Family history begins with you, works backward

Q: I am interested in beginning my family history. How do I start, and what types of records do I need?

A: This is a very timely question because many people are planning family reunions, a perfect occasion to gather information. Your family history begins with yourself and works backward. First, fill out family group sheets listing every family member (even divorced persons). Even though they are no longer considered a part of the family, often they are parents of children who are vital parts of the family.

Various designs of family group sheets can be found online or in your local library. Ask the librarian to help you select one and then make numerous copies. Begin filling them in with pencil, not pen. You are going to make mistakes and pencil is much easier to correct than pen.

Enter your dates in military or European style: day, month and year. Abbreviate the month rather than listing it as a number. As you fill in the blanks, you will see the need for copies of documents that verify the information on family group sheet. The most basic records needed in your collection are vital records, which are birth, marriage and death.

Even though you know these dates, others will review your research findings and need to know where you obtained your information. Also, questions will arise because our memories are never completely accurate. As the years pass, you will discover this to be uncomfortably true.

Most states have Vital Statistics Indexes for your convenience. For Texas records, contact the Genealogy Collection, Texas State Library, P.O. Box 12927, Austin, TX 78711-2927; e-mail: geninfo@tsl.state.tx.us. Phone: 512-463-5463. For addresses and phone numbers in other states, consult "The Handybook for Genealogists" or the "Redbook" in your local library. Divorce listings prior to 1968 are located in the district clerk's office in the county where the divorce was filed. Copies can be obtained for a nominal fee from the district clerk.

Obtaining copies of certificates have certain restrictions: Birth certificates are confidential under Texas Law for 50 years; death for 25 years. Copies are obtainable only by qualified applicants, defined as the registrant, or immediate family members either by blood or marriage, his or her guardian, or his or her legal representative. You must show proof of your relationship to the person whose certificate you seek. The rationale is to help prevent identity theft.

Once you have completed the family group sheets and collected as many vital records as possible, then begin tracing your ancestors and documenting their existence through census records and other available documents.

Take numerous blank family group sheets to family reunions. Place your return address on the top and even better, attach a self-addressed stamped envelope. This will help those sheets find their way to you much more quickly than simply asking for them to be returned.

Your next step is to begin writing a narrative of what you are discovering. Jot down your questions for your next research trip to a courthouse or genealogy library. This helps you stay on track with your research.

Good luck and happy researching.

E-mail genealogy queries to mjones@vicad.com. VCGS members will research queries requiring extensive study.