings descendants) and I know they had 3 children, 2 of which were boys with the very common names of William and John, and the oldest, a female named Agnes. These 3 children were my grandfather’s cousins. I also had a very likely match for him in 1930, living with a different wife, Anna, and a young daughter, Mildred. I used the fact that he was exactly the right age, holding the same profession as an Iron Worker, and having both parents birthplaces of Brooklyn and Germany being correct as the “proof” needed to make this match.
The new 1925 census confirmed the same household at 285 Himrod St, Brooklyn, including wife Anna Murray (nee. Scholl) and 3 year old daughter, Mildred. No earth shattering revolution there, but as any genealogist knows, a 2nd source to back up every detail from a person’s name, to their age, is very important when searching for ancestors.
1915 New York Census
The real break came from the 1915 census. Before finding that I had the 1910 census and then the WWI Draft Card, badly damaged, for John N Murray. This WWI card from 1918 has his oldest sister listed as his nearest relative, not his wife, Catherine, leading me to believe that the couple had either divorced, or John was widowed. I could not find a trace of John, Catherine or any of the 3 children in the 1920 census (and still have not). What the 1915 census did was to finally provide clarity on this case, and also provided me with the names of 2 new children, born between 1910 and 1915. One was Theresa, born 1912 and Robert, listed as 47 days of age on census date on June 1st, making his birthday about April 12th, 1915. The clarity I mentioned came from Johns marital status as a widow. Rarely in genealogy do you get so lucky as to find out from a census exactly when somebody died, but with a child being 47 days old and the father being a widow, you have that 47 day window for the death of the mother, which is very necessary when searching a common name like “Catherine Murray”.
A quick search of New York Birth, Marriage and Death records provides me with a perfect match, a 34 year old Catherine Murray from Kings County, that died 2 weeks after Robert was born.
Holy Cross Cemetery
Searching Holy Cross Cemetery provided me with her gravesite.
Sometimes the biggest source of genealogical discovery is burial information with the other names on an ancestors tombstone being the children, or other unknown family members. This can provide you with much needed dates of death, and married names of daughters. This is invaluable when you have no clues for ancestors with common names. The bad news in this particular case was that there was only one other person in that grave, Robert, her 47 day old son who did not live very long, dying at 6 month of age on November 15th, 1915.
About a month ago I received notification that somebody was saving some of the same records I had saved on Ancestry.com. I looked at this persons’ family tree, and saw that they added my John Murray section of the family, but not a lot of the information matched. One of the discrepencies was that there was a sister named Theresa. Also, the first born of the family was named Ruth, and not “Agnes”, as in my John Murrays family. After e-mailing this person and asking why they thought our families were a match, she explained that her father had told her he remembers a “Willie” and a John (which are match’s), and that “Ruth” was the Jewish name of the converted Agnes Murray, after marriage. WOW! What seemed to be the case of another ancestry.com member jumping the gun, turned out to be an actual match, and the Great Granddaughter of my John N. Murray.
When I said earlier that there was no match for these children of John Murray in the 1920 census, I kinda lied. There are matches, in Orphanages, and “Asylums”. I never gave those much consideration, because I knew with 95% certainty that their father was living with another wife and raising a daughter born in 1921, in 1930 census. How could he have 4 children between the ages of 8 – 16 in orphanages in 1920’s census, and in the meantime I have his marriage record to Anna Scholl on June 20th, 1920!? The family lore provided from my new cousin on Ancestry.com is that Agnes, or “Ruth” did infact provide that she and her siblings were raised in orphanages for a period of time. It appears my John Murray either had his children taken from him, or he possibly abandoned them.
R.C. House of Good Shepherd
My source did not have much information on brothers William and John, but if her father remembered them, then they had to have lived until the 1950’s at least. Knowing that, and the new details of their childhood, I can begin to find them in the 1920 census and beyond. 16 year old Agnes is located easily as an “Inmate” and a machine Operator in the Roman Catholic “House of the Good Shepherd” located on Hopkinson Ave, in East New York. She was in the Pacific Street Wing, which was the “Juvenile Delinquent Reformatory”.
I hope for the best as I research these 2 brothers. Whatever I find though, I realize that none of it would have been possible whithout the 1915 New York State Census.
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