Have you ever wondered how that distant relative made it all the way to Colorado after emigrating from Europe? What brought them out West? Was it gold? How about if you are related to Navy Cadet Joseph Mason Reeves, the man who invented the football helmet in 1893 – Reeves is a poplar last name after all?
New technology has made it easier than ever before to track down your ancestors. Records have been scanned in, downloaded, cut and pasted; you name it so that it is all easily accessible on the World Wide Web. All you need is basic computer knowledge and you can be on your way to filling in the blanks on your family tree.
Sarah Clay, who is a student seeking her master degree in history says, “Start by writing down and organizing everything you know.” Write down names, dates and locations. This way it will be easier to spot which Joseph Reeves you are looking for. Ask any relative older than you what they remember; they can offer up a good starting point. Also, look for old documents that have been saved, as they could provide some missing information. Many people keep birth certificates and military records long after a loved one has passed.
Secondly, find resources to help you with your search. “The Pikes Peak Library District has one of the best databases in the state” says Clay, “and the Denver Public Library has the largest genealogy collection in the nation outside of Utah.” Local libraries can offer up information and librarians are there to point you in the right direction. Library websites also provide links to free online resources. One of Clay’s favorite free resources is www.familysearch.org, developed by the LDS Church. It has a large selection of resources for your search. Family Search also has an instructional video to help you navigate their site.
Some resources that require a subscription are www.ancestry.com and www.footnote.com. All websites can be valuable in your search depending on your family history. Footnote.com is great for military records and if you are unsure about time periods. Ancestry.com has more detailed information available when you know more specifics about your family history. It is also helpful to look at resources that pertain directly to your family. For example, if your family is Catholic, the Catholic Church may have birth and death records. Using a combination of resources will ensure you have the correct lineage. “The more sources you can find to back up the information the better,” says Clay. Look in church registries for christening, marriage and death certificates, as well as civil registrations, censuses and military records. “Don’t be afraid to call the state archives from the state you are looking in. Just beware that they may charge you for copies and possibly for labor,” explains Clay. Keep in mind that it is up to you to verify the information you are collecting and a wide range of resources will help you do that.
If you are having trouble finding what you are searching for, look for misspellings and name changes. Often times the name Reeves could have been spelled Reves, Ryves, Reaves, Rives, Rieves and Reeve and more. The census would often abbreviate first names as well so Charles would become Chas and James would become Jas. Many genealogy books and websites have abbreviation charts to refer to.
Finally, Google the names you are looking for. Other branches of your family tree may have already done the legwork for you. You can also connect with people researching the same family. Sharing information can help verify if you have the correct family line. You may find information you don’t want to know about your family’s history. Dark secrets may be uncovered, but to have a true genealogy the bad needs to be there along with the good. The fortunate side of having a less than respectable relative is that the legal system has some of the best documentation out there! Genealogy is a fun way to explore your family history. Today’s technology can help you uncover your family’s unique story that can be passed down to future generations.