In the Past (Genealogy), Uncategorized

ABC’s of Genealogy Research


ABC’s of Genealogy Research



Ahnentafel – provides the ancestry of an individual in written text as opposed to pedigree form and provides personalized details and commentary along with cited sources.

Archives – collection of historical documents or the place that houses them.

Accuracy – the state of being correct or precise.  (A true genealogist should strive for nothing short of complete accuracy.)

Ancestry – family line or ethnic descent.

Annals – a yearly registry of recorded events, chronicles, and accounts.

Articles – source of genealogical data found by searching old newspapers and publications.


Birth Certificates – official documents issued at birth providing full name, birth date, place of birth,  and parentage.

Bibles —  prayer book with space for recording important family events like births, deaths, marriages and considered a treasured resource.

Biography – a written account of someone’s life compiled by another person.

Baptism (Christening, Confirmation) – rite of admission into the church almost always recorded in church ledgers.

Brick Wall – when one cannot get beyond a certain step in tracing a particular person or line due to lack of available information.  (It happens – often!)


Census – the official count or registration of a population providing specific details on families and individuals.  Quite possibly the most valuable genealogical resource available.

Cemetery – a burial ground and source of death and family information.  Separate cemetery records sometimes searchable as well.  It is also of note that there is nothing quite so spiritual and connecting as walking where our ancestors lie.

Conversation – generate it, respond to it, share it.  It’s amazing what can be learned from fellow researchers.

Church – place of worship with yearly records of births and deaths, baptisms/christenings/confirmations, marriages/divorces, Sunday School attendance, communion and more.

Courthouse – building housing a county’s administrative offices and source for records such as estates, wills/probates, tax and property records, civil and criminal cases, naturalization, orphans court, pensions, and vital records.


Death Certificate – official register of a person’s cause, date, and place of death signed by a physician.  In some cases also offers parentage, spouse, and location of burial.

Documentation – quite possibly THE most important thing anyone building a family tree can do!  DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT!  Data without documentation proving the information is not valid and can create a ripple effect that damages the integrity and accuracy of ancestral research and lineage far beyond the boundaries of a single family tree.

DNA – the unique genetic characteristics of every human being that can be used to determine direct ancestry

Deed – legal documentation showing ownership of home and property.

Descendants – an ancestor’s heirs or lineage.


Education – the process of learning of and about the practice, development, and resources required for pursuing genealogical research.

Errors – what you will find in data – repeatedly!  Even with documentation, the errors are rampant and often frustrating.  Record them all.  Document them all.  It’s better than just “picking one,” as multiple possibilities are better than inaccurate facts.

Estate – the assets, property, and capital holdings of an individual most times compiled in a will.

Ethics – the moral principles by which a person conducts their personal research.  Don’t copy!  Ask permission!  Be mindful and respectful of the hours and, in most cases, years of work unearthing viable information.  Most family researchers love to share with others and value the exchange of materials.


Forum – an online meeting place where queries can be made and information on individuals, families, events, and locations can be shared and discussed.   Most all genealogical sites offer them and they are a great way to connect with others who are searching the same lines.

Family – the reason behind it all.  From those who came before us to those who will learn from our endeavors in generations to come.

Frustration – the act of smacking one’s head against the proverbial wall when coming up empty after hours and sometimes years of trying to track down that elusive ancestor.

Files – a good way to organize individuals or families for easy reference.


Generation — members of a family line considered to be a single step or stage in descent.

Genealogy – the research and study of a continuous line of descent from an ancestor.

GEDCOM – the standard format for genealogy databases that allows the exchange of data among different software programs and operating systems.


History – the stories of past events and the human narrative.

Historical Societies  — repositories for historical documents, records, and meaningful holdings.  Often county-based, an invaluable genealogical resource.

Handwriting – a never-ending challenge when interpreting hand written informational materials, in particular, the census.

Heritage – one’s ancestry.


Internet – the “new age” of genealogy – a resource at your fingertips – a way to directly connect with fellow researchers – access to information we may never have known existed.  Also, a curse, an ever-ready abundance of Inaccurate, unsourced data, and a venue on which to spread incorrect, unverified material from family tree to family tree, around the cyber world and back again.  (see Documentation – under “D”)

Interview – direct verbal dialogue used for the purpose of recording memories and/or recollections for family research.  Remember to document acquired information as such.

Immigration – the journey or movement from one location and resettlement in another, as in relocating/immigrating from Europe to America.


Journals – recorded logs of life and/or specific events that can provide chronological and, in some cases, personal insight into an individual’s life.

Journey – an adventure, expedition, exploration, migration, odyssey, quest, route, trek, or wandering – all of which chronicle  the lives of our ancestors, but also define the course of action the genealogist takes while searching for them through the pages, files, and cemeteries of time.


Kin – family, blood, connection, lineage

Knowledge – an understanding and comprehension of the genealogical process and a respect for the individuals and their stories found there.

Keywords – descriptive words or phrases used to search online files/documents.


LDS (Mormons) – a compilation of extensive genealogical records housed by the Mormon Church.  (

Library – a brick and mortar source of historical materials and available local/county/state records.

Lineage – direct ancestral descent


Military – a significant resource for searching individuals who participated in homeland and international conflicts and provides service record, location, next of kin, and sometimes physical characteristics.

Marriage Certificate  – a document recognizing the union of two people that, in most cases, provides names (maiden), dates, location, parents, witness(es), indication of former marriages, and occupations.

Microfilm (microfiche) – a film roll containing copies of documents, newspapers, catalogs, ledgers/rolls, census, etc. to be used in a reader.

Maps – a tangible means of tracking ancestral migration, locating land holdings, determining environment, verifying population, visualizing events, etc.

Maternal – lineage through the mother’s side of the family.

Mortality Schedule — portion of the federal census listing information about persons who died during the census year.


Newspapers – annual printed publications offering information ranging from local to international.  An excellent resource for adding personal notes to a family tree and adding depth to an ancestor’s story.

Notes – take them – keep them (even if they don’t seem to be relevant in the moment) – organize them (or you’ll be sorry).

Naturalization/Citizenship – the process by which an immigrant/foreigner becomes a legal, documented citizen of a new country.


Organization – something you should do from the very beginning of your research journey because the volume of information multiples very quickly and there is nothing more frustrating than losing the data and documentation you’ve worked so hard to find.  And, not just physical files, but internet files too!

Obituary – a death notice typically found in a newspaper that provides personal information, but lists family and survivors as well.

Occupation – often located in census, biographies, marriage certificates, obituaries, etc.  Always worth noting as it helps add depth and understanding to the individuals we research.

Orphan – can be defined in numerous ways, not just the stereotypical child with no parents.  In research, you may find “orphans” who have no parents, one, or both.  They may be classified as wards, charges, foster or adopted children.   While it may be difficult, it does justice to the child and your research to document it accurately.  (Note – an adopted child should be listed as the CHILD of his adoptive parents, NOT their “adopted child!”  The appropriate place for any additional information would be in the notes, if necessary at all.)

Oral History – the verbal sharing and memorization of stories and events.  Oral history is an amazing resource, but be mindful of the fact that just because Great Aunt Mary insists her GG-Grandmother once removed is the daughter of King Tut doesn’t mean she actually was.  Add it to the story!  It helps bring the personalities involved to life, but remember to document it as oral history.  Unless, of course, you can prove it…


Privacy – most important when you are adding living individuals to a public family tree.  With genealogy software, it is possible to generically list living relatives without divulging names and ages.  Also, be careful about sharing private stories without permission from living relatives.  If it’s something that could be uncomfortable, hurtful, or painful, it probably doesn’t belong in a family tree to begin with.

Probate – official proof of the execution of a will.

Pedigree – genealogical ancestry of a person or family, often recorded in tree form.

Pension (military) – a regular payment made to veterans, widows, and orphans.  A valuable written resource for Civil War research.

Passenger List (Ship) – Ship’s name and a listing of all passengers, Captain, and Crew registered upon arrival at destination ports.

Paternal – lineage through the father’s side of the family.

Primary Source – a record created at the time of an event.   A birth certificate would be a primary source for a birth date.   Birth dates can be found on other documents, such as census, marriage certificates, etc., but they would not be primary sources for the birth date, because they were not created at the time of birth.


Query – a question or inquiry submitted to a forum seeking information.

Quality – the state of having established valid, documented material that is accurate and well-organized.

Quantity – not necessarily more important than above.  A huge tree undocumented and with errors is of far less value than one that is smaller, but factual.


Rootsweb – the internet’s oldest and largest free genealogical community.

Research  — the study and collection of historical information for the purpose of identifying and compiling ancestral lineage.

Records – chronicled documentation offering evidence of past acts, events, and occurrences.


Search – to seek, pursue, inquire.

Spelling – a study unto itself in the world of genealogical research, making one an expert in phonetics!

Software – computer operating program used for compiling, organizing, and storing collected data for the purpose of creating reports, charts, pedigrees, etc.

Secondary Source — a record created after an actual event occurred.  In the case of a birth, examples might include census, interviews, biographies, marriage certificates, etc.  These would be considered secondary sources because the record was not generated at the time of the event.

Social Security Death Index (SSDI) – a searchable file compiled from SSA records of persons deceased possessing social security numbers and whose deaths were reported to the SSA.

Soundex – a coding system based on phonetics that aids significantly in searching files that have been digitized and contain variations in spelling.


Tree – a genealogical diagram showing the relationship between individuals and families over a period of generations

Tax Records – some of the earliest and most valuable recorded sources of information, varying in content.  Records may include name, ages, occupation, residence, personal property, family statistics, slaves, stock, and property description.


Uniformity – decide on a recording style and be consistent from record to record – for readability, consistency, and organization.

Understandable – keep in mind that not everyone who reads your tree will know what you know.  Write/record in such a way so that years down the road, a complete stranger can pick up your tree and continue where you left off.

Undertaking – make no mistake, creating a viable, ancestral resource, properly done, isn’t something accomplished in a weekend.  It’s a years-long endeavor that is time consuming, frustrating, exasperating, head banging, elusive, and maddeningly unending.  It is also exciting, enlightening, consuming, emotional, completely addicting, and quite possibly one of the most meaningful, rewarding adventures on which to embark.


Vital Records – documentation of life events like birth and death certificates and marriage certificates that fall under government authority.

Value – make your genealogical research worthy of something that will provide insight and a become a valuable ancestral resource for generations to come.


Will – a legally recognized document containing the directive for handling assets following death.

Women – the challenging side of genealogical research, in part, because of name changes and (for most of history) not having been recorded as individuals, but as wives, daughters, etc.  Many of the truly amazing stories, however, are those that define our ancestral women and the strong, resourceful souls they were.


X marks the spot – Many documents contain only an “X” as a signature by those lacking the ability to write.  A witness should be listed, which often can be a helpful clue in expanding information.

E(X)amine – (okay, I cheated) Take time to study original documents and not just their digital transcriptions.  Read what’s all around the specific information you’re searching – note the headstones surrounding your ancestor, etc.  It’s amazing what’s to be discovered by analyzing what’s on the peripherals.


Years – the measure of an ancestral line.

Yesterdays – the cumulative story of who we are, where we come from, and how we came to be.


Zigzag – the most direct path to elusive ancestors.

Zealots – the definitive description of those who have taken the plunge into the incredible world of genealogical research, embraced the journey, and been forever changed.  Know them – be them – find your zenith!


These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood… From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations.   Genesis 10:1-32


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