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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Getting Started on Researching your Ancestors

Here is a guide line of where to start.

Family Bibles. Search local archives and special collections from groups such as the DAR
Cemeteries. Get a county map with a good legend.
Church Records. While out visiting cemeteries, visit local churches to learn if they kept baptismal records, etc.
County Records. Search wills and estates (everything), plus marriages, deeds and tax digests.
Census Records.
Pensions, civil war, Mexican war, War of 1812 and Revolutionary War. These are found on microfilm at the National Archives.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Finding Origiinal Documents

The discovery of an original last will and testament, deed or marriage record is indeed difficult for the genealogist to locate. We really need to view the original will document because it not only provides the hand-writing of the decedent, names of witnesses, but detailed information about the disposal of the worldly goods. Ypu can read the abstracts all day long. However, until you read the original document, you do not fully understand your ancestor's intent. Now, where are these originals? Well, initially the wills and marriages are filed in the record room of the clerk's office of the probate court. Deeds are filed in the record room of the Superior Court. These documents were copied by the clerk in his own hand-writing in the large, heavy books inside the record room. The copying sometimes added error, misspellings, omitted words and lines. I worked on the Brantley genealogy in Georgia for a number of years trying to unravel a last will and testament. Finally, upon visiting the court house, I located the original document. What a difference! The name of the testator had been incorrectly written by the clerk. Finding this document resolved a genealogy of errors by all of those who accepted the clerk's record. The oldest documents have virtually disappeared from all court houses. They got stored, lost or even stolen. In today's world, some court houses (like Chatham County, Georgia) are storing their old books on an off-site location and you have to wait several days for them to be delivered to the court house. In other words, the public does not have access to the storage facility. I filmed as many of Chatham's old wills as possible upon my visits there and put them online available to members of Georgia Pioneers Also, I have to tell you that the employees of some court houses have no knowledge of old records and cannot help you locate them. In the State of Virginia, the old books were removed to the Virginia State Archives in Richmond. Still, these are not the documents themselves. The Georgia State Archives has been given some original documents, such as land plats,but you have to sign them out. Also, I understand that they have some original wills for certain counties. The thing to do is to ask the librarian and hope that she is knowledgeable. What is happening is that some original documents are turned over to State Archives. Georgia is having budget issues now and is only open 3 days a week to the public. When you visit there, look in the glass display cabinets. Georgia has filmed most of Georgia's 156 oldest county will books and continues to work on this project. Another place to search for the oldest books would be local historical and genealogical societies. Do the employees at the court house know this? No. You simply have to nose around. I suspect that we may lose more of our record books as time passes, for one reason or the other.

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Obama's Birth Certificate

With all of the Donald Trump controversy about Obama's birth certificate, there are certain facts which the genealogist should be aware of when seeking copies. First of all, to apply for a copy you need to be a relative. I have had no difficulty stating that I was the granddaughter or even great-granddaughter and receiving a copy of the original Birth Certificate. They are obtained from the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Atlanta (or for Honolulu, you would obtain it from the local health department or Bureau of Vital Statistics). Since most States did not make the filing of a birth certificate mandatory until rather late, the 20th century, you do not travel very far back into the lineage. It is desirable to provide the full names of the parents and as much accurate data as possible.

In Georgia, if you do not know the exact date, they will search several years for an additional fee. Be sure and phone ahead to obtain the application, and the current application fee. Notably, the issurance of a birth certificate is a State function because "the issuance is determined by citizenship".The U. S. National Center for Health Statistics creates the standard form to be used, however, States are free to create their own forms. These forms are completed by the attendant at birth or a hospital administrator, and are then forwarded to the local or State registrar, who stores the record and issues certified copies (when requested). That is, it is mandatorily delivered to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, or health department, as it is referred to in Hawaii. At different times in our lives, we need to obtain a certified copy for passport, school registration or other purposes. The copy issued our parents was not certified and is not accepted. It is really easy to acquire a certified copy of your own birth certificate because you can complete all of the blanks on the application. Remember, these are State workers and they are not going to provide an extensive search beyond the information on the form. Since it is mandatory to file the Certificate of Live Birth, if Obama was born in Hawaii, the certificate will be on record. Period. Let us say that you are curious and would like to have this information. Because you are not related (and because of his high profile), you would not obtain it. But there are other methods. Genealogists are detectives. If he were my ancestor and the bureau did not find a record, I would visit the local hospitals and see if they maintained copies. This is the computer-age, and some hospitals might have the information stored just as some public cemeteries. Everybody keeps old records for a certain number of years. I have been in more court houses than you can imagine. Their old policies included bundling up old records, storing them in basements, and even separate buildings. You are not going to find original documents (like wills) any more. However, I have found copies of birth certificates and death certificates in the probate court of a number of court houses around Georgia. There are filing cabinets inside the record room, generally unavailable to the public. Apparently, this is where the clerk of the probate court has to file some records because of space. They used to have old original wills, deeds and marriages inside the record room. Luckily, during the 1950's these documents were placed on microfilm by the joint effort of the State of Georgia and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The church maintains more than 50 volunteers in the field to film documents. This is how they get preserved in modern times. We all know the story of the burned court houses. Another source which I would search would be newspapers for that time period. Bill O'Reilly stated on his program that he found the notice of Obama's birth in the Honolulu papers. But let us consider how this information is reported. It can come from a number of sources. First, from the hospital, which would announce the hospital, date and parents. You have to know that relatives provide announcements for the newspapers. You could say "Mr. and Mrs. Obama of Honolulu had a baby boy born to them on such date...." Compare this information in the newspaper of the time period. What style did they use? If a reporter was assigned to report live births, he would have gotten it from the hospital. If someone else phoned it in, the notice could say anything. Being "of Honolulu", for example, does not necessarily mean that the parents resided there. I have extracted the Georgia newspapers from 1740 to ca 1935 (these abstracts are in a database on, and I have to tell you that births (and deaths) are spread throughout the newspaper for days at a time. They are found in local Community News, New Arrivals, Society News, and so on. You simply have to read every page. If I wanted to zero in on this Obama birth, I would search the newspapers 30 days before and after his birth. The reason: there is so much discovery there, from gossip, to fact, news of travelling to places, visitors to homes, and so on. Obama's parents did not have to be residents for a relative to report the news. They could have easily been residents of Kenya at the time of his birth, and later returned to Honolulu. There are all kind of variables. This is why searching for details in the newspapers are so important. Genealogists, this is what we do! It is a cumbersome job, tedious and tiring. But we do it because any tidbit of information is a clue. So, Bill O'Reilly, your data is incomplete. And, Donald Trump, they won't let you have access to the birth record, but they cannot stop you from researching the newspapers. Look for the microfilm in regional libraries and archives.

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