Saturday, March 31, 2007

Knowing What Records hold the Information you Need

I keep coming back to the importance of information literacy and it's application to genealogy. The following handful of blogs (unless I get an itch to write about something else) will focus on the key points of information literacy.

Setting Family History Research Goals

I often refer to a family history problem as a family history goal or objective. How many of you have complained or expressed frustration on not knowing where to start or where to look for your ancestors? Like most things in life if we don't start out our research with a goal or a set of goals we will usually be faced with frustration and lack of success. To give yourself a better chance of success I recommend that your research goals should focus on one ancestor or one family. This allows you to focus on just one small portion of your family tree, rather than the whole thing. Your goals should include the following:
  • Research Objective - What do you want to learn about your ancestor? Some of the more basic objectives might include:
    • Finding the birth, marriage, or death of an ancestor. Notice the word or, your objective should focus on one of the three individually, not all at once.
    • Identify the parents' names of an ancestor
    • Finding siblings of an ancestor
    • Finding the children and/or descendents of an ancestor
    • Finding emigration and immigration (not necessarily basic, but one of the more popular objectives)
  • Place Information - Where did the objective occur? Once the objective is clearly identified you need to identify as much place information as possible. Depending on the information that you have your choice of resources will change drastically. Remember: be as specific as possible, if a rancho, or finca is known start with that information. Knowing a specific section of a big city will also be helpful in identifying resources.
  • Time Period - Once the objective and place information has been identified, you will need to narrow down the time period when the objective occured. Time periods might be a small set of years (i.e. 1870-1875), or it might be a larger set of years (i.e. 1880-1900). Time period will influence which records are available to use.
An example of a clear research goal might look like this: "I want to find the marriage date and place of X couple. I believe the couple married in Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico between 1895 and 1900."

Knowing what records you need for solving a family history problem

The key here is to first know what records are available, and then knowing which records to use for your research goal. For most Hispanic research problems Catholic Church, Civil Registration and census records will suffice, however, more advanced records like Notarial records should never be overlooked.

A few good books for learning about different records available in Hispanic countries include:
  • Finding Your Mexican Ancestors: a beginner's guide by George and Peggy Ryskamp
  • Finding Your Hispanic Roots by George R. Ryskamp
  • Latin America Census Records by Lyman Platt
Research Outlines published by the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contain record selection tables that indicate which records to use according to your research goal. For example: if you are looking for the birth date of an ancestor the record selection table will indicate that you should use Church records, then Civil registration, then census (given in order of which ones to use first). There are research outlines for Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Peru available in paper form at

These resources are but a few available to anyone searching their Hispanic ancestry. I would recommend visiting your local public library, family history center, or buying one or a few of these books/publications. They will give you a solid foundation on which you can build your research.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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