Wednesday, May 27, 2009

But My Genealogy Has All Been Done!

I have heard this countless times as a reason why many LDS people don't spend any time doing their genealogical research. Perhaps you have family members that joined the church clear back in Kirtland or Nauvoo. Those ancestors have lots of LDS descendants now, and when you go to research your direct ancestors, you find that "the work has all been done." Trust me, that is not possible no matter how long your family has been in the church.

Let me offer a few suggestions for family history research for those LDS researchers out there who seem to think there isn't much work left to do on their lines.

There may very well be a huge amount of genealogical work done on your direct lines. However, this does not mean that this work is all correct. It would be very helpful to you and future generations if you are willing to take the time to doublecheck the work that has been done. I could not even begin to list the errors that I have found in the LDS databases online, such as the International Genealogical Index, Pedigree Resource File, and the new Family Search website. Verifying dates, names, and sources; combining duplicates; and correcting relationship errors can be of immense help in accurate genealogical records. In addition, you might find, as I have occasionally, a child that died young that was never included in the work done for the family. Those lost children will be very appreciative of your work in finding them and connecting them to their families.

You can also spend time putting together stories and biographies of your ancestors. Current and future family members always appreciate collections of stories about their ancestors being organized in one central place, either online or in a traditional published format. This kind of research can be rewarding in its own way as you start to see your ancestors as individuals with real struggles and triumphs. Genealogy is more than just names and dates. It's our history.

Finally, you can focus your efforts on down lines research, also called descendancy research. There was an excellent article in the April 2007 Ensign called "Branching Out On Your Family Tree." Basically, the idea is that you selectively focus your efforts on the siblings of your direct ancestors and their spouses and children, moving forward in time. For example, let's say your great-grandfather's work has all been done, but he has 5 other siblings. Their work has been done, but you have no information on their spouses and children. You can take the time to research these names and collect details for this branch of the family. You might even find several of these "down lines" where ordinance work for couples or individuals has never been done. You are related to these individuals so you can submit them for ordinance work; however, please be sure to keep in mind the guidelines of the church in regards to submitting these names. (These guidelines include getting permission from the closest living relative if the person was born in the last 95 years, and making sure that you have a death date for individuals born in the last 110 years.)

Unless you can say with certainty that your ancestral research traces back to medieval times for all of your direct lines, there is plenty more work to be done. You might be just the person to find and piece together other branches of your family tree.

Monday, May 11, 2009

WWI and WWII Draft Registration Cards

Especially when we are just starting out our genealogy research, we can make the mistake of narrowly focusing on only certain types of records, such as birth, death, marriage, and census records. However, there are billions of records out there that can assist us in our research. With that in mind, many of my future posts will focus on a specific category or type of record, where to find it on the Internet, and how it can be helpful to us in our fact-finding quest.

I want to start with one of my favorite resources lately, which happens to be a particular type of U.S. military record. I am talking about the World War I and World War II draft registration cards. Because these are federal military records, the original source for this information is NARA, or the National Archives and Records Administration (see my first blog post of this month, May 2009, for more background information on NARA). Of course, you can research these databases through the regional NARA facilities for each state. For easier Internet access, I recommend Ancestry.com. Yes, you will need a subscription. However, you can search for an ancestor in their records for free, and you will be able to see a results list whether you have a subscription or not. This will tell you whether your ancestor is to be found in these registration cards. (In order to see the details of your search results, you'll need a subscription. See my recent blog post about Ancestry.com subscription options and other ways to access Ancestry.com.)

Draft registration cards for both world wars can be great sources of information. First of all, they were filled out by all men between certain age ranges, regardless of whether or not they ever actually served in the military. Secondly, they were filled out personally by the men registering. This means if you find your ancestor in one of these two collections, you will have the information as they gave it the day they signed the draft card.

The information available on each registration card depends on whether it was a WWI or WWII registration, the age of the registrant, and the date of registration. Information that you might find could include: your ancestor's full name, current address at the time of registration, age, date of birth, place of birth, occupation, current employer, whether or not the registrant has dependents (wife and children), marital status, race, physical description, and the signature of the registrant.

There are some specifics you'll want to keep in mind in regards to each record set. The WWI draft registration cards are a more complete collection. Between 1917 and 1918, 98% of all men between the ages of 18 and 45 registered for the draft, including those who were not U.S. citizens.

Due to privacy laws, only the Fourth Registration, or "old man's registration," of the WWII draft registration cards is available. This registration includes men in 1942, who were between the ages of 45 and 64, and not currently in the military. At some point in the future, the other WWII draft registration cards will become available. In addition, the records of some states' WWII draft registrations were incomplete, and the original draft cards for 8 other states were destroyed before they were microfilmed, so these will never be available. See the sample WWII registration card below: draft registration card

While military draft cards only exist for males of certain ages, they can still be valuable sources of information in your research and are worth checking out for the men in your ancestral line who lived during those periods of time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How to Use NARA for Genealogy Research

NARA is the acronym for The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Basically, NARA is the records administration and preservation arm of the federal government. Whether you know it or not, you have probably accessed a record from the NARA holdings at one point or another in your research.

The NARA records that are most valuable to genealogists in our research are census records, military records, immigration records, naturalization records, and land records. NARA does have a website, but most of its records are not available online. The NARA website can be found here. The website will be useful in that it does have indexes of their microfilm holdings, as well as information on how to conduct searches in the different types of records.

In order to access and utilize NARA holdings, you have a few choices:

  1. Visit one of the National Archive locations in person and conduct the research yourself. You can find the locations of the regional NARA facilities on their website. This is a great option if you live close to a location and have several hours to put in the time doing your archival search.

  2. Rent or purchase copies from NARA of the microfilm you need and use the film at a local library or local LDS Family History Center. While this may be a little more convenient, particularly if you don't live close to a NARA facility, this method could end up being pretty expensive.

  3. Hire an independent researcher to conduct your archival research for you. This option would eliminate the need for you to spend much of your own time at all in order to get the information you need, but again, the cost might be prohibitive.

  4. You can order online for certain genealogical records. Information on what records can be ordered online is on the NARA website, but not all of their holdings are available this way.

  5. You can access many, if not most, NARA holdings from a local genealogical society or large public library, state archives, or an LDS Family History Center.

  6. If you want the best combination of low cost and low time investment, there is a final option. Ancestry.com has digitized NARA holdings in their online collections available to their members. They are also currently adding more new NARA holdings. Many of the NARA records are also being included on the new LDS Family Search pilot search project for free. There are many records available on this beta site now, but it is far from complete. This is an ongoing project, which will take several years to complete.


Whatever method you use to utilize the records available from NARA, you will find quickly (if you haven't already) that these types of federal records will be among your most important records in your genealogical research. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the records available at NARA. It will be well worth the time investment.