In this modern age, too many people believe that whatever you see on the internet is true. This applies even in genealogy; I have heard many people state that they found their family tree online and so the work is done. No family tree appears automatically online; someone has placed it there through their own research. And while I’m fairly certain that those who put their trees online do so with the best of intentions, the fact is, mistakes are made. Many years ago, when I was getting started, a woman told me that she had found a genealogy book with her family tree – and she was listed as a man. Similarly, I have found family trees where my great-grandparents were listed as passing away several years before they actually did; since I attended their funerals, I know for a certainty those errors were wrong. The same people who made those errors then perpetuate them now. It is up to us to make certain that we are working from actual records.
The best kind of online family tree to locate is one that documents its sources. With this kind of tree, you can easily determine which courthouses to contact. If you are “creating” your tree as you go along, however, you might find things to be more difficult. But how do you go about obtaining the copies of the actual records, especially if you live somewhere other than where your ancestors did?
The easiest way is to simply visit the courthouse for vital records. Make a list before you go of the items you hope to locate, along with dates. I keep my genealogy on my laptop so I can carry my entire record with me; that way, if I am searching for a specific record and have to get creative, I have all of my resources available. If this isn’t an option, you can print out individual reports or family summaries, depending on what you are seeking. Call your courthouse in advance to determine what records are available; this keeps you from wasting time searching for a birth record from 1782 when the county didn’t keep records until 1800.
If you live too far away to visit, you can request copies of many vital records via Vitalrec.com (http://www.vitalrec.com/). By selecting your state, you can learn about what records are available where. You can also print sheets to mail in and request specific records. This is a little more inflexible than visiting yourself, as someone at the courthouse may or may not be willing to search for the record; it works best for confirming dates you already know.
Of course, you can also utilize your local family history center. They have a ton of vital records by states (as well as other records, such as newspapers and church records) at the Family History Library in Utah, and you can request microfilms of these delivered to your church or stake center. As I mentioned yesterday, you can browse the online catalog. (http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHLC/frameset_fhlc.asp)
The last resource is other genealogists. If you visit the website for Random Acts of Genealogy Kindness (http://www.raogk.org/), you can correspond with genealogists willing to lookup specific records in various counties and states. There are many different things that these kind and wonderful folks are willing to search for. Just this week, I sent in a request for a birth record in one county (I had the exact birth date). When the sweet woman couldn’t find it, she also searched adjourning counties. She emailed me a scan of the copy, and then sent me the full photocopy for my records. All I have to reimburse her for is photocopying and postage. Of course, willingness to search will vary by volunteer, but just looking in a specific place for information can seriously help you in your research. This is a wonderful resource, and I would encourage you not only to use it, but, if you are a genealogy buff, to volunteer for it.
This is, of course, just brief overview of how you can obtain documents crucial to your family history research. I hope that this will encourage you to find ways to work on your genealogy, even if you are a stay-at-home mom. I truly believe that doing work for your own ancestors – especially those that you have come to feel close to as you have sought to locate their names and information among the files of history – will bring even greater meaning to your temple work.