Whenever I see a picture of a fine old home, it reminds me of the excellent workmanship of the architects and builders of byegone years. In fact, most people admire fine workmanship in any field. We could compare the building and putting together of an accurate family history with the excellent workmanship in a fine old home.
If you think of yourself as an architect, your genealogy computer program can become a tool for keeping track of what you plan to do and what has been accomplished. Just like a builder needs hammers, saws, and cement mixers to do his job, you need tools as well. Those tools consist of many things. For example one tool you will find yourself using is what we call reference materials such as maps, gazetteers, and other finding aids.
You will also need a blueprint to keep yourself focused on your ultimate objective. Your blueprint is your research planner which incorporates your overall research strategies. The more detailed your blueprint is, the easier it will be to build exactly what you want. Likewise the better your research plan is, the easier it will be to follow and record all of the clues you will find.
Training and Experience
Even more analogies come to mind if you think about it. Trained genealogical teachers, mentors, and professionals can become your building inspectors. Each part of your research can represent a part of your building. However, without good building materials your structure will be flawed from the beginning. What are the building materials for our family histories? They are the many record groups that genealogists use.
What is a Record Group?
Have you ever thought about the many record groups we use in genealogy? What is a record group anyway? Basically, it is a category of records kept by record officials for a specific purpose. (And to tell you the truth, rarely is that purpose to help genealogists.) There are many record groups which contain information useful for identifying and linking our ancestors.
Some record groups form the very foundation of our research. We could think of them as the cement flooring, for example. These are solid pieces of evidence about your family from your personal eyewitness accounts, family records such as Bibles, diaries, birth, death, and marriage records, obituaries, insurance papers, etc. You "know" these are your "family." You are encouraged to gather as many existing clues from this record group that you can so you don't start on a weak foundation. Weak foundations are those which build on the oral histories of others without any evidence.
Now you need to add walls, supportive beams, and structure to your foundation. This means you need outside sources to add support to what you already know. One outside source is the record group known as "census records." We will discuss just how supportive they are in subsequent lessons. Birth, marriage, and death certificates not in the family's possession also provide support to family information. In countries outside the U.S., these outside-the-family sources are referred to as "Civil Registrations." And just as you can use different types of wood or metal to build your walls based on available materials in each country, Civil Registrations differ in each country by time periods and regions as you build upon your genealogy foundation.
To continue the analogy further, once we have the frame of our house in place, it is time to put in various rooms. These rooms can be likened to different groups of people or their oral histories in your family. For example the attic can house the family traditions. You know what I mean--unproven stories, names, and events about your family members.
The closet might represent the skeletons you don't want to discuss, but who might provide the very clues to continue your research. The living room may be the room you choose to show off your famous noteworthy relatives where some "bragging rights" might be found. Kitchens are great places to find the immediate family gathered and maybe you will find your cousins and in-laws with the extended family in the family room.
Different Kinds of Record Groups
The fact is, by including all these rooms you'll need different record groups (building materials) like those we will study in this series. Some provide evidence of glorious or sorrowful life events. Others guide you to other resources, but each major record group has a purpose in your construction plans to build an authentic family history. We need them to support our entire building. Without all of them, we have a half-finished structure.
This next group of lessons will cover some of the major record groups genealogists use which we have not covered as fully yet. They include:
- Civil Registrations
- Census Records
- Court and Probate Records
- Periodicals and Newspapers
- Land and Property Records
- Military Records
- Finding Aids
- Immigration and Naturalization
- Church Records
The goal of this course is to cover record groups deeply enough to help you feel confident in your research and to provide you with the building materials which go into the construction of a fine family history. So let's get busy and see what kind of a foundation you have already constructed. As you complete the assignment at the end of this lesson, the building inspector, Mr. Pete E. Gree, may give you some comments about your work. He wants your family history to be of fine workmanship.
About Genealogy Research Associates
Karen Clifford is the Founder and President of Genealogy Research Associates. She is an Accredited Genealogist, an instructor in an Associates Degree program in Library Science-Genealogy and Computers at Hartnell College (Salinas, California) and Monterey Peninsula College (Monterey, California). She has authored several family histories and textbooks including Genealogy & Computers for the Complete Beginner; Genealogy & Computers for the Determined Researcher; Genealogy & Computers for the Advanced Researcher, and Becoming an Accredited Genealogist.
Karen currently serves as Vice-president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and Vice-president of the Utah Genealogical Association (UGA). She is a member of the California State Genealogy Alliance, the Association of Professional Genealogists, the National Genealogical Society, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society. In 1998 and 1999, Karen served as Director of UGA's Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy.
She has received several awards for her volunteer work in the genealogy community including the FGS Award of Merit and the FGS Outstanding Delegate Award.