Genealogy Merit Badge – Exploring your roots-where your family name came from, why your family lives where it does, what your parents and grandparents did for fun when they were your age can be fascinating.
Discovering your ancestors-your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on back through history is what genealogy is all about. Doing genealogical research is like being a private investigator.
Getting started is easy: You list your name, your birthday, and the places you have lived.
Then you record the same information for your brothers and sisters and your parents and their parents. This article will help you find and organize the information you gather, learn new skills, and gain a new appreciation of who you are.
The Influence of Family and Personal History on Society As you research your family, you will discover what life was like for your ancestors and will feel more connected to them.
For example, you might find out how your grandmother felt when her first child was born or what your great-grandfather did for a living
Daily life might not have changed as much as we may be led to believe. As you trace your ancestors’ history, you may learn that they lived in a different country, ate different food, or wore different clothes.
But you probably will find that the same things that make life meaningful to you today are the things that made life meaningful to your ancestors.
Genealogy Merit Badge Requirements
- Explain to your counselor what the words genealogy, ancestor, and descendant mean.
- Do ONE of the following:
- Do a timeline for yourself or a relative. Then write a short biography based on that timeline.
- Keep a journal for 6 weeks. You must write to it at least once a week.
- With your parent’s help, choose a relative or a family acquaintance you can interview in person, by telephone, or by e-mail or letter. Record the information you collect so you do not forget it.
- Do the following:
- Name three types of genealogical resources and explain how these resources can help you chart your family tree.
- Obtain at least one genealogical document that supports an event that is or can be recorded on your pedigree chart or family group record. The document could be found at home or a government office, religious organization, archive, or library.
- Tell how you would evaluate the genealogical information you found for requirement 4b.
- Contact ONE of the following individuals or institutions. Ask what genealogical services, records, or activities this individual or institution provides, and report the results:
- A genealogical or lineage society.
- A professional genealogist (someone who gets paid for doing genealogical research)
- A surname organization, such as your family’s organization.
- A genealogical education facility or institution.
- A genealogical record repository of any type (courthouse, genealogical library, state or national archive, state library, etc.)
- Begin your family tree by listing yourself and include at least two additional generations. You may complete this requirement by using the chart provided in the Genealogy merit badge pamphlet or the genealogy software program of your choice.
- Complete a family group record form, listing yourself and your brothers and sisters as the children. On another family group record form, show one of your parents and his or her brothers and sisters as the children. This requirement may be completed using the chart provided or the genealogy software program of your choice.
- Do the following:
- Explain the effect computers and the Internet are having on the world of genealogy.
- Explain how photography (including microfilming) has influenced genealogy.
- Discuss what you have learned about your family and your family members through your genealogical research.
Your Life and Your Family History
The easiest place to start your family history is with your history. You can begin your life story by doing some of the following activities.
1. Writing a Journal
You should write in your journal regularly every day, every week, or every month. It is a log of your activities, thoughts, and feelings. You can write about things such as:
- Where you live and the room in which you sleep.
- What you ate for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
- Your likes and dislikes.
- The people you live with.
- Other relatives and friends.
- What happened in school or with your friends.
- After-school and weekend activities.
- Your plans what you hope to do or want to be.
This list is just a suggestion of some topics you might discuss in your journal. Write about what is important to you.
2. Recording Your Life Story
A personal history, or life story, tells about what happened in the past. It may include quotes or stories from your journal or diary. In a small way, writing about your own and your family’s history helps preserve the history of our nation. Start your life story by listing the following:
- Your full name.
- The date and place of your birth.
- The full names of your mother and father, brothers and sisters, and other relatives.
- The addresses of any places you have lived.
Flesh out your list by writing what you know or remember about your past and current life. You might describe the following:
- Your earliest memories.
- The different places you have lived.
- Your friends and what you do together.
- What your father, mother, or other relatives do (or did) for a living.
- Errands or household duties.
- Any health problems you have had.
- Community activities.
- Favorite sports, books, or music.
- Schools you have attended.
- Your favorite and least favorite subjects in school.
You might also tell about happy, funny, or hard times in your life. Be honest about your thoughts and feelings.
3. Recording Family History
Family history tells of the family as a unit and describes each person in that unit. It may include quotes or stories from different relatives. A family history should include as many generations as possible.
When gathering family information from relatives, you will need to talk or write to them to obtain information about their lives. You might ask about the following:
- Their full names.
- What they do (or did) for a living.
- The names of their parents, brothers, and sisters.
- What their clothes, food, and homes were like when they were growing up.
- Where they lived and what was the community was like.
- Community activities they were involved in.
- Military service and what it was like.
- Choices they made in life such as whether or not to go to college or to take a certain job.
- Stories of things that happened to them the funniest one, the most embarrassing one, the one they learned the most from, or the one they feel is most important to share with you.
When you talk to someone about his or her past you are obtaining an oral history, as opposed to reading a history that is already written. We all have oral family histories. A good to collect oral history is through interviews.
To learn how to interview, try interviewing yourself first. Write down the questions you want to ask.
Then ask yourself those questions. Either write down the answers or speak into a recorder or video camera.
Once you have done a self-interview and have familiarized yourself with your recorder or camera (if you plan to use one), you can then interview your mother or father, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other family members.
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4. Making a TimeLine
A timeline is a chart that shows the events in a person’s life. A timeline can show the events from a person’s birth until the present or from birth until death if the person has died.
You can make a timeline as simple or as complex as you like. It should include at least 10 items. If you want to make a detailed, illustrated timeline, use large paper (such as butcher paper) so you will have plenty of space for drawing or for adding photographs.
If you choose not to illustrate your timeline, an 8/2-by-11-inch sheet of paper will work well.
The timeline shown here has a horizontal line that represents a person’s life. The vertical lines indicate dates and events. The distance between the lines shows the period between events.
For example, if there is five years between two events on the timeline, the space on the line between those two events will be larger than the space between two events that occurred one year apart.
You can make a timeline for yourself or your father, mother, or another relative.
Show the events that were important in your life or your relative’s life, such as birth, births of brothers or sisters, starting school or a sports or music program, vacations, or health problems.
You also can include the dates of community or world events such as the year a new president was elected.
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Gathering Information From Family Members
Once you have interviewed a relative, you have begun the process of collecting genealogical information about your family. You can then start preparing a family tree, or pedigree chart.
When making a family tree, you should try to gather information from several sources so that you can evaluate the information and decide which information is the most accurate.
Research into any subject consists of deciding which questions you want to be answered and then collecting information until you have found the answers. For example:
- Whom do you want to learn more about?
- What do you want to know about these individuals?
- When did certain events take places, such as births, marriages, or deaths?
- Where did those events take place?
- How did your ancestors get from one place to another?
- Why might your ancestors have made certain choices in life?
- In other words, to get the right answers in genealogy, you must begin by asking the right questions. Then you must know where to go to find accurate answers. The first place to start is your home.
As discussed in the previous chapter, you should begin by asking questions of your mother and father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives.
You can do this in person or by telephone, e-mail, or letter. Longtime neighbors may add helpful bits of information as well.
If your family recently moved to the United States from another country, it is important to ask your parents and other relatives about the country where they lived. Even if you are not formally interviewing all these people, write down or record the information they tell you.
Not all the information someone tells you is necessarily correct. Relationships (such as Great-uncle Ralph was Grandpa Erickson’s brother) are usually correct.
But names, places, and dates may not be accurate. People tend to forget details as time passes. Later, you will need to double-check the information you gather from your family against other records.
In addition to talking with your family, look for the following sources of family history in your home:
- Certificates (of birth, baptism, marriage, death).
- Birth announcements.
- Funeral programs, obituaries, and other newspaper clippings.
- Wedding invitations and announcements.
- Family Bibles.
- Letters, diaries, and journals.
- Military records and other personal records.
- Deeds and wills.
After locating these sources in your home, you can visit other relatives (or call or write to them) to find out what helpful family records they have. It can be fun to talk to them and discover what they have and to hear about what they know.
Developments in Genealogy
Years ago, family historians had to travel to the place where the records they wanted were located. They had to copy down by hand any information they wanted to keep.
This meant that people who wanted to do genealogy had to have the time and money to travel.
By the middle of the 20th century, however, microfilm had come into use. Microfilm is the film of a paper document, such as a newspaper, photographed at a reduced size.
The words and pictures on microfilm can be viewed with a microfilm reader, which magnifies them to their original size or larger.
Microfilm copies of original records from various places can be sent all over the world. People no longer have to travel so far to view a record. The records travel to them! Records may be viewed at a nearby genealogical library.
The Internet has made accessing records even more convenient. With Internet access, it is possible to view many records on a personal computer in your home or school.
1. Microfilm and Microfiche
Micrographics is the branch of photography that captures images of records at a size much smaller than the original for storage and later use. Microfilm and microfiche are the two formats most commonly used in micrographics.
A microfilm camera reduces the size of the original image to a size that can fit on the film. Microfilm cameras may take pictures that range from a few times smaller than the original to many hundreds of times smaller than the original.
Here is an image of a Boy Scout and the same image approximately 10 times smaller than the original. You could fit 10 images of the Boy Scout into space where you originally only had one.
You can see why microfilm is a great way to store records-it takes up much less space than the original records.
Advantages of microfilm include the following:
- There is less wear and tear on the original record.
- Microfilm can be duplicated into multiple copies so that people in many different places can have access to the record. In other words, microfilm makes a wide distribution of the record possible.
- Microfilm serves as an archival, or preservation, copy of the record. If something were ever to happen to the original record, the microfilm is a backup.
- Microfilm provides an exact image of the original record, which prevents the possibility of mistakes creeping in when a record is copied by hand.
- Microfilm takes up much less storage space than the original documents.
2. Digital Imaging
During the late 20th century, micrographics was cutting-edge technology for the preservation and distribution of original records. In the 21st century, however, digital imaging is the tool of choice.
A digital image is a picture of something, such as an original census record, that is stored electronically. A digital camera is used to take picture. The camera converts images into a digital code that can then be read by a computer.
The code associated with one image, usually called a file, must be stored somewhere so that it can be seen, or retrieved, later when someone needs it.
Data on the earliest computers were stored on paper cards that had the code punched into them. Next, files were stored on magnetic tape, then on magnetic disks (called floppy disks because the first ones were flexible).
Today, files are stored on floppy disks, compact discs (CDs), digital versatile discs (DVDs), or the hard drive (disk) of a computer or other device.
Digital cameras have their tiny hard disk on which image files are stored until they can be transferred, or downloaded, to a computer and then saved onto a longer-term storage device, such as a CD.
One advantage of keeping images in a digital format is that it is easy and inexpensive to make copies. Another strength of the digital format is that the quality of each copy is as good as the original.
However, if you do not have access to a computer or your computer does not have the software to read the files, digital records are of no use to you.
In addition, computer technology changes rapidly, so data must constantly be transferred from outdated storage formats to current ones.
3. Computers and Indexes
The enormous storage capacities mentioned above and the processing capabilities of modern computers have made possible not only digital imaging but also digital indexing and searching. Suppose you were doing your research 50 years ago.
What if you did not find information about your ancestor in the place where he or she lived? You would then have to search in all the places near where your ancestor lived. At the least, this would have meant looking through many microfilms.
But it also could have meant having to send for, travel to, or hire someone to search the records at another location. Now, many records have been put into databases and indexed so you can enter what you are searching for and let the computer do some of the hunting for you.
4. The Internet
to send for, travel to, or hire someone to search the records at another location. Now, many records have been put into databases and indexed so you can enter what you are searching for and let the computer do some of the hunting for you.
The Internet increases the number of people who can access a database. Instead of people having to get their copy of a database, many people can use the same database at once.
When you go to a Web site for a genealogical record data base, all you need to do is type in your search request.
Your computer sends your request over the Internet to the server or mainframe computer where the database is stored. The server then sends the information requested back to your computer.
5. Genealogical Databases on the Internet
Once you have decided which ancestor you are going to research, try one or more of the following Internet databases:
- User-contributed (meaning the information is from individual people)
- Index of a source
- Images of a source (sometimes with an index)
The difference between the three is the source of the information. Remember that before you accept information as fact, you must decide whether it is correct and whether it is about your ancestor.
Take a moment to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each type of database. Understanding the limitations of a database helps you determine the reliability of the information it offers. check on familysearch.org.
User-contributed databases allow you to take advantage of the genealogy that other people have already traced. You might be able to get in touch with distant relatives who also are working on your genealogy.
The drawback is that the person may not have done his or her research very carefully and it may contain mistakes.
Indexes of an original record provide you with an easy-to-search index of records from a documented source. These indexes are based on original records and not someone’s opinion.
However, the fact that a person had to enter the information into a computer in the first place also means that typos and other mistakes are likely. Often you will have to pay a fee to use these databases Images of an original record may or may not be indexed.
If they are indexed, they offer one of the easiest ways to access information about an ancestor. You can look for your ancestor and then immediately view the source to make sure the information is correct.
If the images are not indexed on the computer (they may be indexed somewhere else), you can still look at the original record instead of having to find a copy of it. Many times these databases cost money to use.