Amateur Genealogy 101
I’ve spent several years piecing together my ancestry using the free tools available online, and you should as well! It’s a hobby with a purpose that combines detective work, memory, intuition, and imagination. Most of my American ancestors lived in and around the southern states and I’m lucky to be able to find a lot of information on them through the US Census archives and other free vital record searches.
I’ve traced one line back to Ireland, another to England. Mona Lisa de Gherardini is also on the list. And while the jury is still out on this, some distant cousins have claimed grail lineage. Supposedly the Fitzgerald’s, some of who took on the surname Garrett (my great-grandmother’s maiden name), can trace their histories back to pre-biblical times thanks to the marriage of William de Windsor and Princess Nesta verch Rhys of Wales. Her paternal bloodline leads back to Merfyn Frych (Vrych) `the Freckeld’ (King) of Gwynedd (764 A.D.), and on back to the King of Troy, Dardanus of Acadia, Judas, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Shem, Noah, Enoch, Seth, and well, then, Adam and Eve. Of course, we can still trace back further, according to this pedigree, to Elohim, then Anu, Anshar, Lahmu, and Apsu. But that’s quite speculative, wouldn’t you agree? Nonetheless, it’s fascinating to think about how many generations we are made up of and what our true origins might be.
One of my favorite websites is FamilySearch.org, which offers a ton of free data that sites like Ancestry.com charge over $16 a month to access. Here you can even build a tree that is linked with sources from census and vital records and other users’ trees. The interface is pleasant and easy to use.
Much of the data on FamilySearch.org is gleaned from Archive.org, another invaluable, free resource.
Some paid sites offer free resources that can be very useful, such as the family tree searches at Rootsweb (part of ancestry.com so don’t expect too many freebies here.)
Findagrave.com is great for finding and confirming relatives that are buried in American cemeteries. You’d be surprised at how many people are visiting cemeteries, photographing tombstones, and adding it to the findagrave.com database. It’s heart-warming to see an ancestor listed on this site as it means someone else, possibly not even related, took the time to preserve the memory of their existence.
Those are the main websites I use to seek out my ancestors, and they’ve served me well so far. I must mention that many genealogists are set back by the destruction of the 1890 US Census. It was first partially destroyed in a fire in 1896, and due to unknown reasons, while “No damage to the general population schedules was reported at that time. In fact, a 1903 census clerk found them to be in “fairly good condition,” the surviving documents were left unprotected during a 1921 fire that destroyed more of the surviving census. When Congress ordered their final destruction a decade later, conspiracies abounded, and I have a few of my own…I’m have joking. This has hindered my own search, as I can’t find the name or anything else about my great-great-great grandmother, my Granny’s grandmother, but I’m not giving up.
I don’t know how I would be able to trace someone else’s ancestry, as I have found that keeping up with my own is difficult enough. Many of my relatives had families with 10 children or more, and as farmers, they moved frequently between Mississippi, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas, and other southern states. While this does cause some confusion, it has also aided my search.
Often, children are named for their grandparents which helps match up families. When looking at census records and family member names, sometimes you’ll see some of the grown children living nearby with spouses and children of their own, which helps confirm the family listed is yours and not one of similar name, and believe me, there were a lot of similar names in those days, especially names based on famous presidents.
On occasion a name will be original enough to help follow the owner through history, but don’t expect it to be spelled the same in every census. First and last names vary in accuracy from census to census, as do birth dates, places of birth, and parents’ birth places.
Are we related?
My main family surnames include: Ferguson, Jewell, Garrett, Gayler, and Johnson.