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Beginning Genealogy


To start your own family tree, begin with you, and work back one generation at a time. Contact every single living relative you can find to see what they know and what documents they have.

Here is a sample of documents you will find helpful in compiling a tree.

Journals/diaries, letters, photo albums, scrap books, funeral books, wills, probate records, deeds, naturalization papers, newspaper clippings, obituaries, birth certificates, engagement announcements, marriage license, death certificates, divorce papers, adoption papers, baptism certificates, military service records, family Bibles, Social Security records, pension records, and coats of arms.

You should interview your relatives to find out what information they have that can help you. Start with the oldest first. Here are some sample questions:

When and where were you born?
Who are your brothers and sisters? Birth dates?
What places have you lived?
What was your childhood like?
What do you know about your family?
Was anyone in the military? Did they serve during a war? Which one?
What church did your family attend?
Do you know any family members who have done made a family tree?
Do you know of any family reunions?
When and where were your parents born?
How did they meet?
When and where were they married?
What were their occupations?
What kind of education did they have?
When and where did your parents die?
Where are they buried?
Who were their brothers and sisters?
Also ask these questions about their grandparents.

Ok, now you have all this information, what are you going to do with it? The two basic forms you need are the Ancestor Chart and Family Group Sheet (click to print one).

Ancestor Chart:

You are person #1, parents go on the lines that are connected to yours, and their parents follow and so on.

You should print first, middle, last name. Dates should be written day,month, year (6May1998) estimated dates are "ca" (for circa) or "abt" (for about)

The first three listings on my chart would look like this:

2. Richard Patrick Ryan
b. 18 Aug 1941
bp. Indiana, PA
m. 4 Aug 1962
mp. Indiana, PA
d. 31 Oct 1998
dp. Indiana, PA

1. Linda Lee Ryan
b. 27 Dec 1965
bp. Johnstown, PA
m. 5 June 1982
mp. Worthington, PA

3. Linda Elaine St. Clair
b. 12 Aug 1944
bp. Johnstown, PA

Abbreviations used: b=birth date, bp=birth place, m=marriage date, mp=marriage place, d=death date, dp=death place. Other common abbreviations: bap=baptism date (which is sometimes substituted for a birth date and should be indicated if it is because the date could be anywhere from several days to several years after the actual birth), chr=christening date (in this case, more likely to be an infant), div=divorce (if a marriage ended in divorce, this should be indicated), bur=burial or buried.

After you have filled out your ancestor chart, fill out a family group sheet for each couple on the ancestor chart--using the same guidelines suggested above. On the family group sheet, your sources of information should be listed. If a person was married more than once, fill out a separate sheet for each marriage that resulted in children. Keep track of the marriages by putting a number after the person's name at the top of the sheet--

It's very important to document your sources. Click here for a research log. Copy everything, make when & where it was found. Be sure to include all important information so that if someone else wants to find that record in the future they will be able to go right to the source and obtain it. Then of course if anyone doubts your works you have proof of what you found and where.


ABSTRACT: a brief statement of the main parts of a document.

ABSTRACT OF TITLE: a condensed history of the title of a piece of real property, including any liabilities to which it may be subject.

ADMINISTRATOR: one legally authorized by the court to manage and settle an estate when the deceased has not left a will and named and executor. (female,ADMINISTRIX)

AFFINITY: a relationship by marriage, rather than by blood.

ANNO DOMINI: a Latin term meaning "in the year of our Lord".

APPURTENANCE: something that belongs to something else. Example: the buildings on a piece of real property would be appurtenances.

APPRENTICE: a person, often a minor, bound (sometimes by law) to a master for the purpose of learning a trade.

ARCHIVES: a place where records are kept.

ATTEST: to bear witness to something and affirm formally with your signature that it is true.

BANNS: public announcement, especially in church, of intention to be married.

BENEFICIARY: a person for whose benefit a trust is created.

BEQUEATH: to give personal property by a will.

BEQUEST: a gift of personal property by a will.

CENSUS: a count of population which includes various kinds of statistics.

CERTIFIED COPY: a copy of a document signed and certified as a true copy by the officer to whose custody the original was entrusted.

CHILD OF TENDER YEARS: a child under age 14.

CHRISTEN: to baptize an infant.

CODICIL: a P. S. to a will.

COLLATERAL: belonging to the same ancestral stock, but not in the direct line of descent. (i.e. aunts, cousins, etc.)

CONSANGUINITY: a relationship by blood.

CONSORT: wife or husband of a living spouse.

CONVEYANCE: the granting of real property to another party.

DEED: a legal document that contains the record of transfer of real property,or some other bargain or contract concerning the property.

DECEDENT: deceased person.

DESCENDANT: offspring to the furthest generation.

DEPONENT: person who gives evidence, especially in writing.

DEVISE: a gift of real property by will.

DEVISEE: a person to whom real property is given by will.

DOWER: the property to which a widow has claim upon the death of her husband. (There is no dower in community property states.)

ESTATE: the total of a person's property, both real and personal.

ET AL: a Latin term meaning "and others".

ET UXOR: a Latin term meaning "and his wife".

EXECUTOR: a person appointed by a testator (person writing will) to carry out the directions and bequests in the will. (female, EXECUTRIX)

GAZETTEER: a geographical dictionary.

GENEALOGY: an enumeration of the history of the descent of a family.

GRANT: a general term applicable to all transfers of real property.

GRANTEE: the person to whom a grant is made.

GRANTOR: the person by whom the grant is made.

HEIR: the person(s) who succeeds, by rules of law, to an estate upon the death of his ancestor by right of relationship.

INDENTURE: a deed to which two or more persons are parties, and in which these enter into reciprocal and corresponding grants or obligations towards each other.

INFANT: a minor, a person not of full legal age. (This legal term does not apply only to babes in arms.)

INTESTATE: a person dies without a will.

ISSUE: all lineal descendants of a common ancestor are his issue--not just his children.

LEGACY: a bequest or gift of personal property by last will and testament.

LETTERS OF ADMINISTRATION: often known as ADMON. The instrument whereby the probate court appoints someone to administer an estate of a person who died without leaving a will.

LINEAL: being in direct line of ancestry.

MARRIAGE LICENSE: a license whereby permission is granted by a public authority for persons to be married.

MORTGAGE: conditional transfer of title to property, as security for payment of debt.

NUNCUPATIVE WILL: a will which depends merely upon oral evidence, having been dictated or declared by the testator in his last sickness before a sufficient number of witnesses, and afterward written down.

PEDIGREE: recorded ancestry or line of descent...often in chart form.

POSTERITY: descendants.

POWER OF ATTORNEY: When a person isn't able to act for himself and appoints another to act for him, the document by which he does so is call a "power of attorney" or "letter of attorney". The person appointed becomes "attorney in fact".

PRESENTS: means literally "this document or instrument". The phrase "by these presents" is used to refer to the document or instrument in which the phrase occurs.

PROBATE: the act or process of proving a will. Also used as an inclusive term referring to all matters under the jurisdiction of the probate court.

QUITCLAIM DEED: an instrument by which a person releases all title, interest, or claim which he may possess in real property without making a warrants thereto.

RELICT: a widow or widower, the surviving spouse.

PROGENITOR: an ancestor in the direct line.

TENANT: a person who possesses the lands by any right or title.

TESTABLE: capable of making a will.

TESTAMENTORY: pertaining to a will.

TESTATE: one who dies leaving a valid will.

TESTATOR: one who makes a will.

TO WIT: namely.

TRACT: a piece of land of any size.

TRANSCRIBE: to write a copy of.

TRUST DEED: This is a type of mortgage.

VITAL RECORDS: statistics relating to birth, death, marriage, etc.

WARRANTY DEED: a deed whereby the grantor warrants the title and should the title become faulty for any reason, the grantor (or his heirs) can be sued on the warranty.

WILL: a legal expression of a person's wishes as to the disposition of his property after his death.

YOUNGER CHILDREN: all children not entitled by rights of the eldest son--this includes daughters even though they may be older than the eldest son.


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