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It is important to not only understand that different materials are available, but also that these building materials have different properties. Builders must make the optimum use of specific types of material in erecting their structure. And, just as a builder would not want to use asphalt shingles for the floor of his home, or plywood as the finished surface for the outside of his structure, the researcher would not want to use naturalization final papers to find the ancestral home in a foreign country, once he learns that the petition for naturalization is more likely to contain the information he desires. With training, the family historian can learn to use the correct record group at the right place in the building of his ancestral family structure.

Understanding Record Groups

It is important to understand that each record group used by genealogists and family historians were created for some purpose quite different from the purpose for which they are being used and also quite different from one another.

For example, a census record was kept to tabulate the number of residents in an area for political representation purposes. Later, other items of information were added to provide statistics used for governmental and business purposes. The fact that census records listed everyone residing in an area by name, with varying amounts of information on each individual, makes that record group a valuable building block to reconstruct information about a family even though this was not the primary purpose for the recordís creation.

Likewise, many records included in church records were initially recorded to help the minister keep track of his congregation and know who constituted his "flock." Records of pew rents, membership rolls, and class attendance rolls all helped the minister know how his parishioners were progressing. Minutes and financial records helped him conduct the business of his parish. And records of christenings, marriages and burials allowed him to know who needed his attention. Once again, all of this information was kept for the benefit of the church and the minister, but the information included in these records are wonderful building blocks for the family historian as well.

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