by: Chuck Mason, CGsm


nce considered a hobby of the rich and famous, genealogy or family history has grown over the last 10 to 15 years. Several years ago, The Wall Street Journal listed genealogy as the number one hobby in the United States. It is difficult to accurately determine the number of people who are researching their ancestral heritage at any one time. One reason for this difficulty is that not everyone researching his or her family joins a genealogical society, purchases a computer program for genealogy or indicates in some way that they are researching their family.

Early interest in genealogy usually stemmed from someone’s desire to join very patriotic organizations like the Daughters or the Sons of the American Revolution, the Society of the War of 1812, and others, or lineage societies like the Society of Mayflower Descendants, the Jamestown Society, the National Society of Colonial Dames, and others. Today, there is any number of reasons for one’s interest in genealogy. For many of us moving toward retirement age, it is our desire to share the story of our lives with our children, grandchildren and, maybe, even great grandchildren.


It is simple to get started. All you have to do is sit down and start writing down the story of your life. . You may decide to purchase one of the many genealogy programs available to record your information . Begin with when and where you were born and continue with the rest of the facts you feel are important about your life. Your family will want to know about your marriage, education, occupation, military service, religion, hobbies and other stories you want to share. Then you can work backwards and write about your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and any other family members for whom you have (or can get) information.

You should gather all the records you have at home to document the information you have included in your story . Records will include, but are not limited to, birth, marriage and death certificates; copies of wills and deeds; records of military service; pictures; family Bibles; and any other documents you have about yourself and your family. You will also want to contact other family members for information about your family and ask them for copies of any records they have about your family.

The most important step in genealogical research is to record where you found the information. It is extremely important that you record the actual source of your information. Information found in records or family papers should be documented by recording those sources. When you receive information from another person, that person should berecorded as the source of your information. You will later want to seek records to document any information given to you by another person, because what they tell you may or may not be accurate.

If you are recording your story on your computer in MS Word or Word-Perfect, you can use the footnote function in the program to document your story. Genealogy programs also include a function similar to the footnote function in Word and Word -Perfect to document the information recorded in the program. Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian by Elizabeth Shown Mills is considered the modem guide to evaluating and citing genealogical information sources.


Once you have gathered as much as you can about your family from your home and other family members, you will want to explore other sources of information. There are many public and private repositories that may have records to assist you. Local repositories include courthouses, churches, cemeteries, funeral homes, public libraries, and historical or genealogical society libraries. State repositories will include the vital records office, the state library, the state archives and other government agencies . There are also national repositories, including the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the Veterans Administration and other government agencies in Washington, DC, that may have records about your family

There are also two other large repositories that are extremely useful to genealogical research. The first is the Daughters of the American Revolution library in Washington, DC. Since it was established in February 1896, the DAR library has been gathering information on the ancestors of DAR members. The collection contains information about thousands of families from before the American Revolution to the present. The library is open to the public, and non-members pay a small user’s fee. They will also answer simple requests for information from the public.

 The second facility is the Church of’Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ (the Mor-mon Church) Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT. The library was founded in 1894 and has a collection of records from around the world. A large portion of the collection has been microfilmed and can be borrowed for a small fee, through local Family History Centers all over the United States. There is an online catalog to the collection and other information about the library and Family History Centers at www.FamilySearch

GENEALOGY AND THE INTERNET The biggest boon to genealogical research has been the Internet. Today, anyone interested in tracing their ancestors can sit at their computer and accomplish a great deal of research . In the I 990s, Cyndi Howells created Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet ( The list, as of September 8, 2005, has more than 150 categories with more than 241,600 links to both government and private Web sites.

Cyndi’s List works as an index to major genealogical topics. For example, under the topic of Beginners you will find Guides, Hints and Tips on how to get started; Mailing Lists, News groups and Chat Rooms; and Publications, Genealogy Software and Supplies. Other links include how to research for Vital Records, Census Records, Land Records, Ethnic Groups, Military Records and Ships Passenger Lists. Within each topic, links are included to articles on how to do research, transcriptions of various records, and in some cases scanned images of actual records.

GOVERNMENT WEB SITES Many federal and state government agencies have Web sites with information useful to genealogists. The two Web sites of federal government agencies that are most often used are the sites of the National Archives and Records Administration ( and the Library of Congress ( Both Web sites include extensive descriptions of their holdings and how to use the collections.

The Library of Congress has a Local History and Genealogy Reading Room with an online catalog to their collection. Other reading rooms of interest to genealogists include the Geography and Map Reading Room, the Microfilm Reading Room, the Newspaper and Current Periodical Room, and the National Union Catalog of Manu -scripts. Each reading room has collections of materials that may be helpful to your genealogical research, depending on when and where your ancestors lived.

The National Archives houses the records of all agencies of the federal government. The records most often used by genealogists include the federal census population schedules, military records, ships passenger lists, and federal naturalization records. There are also many other government agencies that may have had contact with your ancestors, and you may find your ancestor included in these records also. The National Archives has collections located in Washington, DC; in College Park, MD; and in their 16 regional archives located around the United States.

In addition to Web sites belonging to the federal government, many states have Web sites related to their state library, state archives and other government agencies. Some state Web sites will have information easily arranged for use by genealogists. Others may require researchers to spend more time searching for the information they are seeking.

PRIVATE WEB SITES The National Genealogical Society, the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the Association of Professional Genealogists, and the Board for Certification of Genealogists all have Web sites that contain information about their organizations. Many state and local historical and genealogical societies also have Web sites. The information available on the Internet varies a great deal. On some Web sites, you will find information about the organization and how to join, On others, you will find indexes to records, transcribed records, digitized records and other helpful information.

Many individuals have also created Web sites. Again, the information varies from one Web site to another. Along with indexes and records in various forms, you can find historical information and family genealogies.

Although the Internet is a very useful tool for genealogical research, one must use caution when finding information. Just as many of the printed genealogies and records published in the 19th and 20th centuries contained incorrect information, many of the Web sites on the Internet can contain incorrect information. Using this information requires the genealogist to learn to evaluate the information for accuracy. Even information that cites the original source where the information was obtained should be checked for accuracy.

THE TIME IS NOW Whether you want to share the story of your life or that of many generations of your family, the time to start is now. You do not have to be a professional writer or researcher to get started. All it takes is putting your thoughts and information down on paper.

                                                             Chuck Mason is a Certified Genealogist

                                                             and specializes in researching 19th and

                                                             20th century death records and Southern

                                                             New Jersey. He teaches genealogy cour-

                                                             ses for the Fair Fox County, VA, Adult

                                                             Education Program and lectures extensively SOURCE:


National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association

606 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314

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