Sun, April 05

Most asked questions in genealogy

I am asked questions all the time, but these are the most common questions that people are concerned about.

*How do I start? Always begin with yourself and work back. Collect all the data you can, especially histories and pictures. You are a part of all that came before. Enjoy the process. Take a class or go to your local Family History Center, where you can receive guidance and direction throughout the process.

* What does my last name mean? Mine was easy. Bliss is pretty self evident as to meaning, but then where did it come from, who was the first Bliss and why was he given that name or why did he chose it? Actually our Bliss family name came from a knighting - but until I searched it out, I could only guess at the origin. Surnames were used to differentiate between people with the same name and were often given because of occupations such as Tanner or Smith or because of locations such as Pond. Surnames may originate in more than one place, so you will need to know the country of origin, and not be too concerned about the spellings.

* Is there a book that has my complete family in it? The short answer is probably "No." Be careful here. Don't buy a book, sight unseen unless you know the author. Ask your family first then check the Library of Congress and the Family History Library. Most family books are self-published but can be found on line and at local libraries near where your family settled. Remember that most family books contain mistakes. Don't dwell on these, and just be glad someone cared enough to compile the information. You can sort out the errors later.

* What genealogy software should I use? We've covered this one before. I suggest if you are new to genealogy you use a free one until you are comfortable. Then you can change if you want to. PAF [Personal Ancestral File] will do everything you need and is free at There are many programs out there and most do a good job. A good program will usually offer a free trial so you can use it before you purchase.

* How do I create a family tree? Family trees can be beautiful charts that are created from your genealogy program, or prepared from your data by special print services or even prepared by a family artist. These can hang on a wall or be stored away for you to share at reunions. Family trees are not only great conversation starters, but they help younger family members have an interest in their ancestors.

* Am I related to someone famous/notorious? You may have heard you are related to a famous person. Just like any other family research, you need to start with yourself and work back toward a connection with the famous individual. Many famous family trees can be found online, which can help you in making a connection, but be certain to check connecting data carefully as there is tendency here to leap before you look.

* Where can I find birth, death and marriage records? Vital records record life's "vital" events and are the building blocks of your genealogy. After 1900 check the state of birth, but prior to that you are more likely to find information in family bibles, parish/church records, or civil government [town] records. Tombstone records give clues, but are not considered vital records.

* What is my family coat of arms? Not all families have a "coat or arms" and in reality the "coat of arms" and its rightful use is granted to the male line descendants of the person to whom the "coat of arms" was originally granted. It is nice to have a mug or plaque engraved with a family crest with your family name and motto on it, but just be aware that it may have nothing to do with your exact family.

* Where did my ancestors come from? This is the fun part. Take your legends, use them as clues and begin to gather facts. What town or country did your ancestors originally come from? Did they sail across the ocean or did they move down the road from one town to the next? Read up on the histories of the known places they lived, study migration patterns, and check immigration records. Record your data as you research and you are on your way. Learning where your ancestors came from is the key to locating branches in your family tree. Questions of a general nature can be sent to

Enjoy the Journey.

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