When you are ready to add a name, date, place, residence, occupation, or other details to an individual in your family tree, always check first. Check twice, type once! Here are some ideas on where to search to confirm basic details of your ancestors, as well as how to add personal information about your ancestors’ lives.

The most satisfying family trees are accurate, include sources of information including original documents, and are personalized. How to find these details? Remember that the very best sources are ‘primary’ sources, that is, documents or records which were developed or filled out at the time of a specific event. For example, a birth registration record, a burial certificate, a ship passenger list: these are filled out at the time of the event and might be considered to be accurate. On each of these and other documents are other details which are wonderful clues for further searches. Those additional details could be very helpful if you are unable to find a quality source for some data.

You may look at a birth record for the correct birth date. But then, you are likely to find additional important clues and details such as mother’s maiden name, birth place or place of residence at birth, occupation of father, the grandparents names and occupation, and more.

Are you trying to confirm a birth date? Potentially, you may find a birth date and place on the following documents:

– marriage registration record

– naturalization paper

– passport application

– education records

– ship records, travel records

– specific censuses (certain years may require birth month and year)

– military service documents

– death registration

– burial documents, gravestones

– widow’s pension application

While these would be considered ‘secondary’ sources since they are filled out at a later time than the birth, if they all match, they certainly would help to confirm the birth date, wouldn’t they? If the dates are slightly different, think about why they might be different. Did a doctor fill out the death registration and get the birth date wrong because he did not have it correct in the first place? Was a military draft card filled out showing the man was old enough to enlist, when he was actually 2 years younger? Did the census record round up the ages? or smudge the birth year number so that a 3 looks like an 8? or perhaps one of the older children gave the information to the census taker because the parents were working on the farm, and the children were not certain of the correct details? Evaluate the sources you are have found, and try to think about the possible truth of the details. You may, of course, have the wrong ancestor! Same name, different birth year, same town… could be a first cousin!

Here is a very common problem in genealogy searches: no record of a woman’s maiden name. What can you do? You may find a maiden name on a marriage record, her death record, her naturalization record or passport application. You may find her living with an elderly mother or with a brother, particularly if your ancestor was widowed. Perhaps a nephew or niece is living with this family on a census – this might possibly be her relative; but this could also be her husband’s relative too, so check on both sides. Also check for family records of the siblings of your female ancestor. Their records may be available, and include the common maiden name! This is an excellent example of why it is very useful to have records and details not only of your direct ancestors but also of your cousin families (known as collateral lines).

How do you personalize your ancestors’ lives? If you are lucky enough to find old photographs in a cousin’s trunk of “old stuff” – great! Make copies, with details and/or stories, and add them to your tree. Or, there may be photographs of a house or farm where the family lived for a period of time.

Perhaps you can add an historical map of the area where the ancestor family lived for several generations. Also, look for a history of the village or town for any mention of your ancestors. Many of these items are online. Check to see what else was happening in the area at the time they lived there, and include those details as well.

If your ancestors immigrated to this country, find them listed on a ship passenger list, with ship name. Copy the list showing their names (usually, birth year, birth place, etc.), and include a photo of the ship if available. Check online for these items, as they are generally available for free.

Finally, historical newspaper articles and/or obituaries, diaries, journals or memoirs, letters, and more: all can help make your ancestors come alive to you and your family. Start talking with your relatives about these kinds of items, and you may be very excited about the wonderful finds that have been stored away, forgotten. Enjoy your searches.

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