So how do you even research personal genealogy?

I’m a genealogy hater, or at least find it annoying.

But I’m curious how you even research it? Maybe if you had a rich and well known family or something?

Ok just for informational purposes on my fathers side from talking to him all I got was the name of his grandmother and grandfather ,his last name is one of the most common in the USA and he said his grandfather changed his last name from…SMITH which he changed because it was annoyingly common, or possibly he was a fugitive he isn’t sure.

Similarly my mom cannot give me info on anyone past her grandparents.

:confused: Is this unusual? Or what because I cannot believe how easily people dig up info.

Well, it depends on where your ancestors were born and how good the recordkeeping there is, because that’s how a lot of people who don’t already have everything laid out for them by other people on handle it.

With your dad’s parent’s information (name, date of birth, where they were born), you can often get a non-official copy of their birth certificate from the appropriate government agency. Or you could go to the church where they were baptized, if that is applicable and convenient. Either of those sources would have information on their parents - full name, maybe stuff like place of birth, date of birth, etc. Use that info to get their birth certificates or marriage certificates or baptismal records or whatever you can find. Or search government census records.

I was lucky in that via a SDMBer, I was introduced to an amateur geneologist who specializes in our country of origin. (She coincidentally happened to know my parents!) So I have records going back 13 generations in some branches of the family.

One major source of good information is the United States Census. If you have the date and place of birth for a specific ancestor, you can often find them listed in the subsequent census (sometimes fairly quickly if you learn your way around the Soundex indexing system).

In answer to your original question, yes it is quite common that people don’t know a whole lot about their family past their grandparents unless someone back there was a huge genealogy nerd. Even then that enthusiasm isn’t always shared by the rest of the family so the work may be lost or forgotten or end up with a cousin you’ve never met.

In cases like that the best you can start with is birth and marriage certificates - start with what you know for a fact (like your own birthdate and birthplace, or those of your parents) and try to get official copies from the relevant authority. Those often have more information that can help take you back a generation, or at least give you pointers on where to look next.

A word of warning: you may find yourself hooked on this once you start getting some tantalizing questions that need work to be answered!

There are plenty of online sources for genealogy, including census data and Ellis Island lists of immigrants.

It’s also possible to track down birth, death, and marriage certificates if you know where the person was at the time; it takes time, but it can be done if you want.

Once you go back to before the ancestors came to the US, it gets trickier, since non-US sources are very rarely available online, and they are often spotty.

I was able to trace my ancestors back to my great grandparents on both sides. Further than that, they were in Europe and I haven’t found information (even though at least one of them as a very unusual name).

The best free genealogy tool I have found is which links to many of the same databases charges for. I have found images of original birth records, death records and marriage records going back a hundred years or more. I even found my grandfather’s draft card.

It’s not easy, and that’s what makes it interesting. I would almost say that anyone who says it is is doing it wrong. There are many people who say, “Oh look, here’s an Earl Smith married to Mary, they must be my ancestor.” Well guess what, they may not be, and if they go down that road they may find themselves with a lot of bad information.

I’ve seen this happen a lot. Someone used my grandmother’s information, added an extra husband and child to her. I knew my grandmother well, there was no other husband and child. My grandmother’s name was Mary. When I contacted them about it they wouldn’t change the information and now that information is all around the internet.

So anyone who says their genealogy was easy stay away from.

The trick is to link to someone who has already done at least a little research. (E.g. one person did a brief bio about one of my g-g-grandmothers and her family. Names, dates, places. Really good starting point to find records in The Old Country.)

The good news: Someone has already done some research.
The bad news: They probably screwed a bunch of stuff up.

E.g., there’s a mammoth tome for one branch of my mother’s family. Thousands of people, goes back to the 1700s. One of my uncles was a co-editor. But the basic info for me and my sibs is completely messed up. Wrong birth places, wrong schools, etc. We have no idea where that info came from. My mother knows the correct info, how did her brother get completely different stuff?

(And with the Internet spewing bad GEDCOM files all over the place, this crap just propagates. At least familysearch has cut back on this rot.)

So: Find someone who has done some starter stuff. But never trust it. Do your own check on forms and the like.

Why? It’s a hobby. No one can ever hope to explain to another person why they enjoy their hobby.

Knowing what life was like generations ago can give one perspective. There was this man who as a teenager was on some of the last great cattle drives out of Texas. A literal cowboy. He had nightmares the rest of his life about crossing the Red River. Makes some of our childhood traumas seem trivial by comparison. That this man was my g-grandfather makes me connect with this other world view even more so.

Things were not always as we see them today, and tomorrow will be different as well. Genealogy allows you to see this pattern of change in a personal way.

Yeah. Sucks for first or second generation immigrants. I don’t know, maybe they even have the records in India, but it costs exponentially more to find out for me.

My wife’s maternal grandmother didn’t even have a birth certificate, they weren’t even sure of her exact age(she gave conflicting info). Apparently the real story was that she was brought over as a toddler from another country and abandoned, nobody wanted granny having problems with immigration so everyone just hushed it up(I have no clue on the specifics). This wasn’t in the USA but it is another sure bet dead end I imagine.

Yeah, I gave the info to my mom and her siblings as a starting point for their genealogy work - it’s just birth, death, married, where born/married/died. And I gave the genealogist the info for my dad’s death date, so that’ll be updated properly. The group of immigrants that she’s working with is relatively small (involves a couple rural counties in my home state) so I have a large amount of confidence in a fair amount of the information.

Edward #6 this is what is known as name collecting, not geneology. One of my grandfathers was Ezra Fisk B. but he was known as E. Fisk - because there was another Ezra Fisk B in the same town, no relation. If one isn’t checking–

I was bored and hit google with the name and town name for my great grandfather, which popped up a google whatever showing his obituary in the town newspaper, which had the name of his father, and mother. I googled both of them, and got more information on them, and followed back to Samuel Freeman who was part of the ‘Winthrop Fleet’ in 1630 just linking names found in published obituaries. [I actually also have all the same info on paperwork in a box in the barn, and more for both halves of my paternal genetic compliment]

I had some luck with The French-Canadian and German parts of my family had really good records; I was able to get them back to the 1600s (I swear, my ancestors were half the population of Nürburg). I had less luck with the Hungarian and Greek parts; there’s pretty much nothing once you leave the US.

The initial searching I did, I did via Google. Just the names and places I did know. It’s as good a place as any to start. Just keep in mind that you might hit a wall, and it’s not really your fault.

Once you hit the 1600s in the US you have a much smaller pool of people, who tended to club together to make the move to the new world. Frequently you had little groups that all kicked in everything they had to make the move, rented a ship, bought supplies and headed west.

I noticed at one point when searching for the GB component, there tended to be regional clumps from about 10 different areas in Britain that headed west. [And for Germans, there were a few clump waves] It seems that the population migration waves hit about every 20 years for the major clumps, or effectively once per generation as the boys grew up, married and realized that there wasn’t anything they could get by staying, but if the emigrated they could get land and a new start.

Throw in a lot of surname spelling changes either through illiteracy, simplification or misspellings and things can also become quite difficult to track. My great grandfather was one of 10 kids. For some reason his last name has two letters switched that none of his siblings had. His last name from that point on had ei, where the rest of the family has ie. The change stuck, and their are two branches with “different” last names. That doesn’t even include all the other homonyms for the last name that have been used prior that have their own branches. I have a different enough last name to make tracking possibel. If my last name was Smith or Jones, I’d have quit long ago

The bad names aren’t just a current problem (for some definition of ‘current’). In the just released indexes for the 1940 census, both my wife’s paternal grandfather (the household included all of his children) and my mom’s father had their last names misspelled. I did submit alternate/correct spellings for both of them on (I guess maybe I should look to do the same on, in case someone else is looking in the same areas).

My wife’s dad’s family name was spelled badly enough that didn’t even come up with it as a hint (and they’re pretty aggressive (and accurate AFAIK) on that). I only found them because I knew the approximate address and the sibling names.

That’s what I was going to say. My parents came to the US from Europe in the 1950s. I know something about their background but going back generations would be quite difficult. Especially since I don’t read the languages of the area they are from.

This is one of the reasons to also research the extended family. A lot of times you can find the one odd name or two to find the family. I didn’t start out doing that until I had to find my family in the census and couldn’t.