Mayflower Plymouth Village North Bridge at Concord

Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor

Plymouth Village

North Bridge at Concord

Genealogy and Family History Research

"The man who feels no sentiment of veneration for the memory of his forefathers; who has no natural regard for his ancestors or his kindred, is himself unworthy of kindred regard or remembrance". Daniel Webster

A question I am often asked is where do I start on my family research. Of course the obvious answer is with your self. Why do you start with your self? You start with your self because the only thing you know for certain is that you exist. You grew up knowing your parents, grandparents and possibly great grandparents. To do a good family history or genealogy you will have to obtain documentation or records of who you are and who your parents, grandparent's etc. are. If you ever plan on joining a blood line lineage society such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution, or the Mayflower Society, you will have to prove this blood line with verifiable source records. To join a society you will have to obtain records showing birth, marriage, military service, birth of children, and death records for each generation to your ancestor. At the present time I would estimate 6 to 7 generations to a Revolutionary War ancestor. It will be eleven to twelve generations to the Mayflower. Now that we have an idea of the number of generations we are looking at, what do we need for records to prove our descent?

Start With Yourself

The best way is to start with the most recent event in your life. Any item that would have generated a document that would have proven that you the person are involved is a source record. This document will prove that you were in a given place at a given time and that you were involved as a first hand participant. This record or document is considered a primary source record. With this in mind, you will have to put yourself in the place of your ancestor and find this same type of record for him.
  1. Let us suppose for a moment that you recently had a child. The birth of a child will generate a birth record. This civil record will be recorded and will have the father's name, the mother's name with maiden surname. Also found on this record will be the birth name of the child, the time of birth, and the location of the birth. Because of the information on this record and the names recorded are all first hand participants, it is considered a primary source record.
  2. Perhaps the next most recent event in your life was the purchase of a home. This would generate a number of records. Obtaining insurance and securing a mortgage to purchase the property. Also the local court will record a deed and abstract for the property description. The deed will show you as the most recent purchaser of this property. Because you were a participant in this record generation this record is considered a primary source. An item not to forget is that this is property and being it is property you will have to pay real estate taxes on it every year. Taxes are also recorded as being paid by you the individual at a given time and a given place. This shows you as being a first hand participant in generating this record.
  3. The next most recent event in your live may have been getting married. This would generate several records. The most recent document would be the marriage license, signed by the minister, the witnesses and the Bride and Groom. The church may or may not keep a register ledger of the marriage. Many churches do keep ledgers of events involving congregational members. The court requires the license be returned to it to be recorded in a civil registry of marriages occurring in its township or county. The next previous record will be the application to marry record. The application will normally have the bride and groom's name along with the parent's names of the bride and groom. Many times the ages are listed along with places of residence as well as occupations. If bride or groom are under age to marry you will find a parent's permission to marry note attached. This document contains a wealth of information about the individuals involved. This record is also considered a primary source document.
  4. Going back further in time, perhaps we find you served in the military. The most recent document showing military service will be your discharge record. For recent times this document will be called a DD214. The DD214 will show your name, place of enlistment, your military job classification, rank at discharge. Before January 1, 1950, several similar forms were used by the military services, including the WD AGO 53, WD AGO 55, WD AGO 53-55, NAVPERS 553, NAVMC 78PD, and the NAVCG 553. Because you were a participant in generating the items reported on this document it is considered a primary source record.
  5. Before military service, perhaps you attended a college or simply graduated from high school. Attendance to a school or graduation will generate records. Most school systems will compile a census of students or perspective students in its school district. This document will list where the student lives, whom they live with and other children of school age in a respective residence. This record will show you where you were at a given time.
  6. If you attended church regularly with your family you would have been confirmed into the church that you attended. Again most churches keep a register of confirmation of members. You probably would have been 12 to 14 years old at the time. Since you were a first hand participant of this event, this record is considered a primary source record.
  7. The church document before confirmation would be of your baptism. This information will be recorded in a church register. The register will also have your birth date, father's name, and mother's name, possibly with mother's maiden name. Names of witnesses will also be recorded in the register. Lutheran Church registers sometimes listed maternal and paternal grandparent names as well. This document is probably the closest one to your birth.
  8. The earliest record of your existence will be a birth certificate. A birth will generate several documents. The most notable will be the birth certificate itself. Most states will record live births at the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Most recently the Social Security Administration will receive notice of the birth also. The birth certificate will have the birth child's name, the time of birth and the place of birth. Also on the record will be the father's name, the mother's name with maiden name. The age of the mother along with number of children she had will generally be on the record also. This is considered a primary source document. As you can see we generate records in our life simply by living. Events in our lives also happened to our ancestors. They had similar things happen in their lives. The living of their lifes would generate similar records to the records generated in our lifes. The way to search for the records is the same as we did here. Start with the latest event in your life and work back to the earliest. The same research will have to be used for your ancestor. Start with the latest event in their life and work back to the earliest event.
The first rule of genealogy is to start with your self and work back! If you have living parents, talk to them find out as much as you can about your family. Talk to aunts, uncles, or anyone else in the family that is older than you. Ask questions; find out as much as you can.
  • What's your full name?
  • When and where were you born?
  • Where did you grow up?
  • When and where were you married?
  • Whom did you marry? What is his/her full name?
  • How many children did you have? What are their full names?
  • What were your parents full names?
  • When and where were your parents born?
  • Where did your parents grow up?
  • When and where did your parents marry?
  • What do you know about your grandparents?
  • Do you have any family Bibles, papers, or photographs?
It may be helpful to tape record, either audibly and by video, the people you talk to in addition to writing down their answers. Keep the recordings for future reference. Be sure to ask permission before taping someone.

Second Generation

This would be your parent's. If they are living, talk to them. Ask the above questions; find out as much as you can from them. Be sure to write notes about your conversation. Don't forget about the events in your life that generated records. Your parents had similar things happen to them in their lives. Before recording the information, verify against the actual document. Keep in mind that if you do want to join a lineage society you will have to submit copies of your proof document for acceptance in that society. If your parents are deceased you will have to do some research. The research involved will include obtaining the vital records that pertained to them in their lives. The latest event would be after the death of your respective parent. If they had a will the items mentioned in the will would have been ordered by the probate court. If they did not have a will, the probate court will intervene and determine heir’s to the estate.


  1. Probate means to prove the validity of a will.
  2. There are two types of property:
    1. Real property (real estate)
    2. Personal property (moveable property)
  3. There are two types of probate cases:
    1. Testate cases (involves a valid will)
    2. Intestate cases ( no will)
  4. Typical steps in testate cases:
    1. Will is made.
    2. Will is witnessed.
    3. Codicil may be made.
    4. Testator dies.
    5. Will is brought to court and probate is granted.
    6. Executor is appointed by the court by means of a letter testamentary:
      1. If executor refuses the appointment, or for some reasons cannot serve, he signs a renunciation.
      2. The court would then have to appoint an administrator to take the place of the executor. This appointment is made by means of a Letter of Administration with Will Annexed.
      3. The administrator then posts bond (executors are not ordinarily required to post bond).
    7. Duties of the executor or administrator:
      1. Make Public Notice (newspaper)
      2. Evaluate the Estate


        1. Real Property appraised by court appointed appraisers.
        2. Personal property inventoried by executor or administrator.


        1. Public Notice
        2. Audit
        3. The Widows Dower rights honored
        4. Debts paid;
          1. This may necessitate selling the inventory.
          2. Estate sale may be held at public auction.
        5. Final distribution of the estate is made to the heirs according to the terms of the will.

Intestate Cases

  1. Petition to court to probate intestate (made by either the heirs or the creditors).
  2. Administrator is appointed by means of a letter of administration.
  3. Administrator posts bond.
  4. Same as testate cases from here on except that the final distribution is made without the advantage of a will.

Documents of Probate Files

  1. Records are created at every step by every action of the court in probate cases.
    1. Wills and letters of administration are often written in bound books and indexed.
    2. All of the other papers of a probate file are termed "loose papers" or "estate files" and are often filed in another part of the court building. Some courts destroy the estate files.
As you can see a tremendous amount of records are generated by the court. All of these records are about the deceased individual or the heirs to the estate. The next document would be the death certificate. The information on a death certificate is given by survivors of an individual. This information may or may not be correct. The only credible information will be the death date, and cause of death as reported by the physician. Questions asked are parent names of the deceased person, birth date, occupation, spouse's name, etc. The reporting individual will state to the best of their knowledge what they know. Grief will be a factor also. What ever we find on a death record should be backed up with information from records generated by the person when they were alive. The next items of information to obtain would be the same as for your self. Remember to work from the most recent to the first event in their life. If your parent was married more than once, record the events of all the marriages. Any thing that would generate a record should be recorded for future reference. Do the same research for your grandparent's, great grandparents, etc.


  1. YOU'RE NUMBER ONE. Start with yourself, then your parents, your grandparents, great grandparents, etc. You will then be able to fill in brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
  2. KEEP THE RECORD STRAIGHT. Use cards, loose leaf notebook, pedigree charts, family group sheets etc. Whatever you feel comfortable with. Enter all the information you find and cite your source.
  3. ONE STEP AT A TIME. Prove facts as you go -- do NOT skip generations. You can not prove that John Henry was your great grandfather unless you can show positive evidence that your grandfather was his son.
  4. Pencil vs Pen. You need both. Keep unproved records in pencil so they can be changed. Do not make a permanent record until you are sure.
  5. IT'S FAMILY. Enlist the help of relatives by visiting, calling or writing them.
  6. DATES ARE VITAL. Exact dates will be on documents. Approximate dates appear in census. Look at each source.
  7. WHICHAWAY? Census records since 1850 show state of birth, family migration. Obits, histories, land and probate records also give clues to residences.
  8. WHERE THERE IS A WILL. Probate records can show positive proof of relationship. Even when there is no will; records of estate settlements may show heirs.
  9. NAMES ON THE LAND. Land transactions are recorded with great care. Deeds may show not only owners, but also heirs and relationships on both sides. Tax lists help too. And don't forget the neighbors they might be relatives.
  10. PENSION PAPERS PAY DIVIDENDS. They are full of dates and places. Any war is on record and you can get a copy of your ancestor's service record. See NARA (National Archives).
  11. CHECK CHURCHES. Many denominations kept records or maybe have an adjacent cemetery record available.
  12. LOVE LIBRARIES. It may be some of your research has already been done and waiting for you in printed book or can be located by ordering of microfilms. Again verify with source records what you find in a compiled family history.


Citing your source is very important to genealogy research. The topic is documentation, citing sources, and endnotes. Those pesky little information blurbs we dreaded when writing English class research papers. Thanks to state-of-the-art software it's easy now to attach a footnote with the stroke of a key. For every individual person you have in your family pedigree you need to cite a source of information on them. You must also include were the information came from. Why do we do this? When we give a source in our records we lend it credibility. Genealogist gets a bad rap because of a lot of sloppy work and Internet records that can not be backed up with a credible source. When you cite a source for your information make sure it can be found from the information you cite. Please don't use family folklore as a source, it may or may not be correct. If you have always been told that great-great grandpa homesteaded the southwest quarter of section 11 but haven't verified against the deed records, you really can't cite that he homesteaded this land. Check out the deed record, if it says United States of America to him then it is a homestead or land grant. If it states Ethan Gray and wife for money in hand sell to great-great grandpa, it is not a homestead but a purchase.

  1. If we have duplicate information from two sources we want to know this.
  2. If we have individuals with the exact same name which occurs often, we want to be able to distinguish the two individuals as just that, two distinct different people.
  3. To be able to cite accurately your research notes with other family members who are also researching.
  4. To clarify areas of search, if you hire someone they would like to know what has been searched so they don't duplicate what you have already done.
  5. If or when you submit your information to an organization, church, genealogical group or library they must have proper documentation of records or they will not accept your work. Sources can be cited on the back of family group sheets. Assign numbers to each footnote. You must provide all the necessary information so that anyone could locate this source again. Sources that are not accepted by organizations such as SAR, DAR, and the Mayflower Society are the Ancestral File, any Internet source, newspaper articles, family histories or folklore. Don't get me wrong, these can be a tremendous tool to help in your research. But these sources need to be verified against a credible source. If you are doing serious genealogy and family research, join your local and state societies. They have many resources and willing individuals that will help you get started in the right direction. Family research can be fun and frustrating all at the same time. But when you run across a diary entry that was written 140 years ago stating that "he rode the news to St. Joseph about the assassination of President Lincoln", this brings history into perspective. Knowing that several of your ancestors marched from Newbury to Boston 230 years ago to fight at Bunker Hill lets you know that an ancestor was there and participated in a small way in history's making.



  1. Family Bible: If you use a Bible source as evidence be wary of entries that are in the same handwriting and ink color that span several years or even decades. This is evidence that the entry was done at the same time and not when the event occurred. Also check the published date for the Bible, if the published date is many years after the dates of the event then you know that you will have to verify with another source. Bible entries are a great source, but be aware that entries sometimes are made many years after an event occurrence. If this is the case the Bible source can not be cited as primary source.
  2. Family Letters: this is an excellent source. The letters were probably written at the time an event occurred. Also family letters will give you an insight into their lives and how they lived at the time the letters were written.
  3. Interviews: Talk with your family, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Put together a list of questions before talking with them. If you tape or video your sessions get permission first.
  4. Photographs: if you are fortunate enough to have family photos cherish them. If they have names on the back, this is probably family members and will help you in filling out collateral family lines.
  5. Diary: Many people kept diaries and were very faithful in writing in them. You can almost always be assured that what is written in a diary is accurate and was at or near the time an event occurred. A diary entry will help lead you to other source records and where they are located.


  1. Vital Records: Depends on what state you are in. A lot of states, including New England states, keep vital records at town or county level. Here in the state of Nebraska, vital records are kept at state level with the exception of marriage records. Birth and death records are kept at the Health and Human Services Bureau of Vital Statistics in Lincoln. Records started being kept in 1905 and were generally complied with by 1920. Don't forget about delayed birth certificates. Someone that was proving who he was to apply for a Social Security number usually obtained delayed birth records.
  2. Marriage records: Are kept at county level and generally date to the time the county was formed. Be aware that for a short time in the 1970's marriage records were sent to the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Those records will not be at the county level. An exception here is that the applications forms are on file at most counties for this period. A copy of these records will still have parent's names, the names of the bride and groom along with ages and birthplaces.
  3. Wills and estate records: A will is filed with the county so that the heirs to an estate are established. A probate record is created when a will is proved after the death of a person. The probate packet contains a copy of the will as well as disbursement records of the estate. If a person dies without a will then they are said to be intestate. The court then appoints someone to find the living heirs and creates a probate record for disbursement of the estate to the heirs of the estate. Either way a list of heirs will be created and this list of people is generally a surviving spouse and children of the deceased. If a child is deceased but has children, those children will be included in the list of heirs. Probate records are an excellent source to identify heirs or relatives of an individual. You should also be aware that probate records could be created for a living person as well as a deceased one. A probate record can be created for a minor child to protect his interest in an estate settlement. Also a probate record will be created for an individual who is not competent to care for themself or may be created to appoint guardian of a minor child. Probate records can be cited as a primary source.
  4. Deed records: Usually list just the names of the owners of the property. A deed record proves that a person was in a certain local at a particular time. Also if the owner of the property dies and the land is sold under probate then you will generally find a list of heirs on the sale records.
  5. Naturalization Records: Will be filed at the county level for an immigrant that became naturalized or a citizen of this country. If this person filed for a homestead a copy of his naturalization papers will be in these records.
  6. Military discharge papers: A lot of counties will keep a record of or a copy of the DD214 discharge papers for veterans that lived there. A DD214 will show the dates of military service, units he served with, and the branch of service they served in, it also shows rank at time of discharge.


  1. City or County Directories. Almost all incorporated towns will have a directory. The directory will place a person or family in a community at a specific time. It should list occupation, and where they lived.
  2. Cemetery records and or grave inscriptions. If you live in a community where the WPA walked the cemeteries and recorded the information, these records have been filmed and are available at your local Family History Center. The town where I live (McCook) lost all the cemetery records before 1935 in a fire. Small communities may not have cemetery records other than a layout of the cemetery. My suggestion is to check with your local Genealogical Society to see if the town and or county cemeteries have been indexed.
  3. Miscellaneous or published histories. Use these records as a tool only to help you find an ancestor. Always verify against primary records what is found in these records.
  4. Newspaper files or microfilms. Microfilms of primary source information are basically the same as the actual document. Newspaper files should be used as a tool only, verify against primary source records.
  5. Tax list. Usually list just the head of household. These records are very helpful in establishing an ancestor's location at a particular time. Very old tax lists, especially those from New England states, serve as a substitute for some missing 1790 census records.
  6. Voter records. Show lists of registered voters in a particular location.
  7. Public school records or school census records. Show the households in a school district and list the names and ages of children in the home. Many school districts take a yearly census, so this could serve as a substitute for other missing records. I have found school census and truancy reports very helpful. They can serve as a substitute for the missing 1890 census.


  1. Archives: Search the Family History Library Catalog at to see if your church records have been filmed. Many churches will not let their books be filmed so you will have to locate the particular denomination and region archive center for the church they attended.
  2. Local Parish Records: Are kept at the church or relocated to a new replacement church. If the church was a rural church and has closed, check in neighboring communities to see if a same denomination church exists and if they now have the rural church registers.


  1. Vital records research in the state of Nebraska: Contain only records generated in the state of Nebraska. Only records 50 years old or older can be accessed for genealogy purposes. Nebraska started recording birth and death records in 1904, marriage and divorce records in 1909. Before 1904 and 1909 records were kept in some counties in ledger form. Certificates for births started in 1912 and in 1941 people born in Nebraska before mandatory registration (1905) could request a delayed birth certificate be put on file. Direct filing of birth and death records started in 1985. If a marriage occurred before 1909 these records can be obtained at the county where the marriage occurred. Divorce records can be obtained from the county where the divorce occurred. Check with the Clerk of the District Court in the respective county. Nebraska does not keep census records; you must obtain these from the U. S. Census Bureau. Obtain these records from US Census Bureau thru NARA or
  2. Land grants: Bureau of Land Management, actual images of records found online at
  3. State census: online at or Or your local
  4. Militia records: military records:
  5. Tax lists: Your local court house.
  6. Acts, journals.


  1. Censuses, the 1790 through 1840 names head of household only, 1850 through 1940 name’s everyone in the household.
  2. Mortality schedules
  3. Military records
  4. Pension records
  5. Passenger lists
  6. Immigration records
  7. Land records
  8. Special records


  1. Indexes, special.
  2. Printed and miscellaneous genealogies. A public library may or may not have these types of records. Check with your genealogical society for genealogies of people that live in that community or county. Southwest Nebraska Genealogical Society is located at the Merit Building Suite 3 on the second level. The society covers the Nebraska Counties of Chase, Dundy, Frontier, Furnas, Hayes, Hitchcock, and Red Willow. McCook Public Library houses old McCook newspapers on microfilm in the basement.
  3. Obituary collections/indexes check with your local genealogical society for this type of material. Many Nebraska counties have an index of these records on line at their respective county Web sites.
  4. Cemetery records/grave inscriptions check with your local genealogical society for this type of material. Many Nebraska counties have an index of these records on line at their respective county Web sites.


  1. Land records are considered one of the most important record sources in the United States and sometimes one of the least important in other countries.
  2. Two types of Land title transfers:
    1. Titles of Original Transfers
    2. Titles of Subsequent Transfers
  3. Titles of Original Transfers are titles where land is first conveyed - the transaction involving the original owner, not as a corporate body, but as an individual.
    1. Headright
    2. Bounty Land
    3. Homestead
    4. Grant by a state
    5. Patent from Federal government through cash and credit entries
  4. Titles of Subsequent Transfers are titles where land is transferred from one owner to another.
    1. The Grantee is the buyer.
    2. The Grantor is the seller.
    3. The titles are called deeds.
    4. In most instances there are indexes to both grantees and the grantors.
  5. Methods of Surveying Land
    1. Metes and Bounds System
      1. An Ancient method of describing the boundaries of a piece of property by referring to physical objects such as trees, streams, piles of stones, etc.
      2. "Metes" has reference to where the property being described joins or "meets" the next property over.
      3. "Bounds" has reference to the expanse of land between the "metes".
    2. Rectangular System

      1. Developed by the Romans.
      2. Adopted and modified by Thomas Jefferson in the Northwest Ord. Of 1787.
      3. Description:
        1. An imaginary line is drawn east and west called the base line.
        2. Another imaginary line is drawn perpendicular at right angles.
        3. Every six miles additional imaginary lines are drawn parallel to the base line and principle meridian.
        4. The 36 square miles are called townships.
        5. Townships are subdivided into thirty-six one-mile square sections of 640 acres.
        6. Sections are divided into quarter sections of 160 acres each.
  6. Some reasons for using land records:
    1. To determine a former or subsequent residence of an ancestor.
    2. To determine the parentage of a male or female ancestor.
    3. To determine the name of the wife of an ancestor.
    4. To determine the possible date when an ancestor settled in a particular place or when they moved away.


A theoretical township is six miles square. It contains thirty six sections, one mile square, of 640 acres each. A township will contain 23,040 acres.


  • 1 Mile 5280 Feet
  • 1 Mile 80 Chains
  • 1 Chain 100 Links
  • 1 Chain 66 Feet
  • 1 Link 7.92 Inches
  • 1 Rod 16.5 Feet


  • 1 Acre 10 Square Chains
  • 1 Acre 43560 Square Feet
  • 1 Square Mile 640 Acres


Since all sources are not of equal value, when you are analyzing which one you want to rely on you need to know which ones are of most value. Remember that most people tend to be more honest when they are in court than when they are in a parlor game. Some of you go through agony when you find genealogical records, which have conflicting data. You want to find the "perfect record". I haven't found one yet! Life, and genealogy, will be a lot easier if you understand something about primary and secondary sources of information.

An eye-witness Not an eye-witness, hearsay witness
Someone concerned with the event Someone not concerned with the event
Event written down when it occurred Event written down later or not at all

Family Tradition Personal Diary Court Record
Family Histories Family Bibles Property Records
Lineage Books Old Photo's Probate Records
Tombstone Federal Census Vital Records
Reference Works Death Certificates Church Records
Family Group Sheets Obituaries Fraternal Records
Academic Lineage's Government Publications Alliance Records
Periodicals School Records Insurance Records
County Histories Employment Records Military Records
LDS Ancestral File City Directories Manuscripts
Surname Registries Newspapers Ethnic Sources
Surname Folders Institutional Records Wills
Internet Source Undertaker Records National Archives

Begin a genealogy pedigree chart then family group sheets. Fill in as many blanks as possible. If you do not have exact dates, pencil in approximate dates (about Mar 1885). Use pencils for preliminary work. Always use letters to indicate months (15 Jan 1900). Write surnames in all capital letters. This had been a rule of thumb for genealogy, some computer genealogy programs will not except all caps and returns an error (Family Tree Maker returns an error and asks to correct). Use maiden names of female ancestors, if you don't know her maiden name simply enter her first and middle name only. Begin collecting copies of birth, marriage and death certificates. Each state is different on where the records are kept. The state of Nebraska keeps the Birth, Death, and Marriage records in Lincoln at Health and Human Services Bureau of Vital Statistics. Marriage records are usually available at the county level in Nebraska. This step will involve money because all states charge for copies. You will need to know the date and the county and state where the event occurred. These records may give you information about the person and often about their parents. You can also find some of this information in newspaper announcements of the event. Be aware that if you are planning on joining a lineage society of bloodline descent you will have to have copies of the actual birth, marriage or death certificates. A newspaper account or Internet source is not considered a primary source record. Examples of lineage societies are Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution, General Society of Mayflower Descendants. Visit your local genealogy society. Become a member, which will provide you with benefits such as checking out research material that would otherwise have to be viewed at the library.