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Find Your Family - The First Research Steps

Article Date: 
3 December, 2010 - 06:00

Two weeks ago, I discussed getting started with family history. I outlined an approach that began with starting with what you know. By writing down what you know, looking at photographs and other items and connecting with other family members substantial family information can often be complied.
Once this is completed, then the fun of researching begins. I have spoken with many successful researchers over the years. They virtually all have a love of solving puzzles. They share in the joy of the discovery. This seems to me a good attitude to have when an ancestral search is in progress. If the objective of your efforts was to find someone living who was lost, you would map out a strategy of how and where to look. You would then progressively look in those places . You would record where you had looked so that you would not look in the same place twice.
Beginning an ancestral search is like this. The first step is deciding which ancestor to research. It is always best to focus efforts on one ancestor with a specific goal in mind. You also should work from what you know to what you don’t know. Once efforts are exhausted and results achieved then the next area of research can be established until all of the objectives are accomplished.
Genealogical research is all about time, location, names, and relationships. Searching strategies are all based on a combination of these factors that lead you to records. Where and when an ancestor lived determines what records will need to be searched. Names and relationships will often influence search strategies.
As with the strategy of beginning with what you know, in research the best strategy is to start with more recent ancestors and work backward in time. The objective of a search may be to find out more about an existing ancestor, or to find a new ancestor where the descendant is known. Again, as a general rule of thumb, a thorough search of those nearest to you in time is a good idea before moving on to new ancestors. There are two benefits to this. First, you will come to know the ancestors better. Many times you will feel more connected to them as real people to whom you can relate. Second, your searches will often uncover information about other ancestors. Thorough research of the life of a son or daughter will nearly always uncover significant information about parents.
The first question is “where to search.?“ To illustrate how to determine where to begin searching I will use an example of my ancestor. While the results will be unique to this ancestor, the process is largely transferable to any search.
For example, if I was searching for William Garrett Ogden, my great grandfather I would look at what I know about him. The information I have shows that he was born in Staleybridge, Lancashire England in 1837, was married in Salt Lake in 1869 and died in 1908. There is conflicting information as to where, but all agree that it was in Utah. I have this information from a pedigree chart and family group sheet handed down from my grandmother, but I don’t have any of the source information. I find that this is a common situation with many people. There is some conflicting information when I look on FamilySearch for William and I would like to find out what the correct information is.
When deciding where to search one of the most useful tools is the Family History Library catalog. The catalog is mostly viewed as a listing of holdings of FamilySearch. It is that, but is also one the best tools to find out what records exist for Ancestors. There are six primary places that will be good to search on the catalog to build my research log (the checklist for where to search and what has been searched) based on what I know about William . It is best to start from more recent and work my way backward so I will begin with searches for Utah and Salt Lake (this will include the city and the county) as well as the United States.
I will review the results from the catalog next week, but for now I will start with a search on the Utah Death Certificates at pilot.FamilySearch.org
There are indexed death certificates for deaths form 1904 to 1956 in Utah. I find William’s death certificate in this collection along with a digital image, shown on this page: I learn from this a few things:
He died in Ogden on April 25, 1908 at what looks like 3044 Washington Ave.
The reported birth date for William is August 26, 1825, although when the age is calculated it is 72 which might mean that the date was meant to be 1835.
It shows he was born in England.
It shows his parent’s names as William G Ogden and Sarah Garrett.
The informant is Mrs. H. Jackson living at the same address as William died.
It shows he was buried in the Peterson, Morgan Cemetery.
His normal residence was in Peterson and he had lived at the place of death for five weeks.
He died of an arterial hemorrhage and chronic bladder disease.
Edward Ruby was the attending physician
This information gives us a number of clues and a number of contradictions. We will explore more next week.