Pete's December 1997 Article.


"This Christmas....look in your attic!" By Pete Bennett

Genealogy, to many, is a nice pastime but is it ever a waste of time? Well at times I've felt it was, but then I continue doing it anyway. One thing that has always mystified me is how some people are very interested in their ancestors and some just are not. After talking to a lot of other people who do this thing called "genealogy (family history) I often wonder if this legacy of information I have compiled over the last five years will ever be appreciated. I know my immediate family is not that interested. But then again, I guess we don't do it for the reward, but because we're fascinated with it. The search, that is. Now if your not interested in your ancestors this probably isn't the article for you. But, then again, if you are in the least bit interested in who your ancestors were or where they came from, read on.....

You might ask why is this article entitled “This Christmas...look in your attic? It’s because...... You may receive a wonderful Christmas gift just by looking in your attic. Not only the attic that’s in your house, but in the attic of hints that your ancestors have left for you over the years. Yes I say, the very people who were the Santa’s in the past to your mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers may have left some nice clues along the way. All you need to do is discover them before they’re lost to eternity. If your interested in finding out about those “Santa’s of the past,” here are some tips on where and how to look. And the first and most important tips are... don’t' forget to LOOK IN YOUR ATTIC and, if your going to start, START NOW. Don't wait till all your close relatives are all deceased to do it, DO IT NOW!

Genealogy is... tracing the history of your family. Not my family, yours. And it’s trying to locate or trace the presence and movement of your immigrant ancestors from your father to your family patriarch (oldest know person) who used your family name in direct descending order.

Genealogy is a science that should be approached from a historical stand point. Someone recently described it as a huge jigsaw puzzle. This is true, gathering bits of information piece by piece may seem unproductive at first, until the pieces start to fit together. Then the excitement begins! When a picture begins to emerge it is possible, by carefully planned research, to seek information to fill in the missing pieces. Also all avenues of research in the United States should be exhausted before you try to trace the family line to its place of origin out of the country if, that is what your ultimate intentions are.

If you own a computer and can get access to the internet, let me be the first to tell you that there is a wealth of information available there. Since I first logged on to the Net just a little over one year ago, the availability of information there has more then doubled. Many sites are dedicated solely to providing information to researchers. All you need is to type the word "genealogy" or your (family name) “BENNETT” into any search engine and you will have pages of hits. (hits, are sites or locations containing the information found) If you have never worked with computers you should consider getting one and starting NOW. Lessons in operating them are now widely available and reasonably priced. Some are even FREE and some assistance can come in the form of a friend, close or distant. I have received information from literally all over the world.

If you still are not convinced to try electronic means then here are some other places to look. Just stick with it. Don't give up. No one said it would be easy! There is an old saying, "A job worth doing is worth doing well." These suggestions I'm making are not to lighten your burden but more to direct and suggest better routes for successful research. They’re valuable only if you keep accurate records of your research. So now is the time to start, the search is on, so begin with YOU and YOUR family.

Relatives may think they know nothing but some of them really do hold a wealth of knowledge! You can decide if the information they give is helpful. Family stories, documents, memberships, pictures and old letters may give you a lot of small pieces to start putting together YOUR family puzzle.

Here are some things to ask them for when you write or visit them and remember to take along a tape recorder. Ask them about:

1. Family records
2. Bible Records
3. Health Record
4. Family Letters, Stories and/or Traditions
5. Employment and Social Records, (Local newspapers stories)
6. Wills, Deeds, Etc.
7. Certificates, Awards, Discharges, Licenses, Etc.
8. Old Photographs 9. Books of Remembrance

10. Printed Diaries, or Manuscript Family Genealogies (Someone just may have done some of your work already)

Who in the family may have kept family records or searched before this? If you find church information, or know the place of worship of your ancestor don't overlook the following types of

Church records:

1. Membership Records
2. Birth, Marriage & Death Records
3. Baptismal Records
4. Confirmation Records
5. Communion Records
6. Society or Board Minutes
7. Church School Records
8. Church Cemetery Records
9. Church Archives State or National Levels Contact the proper authorities in their hometown for help in your search.

City, Town or Village Records:

1. Birth, Death, Marriage and Divorce Records
2. Tax Lists
3. School Records & Board Minutes
4. Town Histories and Historians records
5. Newspaper Files (Obituary & News items)
6. Cemetery Records & Gravestones
7. Mortuary Records
8. Town Clerk's Minutes
9. Genealogical or Historical Societies records.
10. Libraries - many have genealogical information on the local level & may have hometown newspapers on microfilm on file.
11. Military Records, Statues, plaques, etc.

Your next move is to research County Records (Remember that old County boundaries may have changed so get a good atlas.) Reading Local History also helps.

County Records

1. County Census Records
2. Court Records
3. Wills, Administration & Guardianships
4. Marriage Licenses / Bonds & Divorce Records
5. Birth & Death Records
6. Land Records
7. Deeds
8. Tax Records
9. School Records & Board Minutes
10. Naturalization Records
11. Orphans Court Records
12. Old Folks or Veterans Homes
13. Hospital & Mental Institutions Records
14. Military Records
15. County Histories with Biographies & Genealogy
16. County Genealogical and/or Historical Societies

The next step forward is to search state records. You may be rechecking some of your already located information but do realize humans make mistakes and dates could have been entered incorrectly or even the minister, in waiting months to record a number of things, could have missed recording a marriage when they did it later:

1. Birth & Death Records
2. Marriage & Divorce Records
3. Land Grants
4. Census Records
5. Tax Lists
6. Military Records.
7. Court Records
8. Hospital & Mental Institution Records
9. State Archives
10. State Genealogical & Historical Societies

Also don't forget your own local Historical Society which could provided the name, for you of a long lost ancestor. The nameless person may have existed in stories but documentation is needed and is there just for the asking. Most are staffed by people who are very interested in helping beginners. There are some things not to do though, like writing for information and expecting them to do research, free gratis.

The research now goes to national records and much can be done at your nearest branch of the National Archives or by mail, using the proper forms, with the NARS in Washington, DC :

1. Census Records
2. Military Records
3. Pension Records
4. Old Soldiers Homes Records
5. Bounty Land warrant Records
6. Records of Civilians During Wartime
7. Records of American Indians
8. Records of Black Americans
9. Records of Merchant Seamen
10. Records of Civilian Government Employees
11. Passenger Arrival Lists
12. Immigration Records
13. Passport Information
14. Naturalization Records
15. Land Records
16. Claims Records
17. Court Records
18. Records of the District of Columbia
19. Miscellaneous Records Including Social Security
20. Cartographic Records (Maps & Descriptions)
21. Organizational & Multi - Society Records

The Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint religious community has many “Family History Centers” located at their churches with much genealogical information archived at their main headquarters in Salt Lake City, UT. As a matter of fact their archives are undoubtedly the largest genealogical archive in the world. At their family history centers at the local level the information is available on CD ROM and microfilm. They are very helpful and I highly recommend you visit one of their centers. Check your phone book for their number and address.

Before I close here is some information about what to do when you are researching back beyond the infamous 1790 census time period(1790 was the first national census):

1. Try Tax Records, they can help you find the areas where your ancestors may have lived. Pennsylvania tax records go back to colonial times.
2.Try searching Deeds. They often contain information on buyers and sellers of land and often time where they came from or went to.
3. Try Church Records, people back in that period were very religious and most, you will find, had church ties. And don't forget the churches cemetery listings.

SEARCHING may be difficult but it is very rewarding when you find information that connects you to an ancient ancestor in a foreign land that you never imagined existed. I hope you find many of them and I hope this guide helps you in your research and DON'T FORGET TO LOOK IN YOUR ATTIC! Everything you’ll need is there.

Have a very MERRY CHRISTMAS, a HAPPY NEW YEAR and Happy Ancestor HUNTING. I hope you find all your Santa’s!

from: Pete Bennett

p. s. I recently moved from the St. Marys area and now reside in Butler, PA. I am, at present looking for a publication to write articles for. If interested, my email address is: petebennett@hotmail.com


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