Lately I have been super obsessed with Family History. It started out with something my husband and I were talking about with his role in figuring out his family tree, and it re-awakened a mystery I’ve been dying to solve for years. My name is Sarah, I was named after my 3rd Great Grandmother on both my Mother’s and Father’s side (different Sarah’s obviously). We pretty much knew nothing about the Sarah on my Dad’s side though. Only her first name. We didn’t know her maiden name, or what happened to her after she had my 2nd Great Grandfather. It was a mystery for sure. I’d been wanting to solve this mystery for years.
The problem is I had no idea where to start. You see those commercials for Ancestry.com where it tells you that you can just type in a name and voila your entire history is revealed. That’s TOTALLY false advertising. It takes some work to fill in that family tree, but it’s SO worth it!
Here’s the first problem you will run into. Likely, your parents are still living. There are privacy settings so that living people don’t have too much information revealed about themselves. In order to link up with research that maybe your parents or grandparents have already done, you’ll have to at least get to the point where you enter someone who is deceased. So entering too much about a living relative won’t be too necessary at this stage. I would just put in First and Last Names and a Birthdate for any living relatives.
So, now that I’ve lowered your expectations a bit, let’s jump right in! You can start a free 14 day trial at Ancestry.com to try it out. The LDS church also has a great website called FamilySearch.org that is absolutely free. Once you create your account and login. For Ancestry.com you can create a new tree and add yourself as the beginning of the tree. From there add your parents and grandparents. Hopefully you know enough information about them already to get started. When it starts getting to Great Grandparents is where things can get a bit tricky. A great place to start is a phone call to any of your living relatives. Your Parents or Grandparents that are living probably have some great information for you to get started on your way down the family lines.
Once you have all of the information you can gather from your living relatives entered into the website, it’s time to get to the research.
The best place to start for family members that are from the United States is the censuses that happened every 10 years. If you have a name of a person (say your great grandfather’s name), and maybe an approximate location for them, you can start searching. When you search in Ancestry, you click the top tab that says “search” then you drop down to the census records. From here you can narrow down your search to a particular area or a particular year. Then you start entering as much information as you have about the person, so as to narrow down the search. Sometimes information you have, or information on the record can be incorrect, so I’ve also been known to leave out some details to get a broader search result to make sure that I’m finding the right person.
The US Census records are great, and are fairly easy to figure out and navigate. When you find the person, you will see who else is living in that house at the time. This can either give you parents names that you didn’t have before, siblings names, or just help you to confirm that you have found the right person. So, let’s take my friend Sarah for example. In the 1850 US census, there she is, listed with her husband Michael Werle, and their one year old child Charles Armand Werle in Buffalo, New York.
So, next I try to find them in the 1860 census. The whole family is missing. So then we head over to the 1870 census. Michael Werle is now living with a Rosa Werle as his wife, Charles is there too, and there are a couple more children. My family always assumed that Rosa was Michael’s second wife and that something happened to Charles’ mother Sarah.
Here’s where we need to go beyond census records and try our hand at some other types of records. I started looking for a birth record for Charles in New York (since he is a 1 year old in New York in the 1850 census). I came up short. I thought maybe it would have his mother’s maiden name on the birth record. Then I started looking at Michael (Charles’ Dad)’s siblings who may have been born around the time Charles was born. I found a sibling who had been christened at a nearby church. I held my breath, crossed my fingers, and emailed the church since I didn’t have access to that particular church’s records. I asked for any marriage information for Michael Werle, and maybe any christening records for Charles. I struck it rich! The church emailed me back that Michael married Maria Rosalia Baumgarten in February of 1847! Which was PRIOR to Charles birth! The church also listed Maria Rosalia Baumgarten as Charles’ mother on the christening record. So… SARAH wasn’t Charles’ mother! The Rosa girl from the 1870 census was! So…. who was Sarah??
This is where we get SUPER tricky. Now that we knew that Rosalia was Charles’ mother we started looking at her parents. When someone dies there are probate records for all of the assets of the person. In looking at the probate record for Rosalia’s father there is a record where Rosalia goes by the name Sarah and Rosalia in the same paragraph! It starts out “I, Sarah Werle” and she signs it Rosalia. MYSTERY SOLVED!!! Sarah IS Rosalia!
Starting out with the simple census records though, is a great place to get your feet wet. It can be super fun to track a family through the various census’. From there you can graduate to birth and death records, and as you get even better you can start branching out into other areas like travel! I have another really great story about a travel record I found unlocking a whole other mystery, but that’s for another time.
The rest of this week I’ll be talking exclusively about how you can get involved in Family History! I LOVE technology, and it’s hand in assisting me in finding my Sarah….
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