It will not require much space to indicate the main sources of
information in genealogical research. Having decided to trace back our
own lines, we naturally turn first to the living members of our family.
If we have parents living and accessible,–grandparents,
great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts, cousins, or others who
are likely to know more about the family than we do,–let us consult
them, personally if we may, by letter if we must. We expect to learn
most from the older members of the family, provided that their faculties
are unimpaired. Certainly we should make no delay in applying to the
aged, before the opportunity passes away forever.

But when we have gathered all the facts and traditions which these
sources can contribute, the main work of research begins. Our advice at
this point can be given here only in a general way. “The next thing to
do” depends upon the peculiar circumstances of each case–upon the known
facts, the localities to-which they point, and the character of the
resources in each locality. We have devised a plan of rendering
assistance in such cases to those who need it which will be explained at
the end of this chapter.

In a general way we here refer to the wills, deeds, intestate records,
tax and court records on file at the county seats, and to the
miscellaneous records, often of great value for genealogical purposes,
on file at the State Capitals. The value of church registers has been
mentioned. They contain membership rolls, and records of marriages,
baptisms and deaths. In many cases the date of birth is given with that
of baptism. In New England and many other places, the old town records
are exceedingly valuable sources, the births of children being
frequently recorded, besides early property transactions, contracts, and
much else showing the status of the early settlers in the community.

The records in old family Bibles are often “shortcuts,” while other
family papers, if old, frequently have a special value. The records on
tombstones are a resource apparent to all. The Pension Bureau at
Washington has records of the soldiers of the Revolutionary and later
wars who drew pensions. Early warrants for the survey of lands are
recorded at many State Capitals. A large miscellaneous collection of
historical manuscripts, many of them containing genealogical
information, will be found in the custody of historical and genealogical

The resources in libraries are almost endless. The genealogical works
already published are a host in themselves, to which we must add the
genealogies given completely, or in part, in periodicals. The line we
are interested in may have appeared in one of them, or may be referred
to in their pages. Certain indexes in book form help us to find them,
and should be consulted at the outset.

Many States have published their archives, and of town and county
histories there are not a few. A number of important church registers
can be consulted in print, and even the tombstone inscriptions have, in
some cases, been published. The Revolutionary records of most of the
States are now accessible in printed form, as are many of the valuable
papers held by historical and genealogical societies. In certain
libraries can be found a large collection of exceedingly valuable
genealogical and heraldic works covering the countries which contributed
the bulk of early emigration to the American colonies and States–Great
Britain, the Netherlands, France, and Germany. The publishers of this
book have arranged a means for placing these and other library sources
at the service of those who do not have access to them, or who have not
the time or disposition to consult such authorities for themselves. This
plan is described at the end of the chapter.

Having learned all that relatives can tell us about our family, we are
ready to turn to these other sources. All systems of gathering
information are systems of taking notes. Thus the question of proper
notebooks presents itself. This matter, however, we relegate to other
chapters, in connection with the two plans for genealogical works, for
each plan has its suitable notebook. But here we simply remark that the
question is all-important. Upon its solution depends our escape from the
old task-master, Drudgery, who stands ready to burden the pleasure of
our pursuit with pains and toil if we do not circumvent him.

Use plenty of paper, writing on one side only, in a plain hand. Write
with pen and ink where possible. A good fountain pen is a handy friend,
though some libraries do not permit its use when consulting books. In
such cases a lead pencil must be employed. We prefer a moderately soft
one, which makes a heavy black mark without tiring the hand by requiring
much pressure, and we carry several, well sharpened, with a knife to
keep them so.

There is only one right way of making notes, and that is to give the
full authority for our facts when we note the facts themselves. This
applies to personal information, as well as to that obtained from books
and documents. Take the case of the information obtained from our
relatives. Was some of it secured by correspondence? If so, the letter
itself gives the name and address of the informant, together with the
date. This is as it should be. But if it is not certain whether some
part of the contents is based upon the personal knowledge of the writer,
the statements of another, hearsay, or general tradition, it is well to
write again and have the source of the information clearly established.
Only so can we rightly judge of its value. If our information was
obtained in a conversation, the name and address of the informant should
be noted, with the date of the interview. The foundation of his
information should also be learned and recorded.

The moment of first hearing the facts, when the joy of discovery and
the satisfaction of making progress are upon us, is the psychological
moment for making our notes. It is a positive delight while the fever of
enthusiasm is high. As our informant begins his story, let us interrupt
with the cry of the enthusiast, “I must jot that down!” Out comes our
notebook, conveying to our friend a very distinct impression of the
importance of being accurate. He collects himself, and proceeds to give
his facts and traditions with the greatest care. As we stop him with
questions, or take time to write the facts, his memory is stimulated.
With skillful questions the genealogical worker can draw out all the
information, taking care to cover every point which may come up later.

In consulting books and documents we generally wish to copy in full all
important references, and we will initiate the reader into a cunning
stratagem of the old campaigner. We often run across a paper or
paragraph which we can see at a glance is a “find.” We do not read it
through, but simply skim over it to make sure of the portion which we
desire, and then begin the work–nay, the delightful pastime–of copying
it. What a pleasure it is, absorbing the contents, line by line, as we
transfer it to our archives! And there is a bit of solid wisdom in this
method, for the chance of errors in copying is less when the interest is
at fever heat than when the work is done in a mechanical way.

Mistakes in copying are further diminished by placing a card or sheet
of paper above the line which we are transcribing,–a device which saves
the eyes the strain of finding the place on the page every time we look
up from the notebook. Never fail to accompany each extract copied into
the notebook with the authority from which it is taken. If from a book,
give author, title, date of publication, volume and page. If from a
public record or document, give volume and page, with the office or
society, the town or city where the original is deposited. Along with
extracts from books, it is well to note the library where they were
consulted. We may wish to refer to the books again, and are likely to
forget in which of the libraries we found them. After making an extract,
compare it with the original, to guard against errors in copying.

The true method of genealogical investigation is to follow as far as
possible the methods of the lawyer. Not, indeed, that genealogical
research has anything to do with the learned quibbles of a legal
dry-bones! Far from it. But the genealogist may well proceed as would a
lawyer whose case could only be won for his client by demonstrating a
line of descent. The value of the legal method lies in the fact that it
proceeds, step by step, toward the accumulation of _positive proofs_. If
the demonstration of an ancestral link depends upon recorded wills, the
lawyer will obtain certified copies of such wills, to be presented in
court as evidence. If the proof lies in a deed, which perhaps
demonstrates the relationship of husband and wife, or father and son, a
certified copy of the deed is secured. If the family record be found in
a Bible, and the book itself cannot be obtained for presentation in
court, the record is copied and certified, and the history of the
ownership of the book established by personal testimony or affidavits.
In the same way extracts from church registers and tombstones are
authenticated before a notary public or justice of the peace, and
personal testimony is collected in the form of affidavits. Then, even if
the originals should be destroyed, the copies are just as valuable as
legal proofs.

Every link of the chain is thus established. The lawyer knows that in
the attempt to break down his case no cunning in cross-examination will
be spared, no expedient of rebuttal left untried. He gathers the
testimony of his witnesses, and also collects evidence of the
credibility of these witnesses. Judge and jury will not only hear the
testimony, but will form a judgment of the reliability of those who give

To all who can afford the extra expense, we recommend the literal
application of the legal method. To apply it to collateral lines would
be difficult and expensive. But it is the true method of demonstrating
our direct ancestral lines, and it is especially desirable for the line
from which we have inherited our surname. Strictly legal proofs of
descent, competent to establish the genealogy in any court of law and to
justify its entry as “proved” upon the records in any European college
of heraldry, constitute most valuable and interesting family heirlooms.

While the expense of the legal method may deter some from using it, the
_historical_ method is within the reach of all. It is the legal method
minus the single feature of official certification. In other words, the
genealogist’s good pen does all the copying, and in lieu of official
certification, he gives the place, volume and page where his evidence is
to be found in its original form.

A good many people will have the time to investigate personally under
either of the methods mentioned here. Many others must have the work of
research done for them; and the Genealogical and Biographical Department
of The Grafton Press will place the best skill and experience in
genealogical work at the service of any one desiring it. Investigation
will be taken up from the beginning, or at any stage, and will be
carried to the first American ancestor of a line, or continued with a
view to establishing the European connections. When the service of this
department is desired, all facts of one’s ancestry, so far back as
known, should be communicated in full.

In the second place, amateurs and others are often in need of practical
counsel and a reference to authorities based upon a wider knowledge and
experience than they command. Many beginners, having ascertained the
information which relatives can give concerning their ancestors, are at
a loss as to the next step. A mere general statement of the kind of
authorities usually available, such as we have given above, does not
meet their need. They desire to be in communication with some one to
whom they may feel that they have a right to apply, and to whom they can
say, “Such and such is the case: what shall I do next? what and where
are the authorities which will help me? how shall I get at them? must I
go in person, or is there some other way? and what would you advise in
such and such a case?” At any stage in the investigation perplexing
difficulties may arise which call for expert counsel, or direction to
the proper resources. We have given much thought to devising a
thoroughly practical arrangement which will not be burdensome to either
party and will afford full liberty of consultation throughout the
progress of investigation. Let the difficulties be stated by letter.
Correspondence is always preferable to personal consultation. It gives
us time to make an investigation, if necessary, in the interest of the
inquirer, while our reply is also in written form, which is more
convenient for the worker.[1]

Our third form of practical assistance in research work is designed to
make known the resources of the New York libraries to those who cannot
reach them, or who have not the time to become familiar with their
contents. Taking the sum of its library facilities, New York City
undoubtedly offers the genealogist the best opportunity on this
continent to consult American sources, and is unrivalled in the
possession of works on the genealogy and heraldry of mediæval and modern
Europe. We refer especially to the genealogical collections of unusual
merit in the custody of the New York Public Library (Astor and Lenox
Branches), Columbia University, the New York Historical Society, the New
York Society Library, the New York Genealogical and Biographical
Society, the Holland Society and the Long Island Historical Society.

Our plan for placing these resources at the service of inquirers
involves, in the first place, a search for all the references to a given
family, the object being to cover everything recognized as bearing upon
the line of descent in which the applicant is interested. References,
not extracts, will be given; they will show the character of the data
found and give the author, title, date, volume and page of the book
containing it and the library. When these references have been sent to
the applicant, he can consult the authorities for himself, or may
arrange for the copying of any items desired, their translation, if they
are in a foreign language, or for the making of abstracts.