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Researching Family Tree August 21, 2008

Posted by Reginald Johnson in Africa, African-American, Blacks, Culture, Domestic Issues, Family, Friends, Life, Minority Issues.
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Blacks first came to North America from Africa, via slave ships.  These ships were crowded, smelly, and those that traveled as part of the cargo were put under extremely harsh conditions.  The Africans that were stuffed into the belly of these ships, susceptible to illnesses and hundreds of thousands, if not millions) died on the way to the New World – or other points unknown.

Today, there have been a growing number of African Americans who have decided to research their family trees.  Making the decision to follow your ancestral tree can be a lengthy venture – and costly.

People of African decent (primarily during the Western Slave Trade) have constantly asked for websites, links, or organisations that will aide in this sometimes long journey.

Before you start your journey, please remember that if you are trying to “prove” something to someone, whether it’s the DAR, the government, the Civil War organizations, or an Indian Nation, you will need the hard copy yourself.  So it would be most advisable that you do the research yourself.

In some cases you might have to use someone’s information to get started or if you come across a stumbling block.  There’s nothing wrong with it, just make sure they list the sources for you.

The best place the most people have found to be the most helpful is Rootsweb Metasearch. Rootsweb has a strong reputation in information gathering and is respected by researchers everywhere.  In searching through Rootsweb, you will find what you need [and what you don’t need]. Chances are if this is your first time trying something so challenging, it will probably be overwhelming for you.  I say, hang in there.

Another website that can warrant much success is the USGenWeb State Search. This is not so overwhelming.  You can type in your last name and the county name; it narrows the search even better.

One very important tip is to make sure you try every possible and even UNTHINKABLE spelling of the name.  Trust me on this.  Try every way you can imagine your name could have been spelled over the hundreds of years.  In some places, people spelled their name the way it sounded, others spelled the same name the way they thought they heard it.  A last name like Johnson could easily become Johnston, or Johnsson, or Jonson, or even Junshon in just a couple of hundred years.
The Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records is another wonderful site that many people use to verify family ties (go to their GLO Records). There are all sorts of ways you can search this site. When you become familiar with it, you can search by township, section and range and see who all lived in the same vicinity as every one else.

Another page to consider is the National Archives and Records Administration Search page at NAIL Form. Click the Standard Search and then make sure you click the “Only Descriptions Linked to Digital Copies.” Under keywords, just play. Use the last name you are looking for in the first blank. Then hit “Submit Search”. If there are any results it will tell you. You then select “Display Results” and have fun.

There will come a time where you feel like the web can no longer help you, you are going to have to check out alternatives.  Going to the local library where you were born is going to be the best help, but don’t forget to check out the local library of where you are presently living too.

Now once you feel you have exhausted the web, go out to your local library and search their records. Going to the library can give you lots of information that the web cannot.  People who have in the past searched their families are usually kind enough to give a copy of all their records to the library. This is great and will help you save a lot of time researching those who have already been found. And there is usually an endless supply of books recording the local history and other records-including newspapers.

This should be enough to get you started and keep you busy for quite a while.

Try to keep your “research” organized.  Start by sticking to one generation at a time, though this can include many people according to how far out you want to reach in your tree and how far up you are in your generations.

Most people say their personal goal is to have at least the birth date and place, the death date and place, the marriage date and place, and the burial place for each of their grandparents, or at least as far back as they can go.

Also, keep in mind that disasters happen: burning buildings, floods, lack of records, no enduring headstone if one at all, and other things as such.

Look at records kept from the Federal Census. When recording information from the census, make sure you note the neighbors as you might find later that they were related. Children were usually given land as they moved out of the house.

Another thing you’d like to note when just writing down the info, write down the page number. If you are viewing an image, it was be a stamped number on the right top. If there is not a stamp there, it’s “b”, the second half of the page. So if the stamped number is there, it’s “a”. E.g. “140a”. These come in extremely handy when looking at indexes as these are the numbers they are using. Also, you need to write the county to get a copy of it.

Don’t be afraid to check out these sites too:

Library of Congress
AccessGenealogy
Latter Days Saints
GenWeb
GNIS Search
CemeteryRecordsOnLine
Ancestry.Com

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