Hints & Tips

On this page you will find some things I’ve pulled together with Hints and Tips on various aspects of genealogical research.

For an organized look at websites for Genealogy, visit my page on Pinterest.  Hope you enjoy!

U.S. Census Reports

One of the most common documents to find when researching one’s family history is a census report.  After all, it’s a federal document and there’s one created every ten years.

The U.S. Federal census started in 1780 and is mandated to occur every ten years.  It is also kept private for 72 years. However, it wasn’t until 1850 that every member of a household was listed in the census. Between 1780 and 1850 only the Head of Household was listed by name. Other household residents were represented by tick marks in categories by status, gender, and age.

The Federal Census is taken over time but as of a specific date. Always look at the heading on a census page to see the date the questions were answered and the census date. Sometimes they are months apart. Of course, human nature plays into the accuracy of census data. Babies born after the census date are known to be included, as are people  who died before the census date. People are also missed entirely or counted more than once.

Unfortunately, until 1940 there is no indication of who answered the census question. If the enumerator tried several times to contact the residents of a particular home without success, he may have settled for answers from a neighbor.  As of 1940, there is a mark next to the name of the person who talked to the enumerator.

States also took census reports, typically in a year ending in five. A few of these exist today. Territories also took additional census reports as they applied for statehood.

Regardless of the type or date of a census report that includes your family – review the entire page!  Many people read only the names and ages for their own family on a census report. This is important for confirming that it is your family. The rest of the page(s) is important for learning about their life.

There are different questions on each census but they are all geared to reveal the social condition of a family. The address, house number and family number can tell you about the type of home they had. Reading the full ist on the page will paint a picture of the neighborhood in which they lived.

Some reports include information on rent payments, real estate values, and earnings. Most contain information on a person’s literacy and heritage. Several have questions about military service. A few ask how many children a woman gave birth to.

So, read all about your family, left to right across the page. Then read about the neighborhood top to bottom of the page. Lastly, check the previous and next pages to see if your family list started or continues there.  Of course, family members used to live near each other, so also check for more relatives in the same area.  All of this will help you better decipher the handwriting as well.

This article has discussed population census reports – there are also non-population census reports that still exist and will reveal more information about ancestral lives and living conditions.

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Introduction to Genealogy

Genealogy, or more accurately, Family History, is among the fastest growing hobbies around the world. The reasons are numerous – curiosity, medical history, legends – the preceptor issue easy – less intergenerational communication.

If you are interested in this hobby, now a passion for many, getting started is as easy as picking up paper and pencil. Start by writing down your own dates and places of birth and, if applicable, marriage. Add as many details as you remember.  Now move back a generation. Record dates and places of birth, marriage, and, if applicable, death for your parents.  Add as many details as you remember. Repeat the process for your four grandparents.

This creates a wonderful set of memories and makes a great base for building and recording your family history. Stop here if you want – or, come along on a journey to a well-researched and fully documented family history.

So far you have memories and personal knowledge. Now let’s back it up. Can you add copies of birth, marriage and death certificates to these memories? This converts memories to facts and may help fill your story with more details. These documents are typically available from town, county or state archives and may even be on the Internet, or available from living relatives.

Another easy item to add to your story is photographs. When scanning photos, try to use a 600dpi setting, this allows for clearer pictures as you enlarge or shrink them to fit on a particular page.

Locating photographs is likely to stir memories of family events. Feel free to add those into the story as well. Include as many details as possible about any event during your own lifetime. Be sure to include how you felt during the event as well – the person you were excited to see; the one who scared you; the smell of the food or location, etc.

Once you have birth marriage and death and photos for a couple generations, it’s time to start researching other relatives!

A formal family history will include not just direct ancestors, but also their siblings. If your parents and grandparents had siblings, start getting birth, marriage and death information (as applicable) for them as well.

Some of this might be available from living relatives. If not there, look around you home or your parents’ home for notes, birth announcements, obituaries, funeral cards, and other family items with names, dates and places.  Of course, a family pot in a cemetery could also provide answers.

You are on your way to a precious family gift. Along your journey you will find different spellings of names, stories you were never told, and perhaps a family secret. Let family know you are interested in compiling a family history. Eventually they will understand your desire and provide stories, documents and photos to be included.

Enjoy the history you uncover – personal, local, national and world – and know that all of it lead to you being where and who you are.

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A record gets created, possibly distributed, used, maintained and then disposed of.  If the record you are looking at has significance for you, the disposal method might be to Permanently Store it.

When you start to organize your own papers, you’ll want a system.  Start by identifying the stage of life for each document:

Active Record—you are using it today and in the near future

Semi-Active Record—used for reference or occasionally

Permanent Record—needs to be kept forever

It is the Permanent Records that need to be archived.  Using archival quality folders, sleeves, and boxes will help to preserve your permanent records.  However, you will want to find the best location for these materials, regardless of their container.  Do your best to keep the materials:

  • In temperatures below 72 degrees
  • In humidity between 30 & 50 percent
  • In a dark area

Heat, water and acidity are enemies of all types of paper.  Remove staples, paper clips, and rubber bands, unless absolutely necessary.  Newsprint is especially susceptible to deterioration and you may be better served to keep a photo copy of the original article.

You may want a Permanent Record of something other than a document or photograph.  Memorabilia may tell more stories than anything else you save.

Whether you have artwork, dishware, fabric items, jewelry, or toys from the past, keep them clean and properly stored.

Talk to your family about the items around your home that are most important to you.

At a minimum. write a paragraph or two about where the article came from and why it is important to you.

After all, your memories are the most valuable part of any family archive that you create!

Archival Suppliers:

  • Conservation Resources www.ConservationResources.com
  • Gaylord Brothers www.Gaylord.com
  • Hollinger Metal Edge www.HollingerMetalEdge.com
  • Talas www.talasonline.com
  • University Products www.UniversityProducts.com


Levenick, Denise May. How to Archive Family Keepsakes  Learn how to preserve family photos, memorabilia & genealogy records. Cincinnati, Ohio : Family Tree Books, 2012.

Mannon, Melissa. The Unofficial Family Archivist  A Guide to Creating and Maintaining Family Papers, Photographs, and Memorabilia. No Publisher Information,  2011.

Sagraves, Barbara. A Preservation Guide  Saving the Past & the Present for the Future. Orem, Utah : Ancestry, 1995.

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World War I Draft

About World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918

This database contains an index and images of World War I draft registration cards completed by approximately 24 million men living in the U.S. in 1917 and 1918. Information that may be found for an individual includes: name, place of residence, date and place of birth, race, country of citizenship, occupation, and employer.
In 1917 and 1918, approximately 24 million men living in the United States completed a World War I draft registration card. These registration cards represent approximately 98% of the men under the age of 46. The total U.S. population in 1917-1918 was about 100 million individuals. In other words, close to 25% of the total population is represented in these records.


On 6 April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and officially entered World War I. Six weeks later, on 18 May 1917, the Selective Service Act was passed, which authorized the president to increase the military establishment of the United States. As a result, every male living within the United States between the ages of eighteen and forty-five was required to register for the draft.

The period of 1880-1920 was a high immigration period to the United States. Young men were required to register for the draft regardless of their U.S. citizenship status. Of course, not all the men who registered actually served in the armed forces, and there were some who served in the war but did not register for the draft.


The World War I draft consisted of three separate registrations.

First Registration. The registration on 5 June 1917, was for men aged twenty-one to thirty-one—men born between 6 June 1886 and 5 June 1896.

Second Registration. The registration on 5 June 1918, was for men who had turned twenty-one years of age since the previous registration—men born between 6 June 1896 and 5 June 1897. Men who had not previously registered and were not already in the military also registered. In addition, a supplemental registration on 24 August 1918, was for men who turned twenty-one years of age since 5 June 1918.

Third Registration. The registration on 12 Sept 1918, was for men aged eighteen to twenty-one and thirty-one to forty-five—men born between 11 Sept 1872 and 12 Sept 1900.

The complete registration included men between the ages of 18 and 45—males born between 1873 and 1900—who were not already in the military.

Registration Cards

Each of the three separate registrations used a slightly different version of the draft registration card. Because different cards were used, the information included in each varies.

The card used for the first registration (sometimes called the Twelve-Question card because of twelve questions on the front) includes this information: name, age, address, date and place of birth, citizenship status, employer’s name and address, dependent information, marital status, race, military service, and physical appearance.

The card used for the second registration (sometimes called the Ten-Question card because of ten questions on the front) includes this information: name, age, address, date and place of birth, father’s birthplace, citizenship status, occupation, employer’s name and address, dependent information, name and address of nearest relative, and physical appearance.

The card used for the third registration (sometimes called the Twenty-Question card because of twenty questions on the front) includes the name, address, age, date of birth, race, citizenship status, occupation, employer’s name and address, name and address of nearest relative, and physical appearance.

 The Cards Today

The original records are kept at the National Archives—Southeast Region in East Point, Georgia. Microfilm copies are at the National Archives regions that serve their respective states. In addition, some large libraries have the film of these cards for their own state.



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Massachusetts Land Records

Registry of Deeds Overview… 1

Massachusetts is divided into 21 registry districts with an elected Register of Deeds responsible for each office. Documents related to the ownership of real estate within the district are recorded at the Registry of Deeds.

Recorded documents are assigned a sequential identifying number (known as the book and page number) and are then scanned into the registry’s computer system. The resulting images are available for viewing on and printing from public access terminals at the registry and at your home or office over the Internet. In addition, all registries microfilm all recorded documents and most continue to produce record books containing document images on paper. In most cases, original documents are returned to the land owner. To assist customers in finding relevant documents, registries create a searchable index that contains the names of all parties to a document and the property address.

1 State of Massachusetts. Registry of Deeds and Secretary of State’s Office  (http://www.masslandrecords.com : accessed 29 September 2010).


Registry records date back to 1731 and all the records are available for public inspection and use at the Registry.  Some very old record books have been “retired” but those records are available on microfilm and online from 1731 to date. Click un-indexed property search for record books.


Besides deeds, mortgages, liens, tax liens, bankruptcies and so on, there are leases, plan maps, a small library and atlases of the Cities and Towns located in the Worcester Registry District.

Declaration of Homestead

A “homestead estate” in Massachusetts can potentially protect the family home from creditors’ claims of up to a maximum of $500,000.00 by protecting the property from execution, attachment and forced sale so long as the owner occupies or intends to occupy the home as his/her principal place of residence There are three types of Homestead:  Regular Homestead, Elderly, and Disabled Person’s Homestead.


When your mortgage is paid off, a mortgage discharge should be recorded with the Registry of Deeds in order to clear your property’s title.

A discharge is a document (usually one page) issued by the lender, with a title such as “Discharge of Mortgage” or “Satisfaction of Mortgage.”


Real property in Massachusetts is subject to a lien for estate taxes upon the death of anyone who has a legal interest in the property.

For a majority of estates, there is no estate tax actually due, but unless a release of estate tax lien form is filed with the Registry of Deeds, there is a claim against the title of property owned by the decedent for ten years following his or her death.

Read  the Entire Deed!

You may learn of your ancestor’s financial associates, that their property was a town ‘landmark’, that their land was later subdivided, or that the Registrar or Notary was another ancestor!

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