Central Texas Library System (CTLS) Deputy Director Laurie Mahaffey specializes in Genealogy & Texas History. CTLS is one of 10 regional systems serving Texas libraries by assisting librarians to improve the scope and quality of their collections and services. CTLS sponsors educational programs for library personnel; develops programs to draw non-library users to libraries; and stimulates the financial and civic support of central Texas libraries. Ms. Mahaffey shares her one-dozen favorite tips:
1. Start with yourself. Document your birth, marriage (if you had one), and parents.
2. Talk to your relatives about whom and what they remember from the past. Don’t count on your memory – WRITE IT DOWN.
3. Be diplomatic about conflicting stories. If someone is contradicting another family member’s story, keep it to yourself; you can evaluate it later. Sometimes people rewrite the past for their own reasons.
4. Ask open-ended questions besides names and dates. This will give you a fuller picture of your ancestors. If you can, get the names of schools they attended; it may be possible to search for old yearbooks at school offices or photos at libraries.
5. In possible, find out about the livelihood of your ancestors. Some professions “run” in families, such as teachers and doctors. This detail may help to distinguish between two similarly-named people when it is otherwise difficult to tell which one is your ancestor.
6. Get a library card and ask at your local public library for census records, online records, city directories, and other local records. They will be happy to help you.
7. Check the counties in which your ancestors lived for records such as wills and probate, marriage, birth, death, land, and tax records. Many counties have websites up on the USGenWeb listings. There is a page for each state, and many have one for every county. These are done by volunteers, so they are not standardized. You may find some of the same digitized records on GenWeb as you would on Ancestry; however, on USGenWeb, they are free.
8. Join a local genealogy group if there is one in your area. Often, members will help each other or offer clues about where they found information.
9. Check your state library and archives. Many of them have extensive genealogy collections and records that otherwise may have burned in a courthouse fire.
10. Try online cemetery sources such as FindaGrave. Frequently, putting in less information heightens your chance for an answer. For example: key in your great-grandmother’s name, but leave off the state. Surviving relatives may not know exactly where she died.
11. Check the library nearest you for land record books by Arphax Publishing. This company has published books of land records in many counties and states of the US. They are wonderful for finding just exactly where your ancestors lived. Check the Arphax site to see what states and counties have been completed.
12. And last but not least, don’t forget to check out the 1940 U.S. Census that was released recently. While only a few states have been transcribed and digitized, you can still search by location and address.
For help with your ancestry research, speak to a professional genealogist today.