How to Find Your Family Roots and Write Your Family History

How to Find Your Family Roots and Write Your Family History
William Latham and Cindy Higgins
March 2000

Have you ever wondered if one of your ancestors was a famous person? A president, or even a king or a queen? If you've shown a flair for painting or writing, maybe you've fantasized that you inherited your talent from an ancestor with a a name like Michelangelo or Shakespeare. Now you can create a priceless inheritance for future generations and satisfy your own curiosity!
In How To Find Your Family Roots and Write Your Family History, William Latham and Cindy Higgins show you how to trace your family history in a simple, easy, and inexpensive manner. This revised version of the best-selling How To Find Your Family Roots has been updated to include the lattest Interneet resources and expanded to offer step-by-step instructions on how to write your family history in a way that is as entertaining and exciting as a historical novel! You'll discover:

  • How to interview family members
  • Where to look for family relics and treasures
  • How to utilize the latest Internet resources
  • What to ask librarians
  • Where to obtain church recrds
  • How to research vital records
  • How to use government resources
  • How to search for your ancestors in foreign countries
  • A country-by-country list of sources
  • A state-by-state list of sources
  • How to organize your research material
  • How to incorporate history and storytelling into your writing
  • How to design and print your family history
  • How to share your family history with relatives

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Table of Contents

The Excitement of Finding Your Family Roots
Definition and History of Genealogy
What You Will Accomplish

1. A Brief History of America’s Immigrants
From Many Lands, for Many Reasons
The Harrowing Voyage Across the Ocean
Crossing the Country

2. Starting Your Search for Your Family Roots
Tools of the Trade
Organizing Your Research Material
Numbering System
Filing System

3. Names, Relationships, and Dates: Early Keys to Your Search
Name Origins and Meaning
Did Your Ancestor Change Names?
How to Search for a Changed Name

4. You and Your Family: Your Most Important Research Sources
Begin with Yourself
The Next Step-Your Family Members
Finding Relics in the Attic and Basement

5. Using Computers for Genealogy
Internet Searches
E-Mail, Mailing Lists, and Newsgroups
World Wide Web
Genealogy Software

6. The Tremendous Riches of Libraries
Take Advantage of Your Local Library
What to Ask Librarians
Libraries of Special Genealogical Significance
What You Can Find in Libraries
Genealogical Publishers and Booksellers
Genealogical Societies

7. Church Records and Cemeteries
Western Civilization’s Record Keepers
How to Use Church Records
How to Obtain Church Records
Recording Tombstone Information

8. Local and State Records
A Word About Primary Sources
Researching Primary Source Records
First Steps
Vital Documents
Property Records
Probate Records

9. Federal Government Research Sources
The National Archives
Census Records
Non-population Censuses
Military Records
Service Records
Veteran Pensions
Bounty Land Grants
Homestead Files and Other Land Transactions
Passenger Lists and Naturalization Records
Social Security Records
Federal Bureau of Investigations Records
Hiring a Professional Genealogist-The Right Decision for You?

10. Searching for Ancestors in Foreign Countries
List of Sources, Country by Country

11. Special Genealogical Challenges
African Americans
Hispanic Americans
Jewish Americans
Native Americans

12. Writing Your Family History
Getting Started
How to Present Your Information

13. Incorporating the Art of Storytelling
Into Your Family History Writing
Storytelling Techniques
Writing About People Alive Today
Writing About Ancestors
Break Into Song
Adding Personality
Insert Yourself
From Start to Finish or ?

14. Using History in Family History Writing
History Adds Clarification
History Provides a Setting
History Fleshes Out “Bare Bones” Story Areas
History Gives Pizzazz
Easy History Sources
Know What You are Writing About

15. Information Presentation
Determine Your Ethical Stance
Avoid Faulty Reasoning
Consider the Source
Prove It! And Prove It Again! And Again!
Source Citation

16. Editing Your Work
Concept Editing
Line Editing

17. Visual Accents
Paragraph Typography
Beyond Photographs
Line Art
Illustration Placement

18. Packaging the Story
Camera Ready?
Printer Types and Estimates
Page Placement
How Many to Print?
Preserving Family Histories

19. Sharing Your Family History
Celebrate Your Success with a Family Reunion
Reunion Activities
Countdown to the Reunion
One Last Touch

State Repositories
(Including public libraries, historical society libraries, and archives)
Vital Records (United States and Canada)
Genealogical Magazines, E-Zines, and Web Sites
Genealogical Publishers


The Excitement of Finding Your Family Roots

Have you ever wondered whether one of your ancestors was a famous person? A president, or even a King or a Queen? Perhaps your last name is Washington, and you’ve always thought that perhaps you were a distant relative of the father of our country. If you’ve shown a flair for painting or writing, maybe you’ve fantasized that you inherited your talent from a talented ancestor.
Certainly the heritage of each and every one of us is a fascinating topic. Who hasn’t dreamed of origins, or people living in another place, in another time? Who hasn’t seen an old photograph of a person to whom they bear a striking resemblance and thought, “I wonder whether. . . ?” In this book, we will show you how the process of finding your family roots-known as “genealogy”-can act as a kind of time machine or magic carpet that allows you to travel back into the past. Once there, you can find information that has helped to shape you -not only in terms of your physical appearance, but your personality, beliefs, habits, and skills as well.
Additionally, this search for your roots will take you through time and space, from century to century and from state to state or even exotic country to country. Your search will give you a greater sense of exactly how you fit into this giant web of people and places that we call the history of mankind. And, what’s more, we’ll show you how to do all of this in a simple, easy, and inexpensive manner.
How to Find Your Family Roots is not an academic report filled with complicated research techniques and impossible suggestions and instructions. Instead, it is written for people like you who are naturally curious. People who care about their family and their heritage and want to find valuable information to share with other family members and pass it on to future generations. You’ll discover that it’s not only easy to find out a great deal of information about your family roots, it’s also a lot of fun! Think of it like a giant jigsaw puzzle, of which you, your family, and your ancestors are the pieces!!

Definition and History of Genealogy
The term “genealogy” actually comes from two Greek works: “genea,” which means “race” or “family”; and “logia,” which means “science” or “study of.” When we speak of genealogy, we are really talking about the study of the descent of a person or of a family.
The science of genealogy is as old as the Bible, which itself serves as the first written example of genealogy. Ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks, showed a keen interest in genealogy-as displayed in the works of Homer and the plays of Aeschylus and Euripides. Another early use of genealogy was to prove that a person was descended from certain gods and goddesses or from rulers. Later, rulers or the upper classes actively pursued genealogical interests. That changed in the sixteenth century when extensive written records began to be kept, thus making it far easier for ordinary citizens to trace their lineage.
Any way you look at it, interest in man’s lineage is as old as civilized man himself.

What You Will Accomplish
As you begin the task of unraveling the mystery of your family’s origin, you will learn a great deal about the history of both America and the world, as well as about geography, people and their lifestyles, and most importantly, yourself-who you are and where you come from.
Ideally, you should be able to trace your roots back to the original paternal and maternal immigrants of your family or maybe even further than that. If you are able to do this, you will know your complete American genealogy and you should congratulate yourself-most people do not know this much about their family. Your next step would be to try and trace your lineage to the forefathers of your family’s original immigrants, to those who were born and those who died in some far away country hundreds of years ago. Finally, you will take whatever information you have gathered and write a letter, report, or even a book about your discoveries. Some enthusiasts even form a family organization that meets once or twice a year, bringing together relatives that they have never met or possibly didn’t even know existed.
But even if you are only able to go back two or three generations, even if you only come up with a handful of dates, names and places, you will have accomplished a great deal, something of which you can be especially proud. Why? Because you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you have set up a solid foundation for the future generations of your family. You will have set a precedent that will surely inspire one of your descendants to pick up the ball and continue the project you started. Additionally, by providing a written record of your lineage, you will give those around you and those who will follow in your footsteps immeasurable joy in knowing just who they are and where they come from.
Perhaps we’re getting a little too serious here. The main thing you must keep in mind while tracing your family tree is to have fun! Because it’s not about how far back you are able to go or how complete a family history you are able to put together. No, it’s really about getting in touch with relatives you haven’t talked to in a long time or have never even met. It’s about finding long lost mementos and hearing old family tales that have been buried in the memories of your older relatives for years and years because nobody was ever truly interested enough to ask them to tell these stories. It’s about all of this and much, much more. . . .
And remember, the sooner you get started, the better. Your relatives are not getting any younger, and once they are gone, their memories and their stories will go with them. Don’t let time pass you by, leaving you in the unenviable position of kicking yourself while you cry, “If only I would’ve talked to him while he was alive!” So what are you waiting for? Let’s begin your search for your family roots!

© 2000 Santa Monica Press LLC

Author Information

“If you’re looking for a basic beginner’s guide with overviews of records and lots of resources to further your search, this book is for you.”
Family Tree Magazine

“The ideal introduction for beginning a family genealogy record.”
The Bookwatch

“Aimed at the beginning genealogist, it contains helpful information for anyone interested in tracing their ancestry.”
The Second Boat