Facts & Tips

  • Genealogy is the search for our ancestors. Family history is the study of the lives they led. Using the information from each area provides us with a true picture of our family.
  • Genealogy helps you to learn about your family and where you belong in that family.
  • A census is an official county of the population living in the United States on a designated day set at intervals. The census places an ancestor is a specific place at a specific time.
  • Church records may include births, christenings, marriages, deaths and burials. Be sure you have the correct church/religious denomination.
  • Use Poll tax records and jury lists as evidence of legal age.
  • State Land States are states that owned and distributed their lands. These include the original 13 colonies, Kentucky, Maine, Tennessee, Vermont and West Virginia, Hawaii and Texas. They used metes and bounds to survey the land.
  • Cannon Law refers to Laws of the Church.
  • Direct evidence speaks to the point in question. Indirect evidence gives facts from which you can come to a conclusion.
  • Registrations of births, marriages, and deaths first began for some areas in Germany in 1792 when the French invasion of the area west of the Rhine brought that region under their administration.
  • Waterways were the original lanes of communication and transportation.
  • Hometown Records may include newspapers (obituaries, special events, parties, etc.), City Directories (names and occupations of town residents and business information), maps (check boundary changes over time) and town and county histories.
  • Immigration is entering a country where you are not a native to take up permanent residence. Emigration is leaving a country where you have been a citizen.
  • The Internet is not the end all/end all of genealogy. It is just ONE of the tools in the genealogy toolbox.
  • A Bounty Land Warrant is a gift of bounty land due to a person entitled by military service.
  • Use a Migration Map which displays everywhere your ancestor(s) lived. This Map can help you determine why your ancestors moved.
  • Of primary interest to genealogists are service records and pension records. Many records are available through the National Archives.
  • Naturalization is the process of becoming a citizen. It is a two-step process and takes about five years. The Declaration of Intent (1st papers) can be filed after two years of residency. Naturalization and Oath of Allegiance are taken after an additional three years of residency.
  • Look for the archival label on storage products - "acid free" or 'archival safe".
  • Probate records refer to wills’ inventories, letters of administration and guardianship. They are usually held at the county courthouse unless archived.
  • A citation is a reference to a source of information.
  • Vital Records include birth, marriage, divorce and death records.
  • Death Records can be the least accurate depending upon the knowledge of the person reporting the information
  • Marriage Records may only be records of weddings. Look for the Application for Marriage which is completed by the bridge and groom to be.
  • Marriage records may be corroborated with church records. Check everything for correctness.
  • Birth Records are difficult to obtain because they can be used for so many purposes. You may be required to provide proof of relationship and proof of the person’s death.
  • To find a birth date from a death date, subtract the age in years, months and days from the date of death. This is a very close approximation.
  • When ordering a death, marriage or birth certificate, request a non-certified copy. It contains exactly the same information as the certified copy but is less expensive.
  • Vital records and event information are more reliable when they are recorded near the time of the happening. The longer the time from the event occurrence that the record is made, the less accurate it may be based on the memory of the person involved.
  • When ordering a death, marriage or birth certificate, request the long form which will have more information than the short form.
  • Public record keeping was very unorganized in previous generations.
  • Look carefully at marriage records. The witnesses and bondsmen may be related to either party.
  • Document as you go!
  • Identify all researchers by name for all contributions, including your own.
  • Use confidential information with discretion and sensitivity.
  • Enter sources and notes in a consistent format.
  • The details from a source are the skeleton of our family tree.
  • Thanks to Lee County Genealogical Society of Florida for sharing their Facts & Tips.
  • Do not laminate your documents. A laminated document can never be restored to its original state.
  • Use archival quality acid-free sheet protectors for all of your original documents, master copies and photographs.
  • There is no greater legacy for your children and grandchildren than teaching them about the history and lives of their ancestors.
  • Tracing the family medical history helps your children and grandchildren to take preventive measures with their own health.
  • Because each generation doubles the number of ancestors, developing a plan of how you will proceed in your research in absolutely necessary
  • If you’re not sure which church your ancestor attended, search the churches closest to home first and then broaden your search in ever-widening circles. Check for cemetery records with the church, Sexton and Funeral Directors.
  • Visit the cemetery and take a picture of the tombstone. Check the obituaries in that time frame.
  • Federal Land States were created from public domain, land the United States bought or acquired. The land was created into territories as the population spread out. The survey is done according to the rectangular survey system.
  • Many legal instruments other than deeds appear in deed books. They include Bills of Sale, Prenuptial Agreements, Powers of Attorney, Contracts, Affidavits, Wills and Inventories and Voter and Jury Lists.
  • When you begin your genealogy research, focus on one or two families so you do not become overwhelmed. The other families will be there when you are ready for them.
  • Everyone has a mother and a father. Female and male lines are equally important.
  • A generation equals 22-25 years for a man and 18-23 years for a woman.
  • Collective naturalization is a process used when a government acquires the territory of a foreign government by treaty or cession, and the inhabitants receive the rights and privileges of citizenship.
  • A Declaration of Intention is a document an alien usually filed in a court declaring his intention to apply for citizenship after fulfillment of the residency requirement.
  • Final papers are the Petition for Citizenship with supporting affidavits filed by an alien in court.
  • Organize! Organize! Organize! You should be able to find information quickly. If your system doesn’t work, change it ASAP!
  • When taking notes, use standard size paper, one surname per page, record source(s) so you can find it again and the date and place of your research.
  • Use only accepted abbreviations (no homespun stuff).
  • Understand the basic terminology.
  • The Pedigree chart is your road map. Begin with yourself. Use maiden names of married women.
  • The Family Group Sheet identifies a couple and their children.
  • Everyone has two family group sheets – one as a child with parents and one as a parent with children.
  • A Chronological Profile begins with your ancestor’s birth. Fill it in with various life events as you discover them. Eventually, you’ll have a picture of your ancestor’s life.
  • Surname Sources – The four basic groups from which surnames developed are patronymic, landscape features/place names, action/nicknames and occupational/office names.
  • Think out of the box for surname spelling variations. Surname spelling standardization didn’t begin until the early 1900s. Many people were unable to read or write or spell!
  • The Research Log is very important for keeping a record of the source of every piece of information you collect.
  • An ancestor is a person from whom you are descended. A descendant is a person who is descended from an ancestor. A relative is someone with whom you share a common ancestor but who is not in your direct line.
  • Make a list of all your living relatives when starting your genealogy research. Interview every one of them.
  • When interviewing a relative, etc., be prepared with a list of questions. Use a tape recorder or take very good notes. Respect the person’s privacy.
  • When writing to a relative for information, make specific requests, don’t ramble! Offer to share your information.
  • Remembering every letter you write is impossible. Use a Correspondence Log!
  • Begin with the most recent census (1940, available in 2022 - 1950) and work backwards.
  • A census is closed to the public for 72 years after it is taken.
  • Before 1790 you can use Tax Lists and other local lists that might have been compiled according to the state you are researching in.
  • The 1890 census was destroyed but many groups are now gathering other data to fill in this gap
  • When you’re viewing a census, be sure to look at 10-20 families before and after the family you are researching. These folks are the friends and neighbors (and family) of your ancestor. Families do not live alone!
  • If you find your ancestor as the last person on the census page, make sure you check the next page for more information; or as the first person on the page, check the previous page.
  • In addition to the federal census population count, there are a number of special censuses: Slave, Industry & Manufacturing, Agriculture, Mortality, Social Statistics, Union Veteran & Widow, Defective, Dependent & Delinquent.
  • Major ports of entry were Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans.
  • A person emigrates when they leave a country to reside in another country.
  • Your immigrant ancestor is the first person of an ancestral line to settle in a given country.
  • Look at the manifest list for others from the same area where your ancestors come from.
  • There are three types of wills: Attested, Holographic and Nuncupative. The attested will is the most common and is prepared for the testator. A holographic will is written by the testator himself. A nuncupative will are the deathbed wishes of the testator, recorded by a witness present at the bedside. All wills must be witnessed.
  • A person who dies intestate dies without a will.
  • An executor is named by the testator and is required by the court to post a bond. An administrator is appointed to handle the affairs of one who dies intestate (without a will).
  • When looking at deed indexes, be sure to look at both the Grantor Index, an index to those selling the land and the Grantee Index, an index to those buying the land.
  • A bequest is a legacy, usually a gift of real estate by will.
  • A Codicil is a supplemental document to a will.
  • Decedent refers to the deceased person.
  • A widow's dower is her claim to a portion of her deceased husband's estate during her lifetime for her and her children's support.
  • When doing research in probate records, request to see the entire file.
  • Search the Message Boards for others looking for the same person(s) you’re researching. You go to the Board to search but you can ask to be notified of new entries.
  • Wiki is a website that allows multiple users to create, modify and organize web page content in a collaborative manner.
  • Blog is an abbreviated version of Weblog, a term used to describe Web sites that maintain an ongoing chronicle of information. See blog.eogn.com and www.genealogyblog.com.
  • All material found on the Internet should be considered a secondary source - even scanned images.
  • When searching on Google, your results and the number of results, will depend upon how you enter your keywords.
  • Google your Family Tree at www.Google.com.
  • Look for genealogy and history materials at scholar.google.com.
  • Information from Internet on-line services may be passed on in good faith, but does not mean it is correct. Look for sources and documentation, and then check them.
  • The first step is to examine indexes to compiled records on microfilm at the National Archives.
  • Microfilmed pension records are available from the National Archives, HeritageQuest Online and the Family History Library.
  • In Colonial days, men were eligible for service at age 16.
  • In the Virginia Militia, free males ages 18 - 50 were members unless exempted.
  • In the Virginia Militia, each private was required to have a rifle or musket, a pound of lead and half a pound of powder.
  • In the Virginia Militia, a Company was supposed to consist of 40 to 64 men, who mustered 56 times a year for drill and training.
  • Pension files may contain birth date and place, and the names of the wife and children.
  • Military records subscription site Fold3 has released a new collection of Navy Casualty Reports, 1776-1941.
  • Primary evidence is personal testimony or a record created shortly after an event by a person with personal knowledge of the facts.
  • Secondary evidence is copies or compiled from other sources written from memory long after the event has occurred.
  • Undocumented genealogy is mythology. Remember to document everything you find on your ancestors
  • Genealogical citation is not always uniform. Elements include name of the person who created the document, date of the records, form used (county deed book, microfilm, etc.) and where the document can be found again.
  • Tax records, jury and militia records are indicators of a person's residence.
  • In the three centuries before German civil registration, the best bet for finding vital records is in the German parish registers.
  • Early German church records date to 1524. Requirements for record keeping were begun by the Lutherans in 1540 and Roman Catholics in 1563, but it is typical to find church record books that start around 1650.
  • In America, early generations settled in the east and gradually moved westward.
  • The first settlements in an area were along the shoreline, rivers and lakes where they found good harbors for consumable needs and transportation.
  • Early roadways were established following Indian paths or trade routes.
  • Migration patterns and trends were usually tied to economics.
  • Wars influenced migration patterns. Check military, pension and land-bounty grant records to see where a soldier was living when the record was recorded.
  • Towns, cities and counties have changed names over time. Check a Geographical and Historical Dictionary or a Gazetteer.
  • Genealogists should read history to gain perspective on your ancestor’s life and times; to learn the haws and whys of their lives; to see their place in the overall flow of history; because it’s great reading.
  • Information on a ship manifest can sometimes span two pages. Make it a habit to check the pages before and after what you find. If the passenger was held for any reason, check the last few pages of the manifest for more information.
  • Affidavit refers to a written and signed statement sworn in front of a court officer.
  • An Administrator is an appointee of the court who settles the estate of a deceased who died without leaving a will.
  • A Collateral Ancestor is an ancestor NOT in the direct line of ascent, but coming from the same ancestral family.
  • Consanguinity means blood relationship.
  • D.S.P. (died sine prole) means died without offspring.
  • ae. or aet. is the Latin abbreviation meaning "at the age of".
  • a.k.a. or aka is the abbreviation for "also known as".
  • An "alien" is a foreign-born resident of a country who has not been naturalized.
  • An atlas is a collection of maps.
  • In early American history, a cousin was a relative by blood or marriage of any degree outside the immediate family.
  • In early American History, a daughter-in-law was a step-daughter or the wife of their son.
  • A Gazetteer is a geographical dictionary.
  • Genealogy is the study of the origins and descent of families.
  • Many states took their own census. This was done between the federal censuses, on years ending in “5.”
  • New York State took a state census in the years: 1790 (Albany County), 1825, 1835, 1845, 1855, 1865, 1875, 1892, 1905, 1915 and 1925.
  • Prepare a census timeline before you begin. Review what you will find in the census you are searching. Expect spelling and age variations.
  • When copying census information, copy EVERYTHING EXACTLY AS IT IS WRITTEN! This is the way it was written, leave it alone!
  • Don’t assume that all information in the census is correct. It’s only as good as the knowledge of the person reporting it.
  • Don’t assume that all children listed belong to the wife listed. This may be a second wife and the children a combination of his and hers.
  • When the head of the household is no longer listed, don’t assume he/she is dead. The person could be living with one of the children.
  • A person may not have been living on the day the census was actually taken (not the official day). However, all information is to be as of the official census day.
  • The State of Connecticut held state census in the following years: 1636, 1709, 1756, 1762, 1774 and 1821.
  • Starting in 1880, an Enumeration District consisted of not more than 4,000 persons assigned to one enumerator, or census taker.
  • Bounty Land is public land given by the government to induce young men to join the military. Applicable for soldiers prior to the Civil War.
  • An acre is a square measure of land containing 10 square chains, 160 square rods, or 43,560 square feet.
  • Bounds are boundaries used to define the extent of a tract of land in metes and bound survey. May include natural and/or artificial objects and adjoining tracts of land.
  • The Bureau of Land Management is a Federal government office with responsibility for buying, selling and managing public lands.
  • A cadastral map is a graphic illustration of land boundaries.
  • There are 13 eastern public land states east of the Mississippi River: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio and Wisconsin.
  • Between 1763 and 1783, Michigan was part of Quebec Territory.
  • Between 1787 and 1800, Michigan was considered part of the Northwest Territory.
  • Between 1800 and 1805, Michigan was part of Ohio and Indian Territories.
  • Wisconsin was carved from Michigan Territory. If you are searching early Wisconsin areas, don't forget to search in Michigan.
  • Metes is a measurement of boundary lines in terms of their distance and direction.
  • The method of survey using a combination of directional and distance measurements with references to natural and artificial objects, that define a tract of land is called "Metes and Bounds".
  • The most important type of land record is a deed. The deed is a document conveying title of property from one party to another.
  • Deeds establish proof of legal ownership of land.
  • In Land Deeds, check to see if buyer and/or seller is from the same area where the land is being sold.
  • Use land records to separate two persons of the same name in the same community.
  • Lineal descendant means being in the direct line of descent from an ancestor.
  • French Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries were known as Huguenots.
  • A primary source is a record created at the time of, or shortly thereafter, an event or circumstance occurred.
  • The term "relict" refers to a widow or widower.
  • The Latin word "sic" used in a transcription indicates the preceding word has been transcribed exactly from the original.
  • A "Source" can be a book, record, object, or person supplying information.
  • A secondary source may be material copied or compiled from other sources or written at a later date from memory.
  • The state of Arizona conducted a state census in: 1864, 1866, 1867, 1869, 1872, 1874, 1876, 1880, 1882.
  • Florida conducted a state census in the years of: 1867, 1875, 1885, 1935 and 1945.
  • Nebraska held a state census in the following years: 1855 and 1885.
  • The Michigan 1810 Territorial Census Records are missing.
  • Michigan held state census in the years of: 1854, 1864, 1874, 1884 and 1904.
  • The state of Minnesota conducted a state census in the following years: 1849, 1850, 1853, 1855, 1857, 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895 and 1905.
  • Massachusetts conducted a state census in: 1855 and 1865.
  • Rhode Island conducted a state census in: 1774 (Colonial census), 1777 (Military census), 1782, 1865, 1875, 1885, 1905, 1915, 1925 and 1935.
  • New Jersey conducted state census in: 1855, 1865, 1875, 1885, 1895, 1905 and 1915.
  • California conducted a state-wide census in 1852, but it is highly damaged.
  • Census records were generated by enumerators. Some who had very bad handwriting.
  • The U.S. Federal Census has been taken every 10 years since 1790.
  • Look at the neighbors' names surrounding your ancestor. Are they in the next census? Are they neighbors or family?
  • More than one generation may be listed in a household.
  • Write down your sources of information. Who/what told you? This is documentation. From this, you will be able to find the source again, if you need to do so.
  • The first federal census was taken in 1790 and is taken every 10 years on an established day.
  • Soundex is a system of coding names for the census based on sound rather than alphabetical spelling.
  • A variation of the Soundex called the American Soundex was used in the 1930s for a retrospective analysis of the US censuses from 1890 through 1920.
  • There are various types of deeds to property. The most common are the warranty deed, which transfers property with assurance of good title and the quitclaim deed, which transfers one person’s interest in the property without guarantee of good title.
  • There are pay sites and free sites. The major pay site is ancestry.com. The major free site is familysearch.org.
  • Join a Mailing List E-mails about subjects of the list will come to your e-mail box.
  • Podcast is "a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio (or video) player."
  • Obituaries - don't limit your scope of your research to just the deceased. You may find a relative in the list of survivors or pre-deceased...or pallbearers. These clues help place your relatives at a specific place and a specific time in many cases!
  • The practice of double dating resulted from the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.
  • An ancestor is a person from whom a person is descended, e.g. parent, grandparent, great-grandparent.
  • Banns of marriage are a public announcement in a Christian parish church of an intended marriage. The announcement is made three successive Sundays.
  • Civil records are created by and for a governmental agency.
  • An emigrant is a person who leaves a country to reside in another country.
  • A Fact is something known to exist, be true, or have happened.
  • Use timelines to find holes in your research.
  • The use of the term Junior did not always mean the son of. Sometimes it identified the younger of two persons in a locality with the same name.
  • Maps of all kinds are important to your family research.
  • Migration is the movement from one place of residence to another, usually within a country.
  • A common ancestor is the mutual ancestor of two or more persons.
  • The term Senior may not refer to a person's father, but to the older of two persons in a locality who have the same name.
  • In early American History, the term "son-in-law" referred to one's step-son or the husband of one's daughter.
  • Joining a genealogy society in the location you are researching is a good idea!
  • When doing field research never use water-based pens. A few drops of rain can be lethal to your notes.
  • When doing field research "Posted" does not mean "except for genealogists".
  • When searching old cemeteries, always check outside the fence. Many criminals, "sinners" and those of mixed races were buried outside the cemetery proper.
  • Evaluate the information that you find. Don't just stick it in a file.
  • Make sure you cite your sources!
  • Remember to keep your information organized.
  • Search from the known to the unknown.
  • Record every search, good or bad, on your research log.
  • Cite enough information so another person could easily find the source later.
  • Minimum identification includes: name, birth date and birthplace of an ancestor.
  • Keep track of the alternate spellings of the surnames you are searching.


The DuPage County Genealogical Society is an incorporated, 501(C)(3) not-for-profit organization. Our focus is on providing education for genealogists and assisting in preserving and making available local records of genealogical interest. Our mailing address is P. O. Box 3, Wheaton, IL, 60187.  

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