Family Research Tips
Do you want to research your family history? Here are resources to help you. The Museum is grateful to genealogist Roger Lustig for his helpful tips.
1. Record what you already know.
Write down the names of all your known relatives along with general dates and places. Start with the current generation and work backward. Ask living relatives for additional information to help you fill in blanks.
2. Create a checklist of useful historical records.
Do you know that your relative was in the military? Add veteran records to your list of possible resources. Did your great-grandfather own a business? If so, they may be listed in a city directory. Other helpful historical documents are land transactions, marriage certificates, and business documents. According to genealogist Roger Lustig, naturalization records are often “the Rosetta Stone” for your family history search.
3. Document family photographs.
Show your relatives photographs of the family. Use a pencil to write the names on the back of each image. Make sure not to press to hard so you don’t damage the photo. Sharing family photos is also a great way to jog your relatives’ memories and get people sharing stories.
4. Use Ancestry.com and other online sources.
If you know the address of your ancestor, check the census records. These include information like occupation, age, birth place, head of the household (usually the oldest male in the apartment) and all other occupants of the unit. Ancestry.com is a great resource for census records. Check your public library to see if they have a subscription otherwise it may be worth it to pay the yearly fee. Familysearch.org is another important site.
5. Jewishgen, the Center for Jewish History, JRI-Poland are a must-go-to resource for Jewish genealogy searches.
If your family is Jewish, you must visit www.jewishgen.org. This is a fantastic website for research on Jewish ancestors – you can even search by Eastern European shtetl. This website has a large community and you may connect with someone who has information about your ancestor’s village or a distant relative. Finding other people who are researching what you are researching can be more important than all of your other efforts combined, according to according to genealogist Roger Lustig. Another essential resource is JRI-Poland, which contains more than 5 million records from over 550 Polish towns.
One of the most important places to visit – virtually or in person – is the Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute at the Center for Jewish History. They will respond to your inquiry by phone, email, online chat or in person at their beautiful facility on 15 West 16th Street in New York City. Gesher Galicia is a great site if you are researching family members from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, now part of Poland and Ukraine. Litvaks: you will want to visit LitvakSIG.org for information about relatives who lived in the area of Eastern Europe that is now Lithuania. Last but not least, find your local Jewish genealogical society by visiting the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. You will find other local people who are invested in family research and who may have great tips for you.
6. Check your local archive.
Marriage certificates and records of birth and death can be found at your local or state archive. For New York City people, the Municipal Archives makes available the historical records of NYC, including birth, death and census records, This may be a great way to fill in gaps in personal information – names, dates, or addresses.
7. Visit the National and New York City Archives websites.
The National Archives is an invaluable site for those doing advanced genealogical research. Here you’ll find documents that may otherwise be difficult to find – veteran service records, land records, naturalization records and court case files. Keep in mind that records from this site often have to be ordered and received via mail so this may be a slower moving, yet tremendously useful, resource. Also, this is a site that requires payment for many requests. The National Archives at New York City maintains records from 1685 to the present.
8. Use city directories and historic guidebooks.
If your ancestor was a business owner or a service provider, they maybe listed in historic directories. The listings often included the name of the proprietor, the address of the business and sometimes even the owner’s home address. If you are searching in New York or Boston, the King’s Handbook of both cities are available free from Google Books. If you are looking elsewhere, ask your librarian where you might find historic directories of your city. Also, ancestry.com is uploading these directories onto their website at a great clip so check there, too!
9. Search immigration records.
Search for your family members from the over 51 million passengers who voyaged to Ellis Island. Their database is online, easy to navigate and often yields a quick and satisfying reward. You can also try the immigration records at Castle Garden at www.stevemorse.org. This is a searchable database of the names of individuals who entered New York through the Castle Garden gateway.