~ Discovering Your Family's Past To Shape Your Future ~
Finally going through that trunk grandma left you? Trying to start your own family research? These basics will help prevent problems as you start.
Always use maiden names for women. You’ll need her maiden name to find her parents, so record her as the name she was given at birth. If you don’t know her maiden name, leave it blank so you know it’s a gap you need to fill later. For each person, include all the names you know about – some people did have more than one middle name. Keep an eye out for nicknames, some of which are not obviously related to the name from which they sprang, such as ‘Peggy’ for ‘Margaret.’ Include nicknames in quotes, like William “Billy” Andrew Forester, Jr. Some people were known by their first name as a child, middle name as an adult, and nickname based on their middle or first name in their later years. They could be recorded by any of those names in official documents. Also don’t assume that because she was known as “Bessie” that her real name was Elizabeth. It could be the case, but isn’t necessarily so.
Never record a date as a bunch of numbers. 02/03/05 is what date to you? Perhaps it is February 3, 1905. Or was that 1805? Or 2005? While most Americans put the month first, military organizations in the U.S. put the day first, so the date above would be 2 March 1805/1905/2005, etc. Overseas, the day typically precedes the month like the U.S. military convention. Some organizations here and overseas, in order to keep records in chronological order, put the year first. Thus, the above date would be 1902 March 5, or 1802 March 5. See how confusing numbers for dates can be? Avoid all this by recording your dates DD Mon YYYY – so there is no question that what you meant by 02/03/05 was 3 Feb 1705.
Record each major administrative level for places: town, county, state, country. When one of these is not known, leave a blank between the commas – “Franklin, , Kentucky, United States of America” if you don’t know what county Franklin was in. Or if you know the county but not the town, then it would be “ , Porter, New Jersey, United States of America”. For other countries, use the equivalent administrative unit. If you record only “Jefferson, Mississippi,” neither you, nor anyone else will know if that was Jefferson County or the town of Jefferson a few years (heck, for me that would be a few days!) from now. This matters because many vital records were previously (and some still are) held at the County level rather than the State level. If you don’t know whether it was the County or Town that you recorded, you may have to re-do a lot of work to find that out and further your research at best, or you may have created a brick wall for yourself at worst.