Wednesday, July 6, 2011

10 Genealogical Research Tips

This advice is mainly for Puerto Ricans, especially to those living on the mainland (the United States) wanting to look up their family history. Of course, most of this advice also applies to anyone starting out family history and ancestry searches. Here are some tips, steps and general advice!
For Puerto Ricans living in the United States, it might seem difficult trying to research and find your family that was born on the island when you're not actually in Puerto Rico. Yet there are ways to research from the United States and get what you need, I've been able to do it myself so there are be little excuses that you can't!

1. Begin by asking your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and pretty much anyone older than you for information. Of course the oldest person with a good memory might be a good start but sometimes others have already asked your same questions and so they hold the answers.Write down EVERYTHING you are told, stress on everything!! From names, nicknames, dates, towns, professions, years, births, baptisms, marriages, divorces, brothers, sisters, parents, step parents, god parents, cousins, to even phenotype (hair color, eye color, skin color), etc. All of these things can be keys to helping you unlock ancestors, sometimes an ancestor might be written down by their nickname and so having the names of the siblings allows you to confirm and/or use those names as well for searching. [It happened to me, my great grandfather in the census was written down by his nickname and thankfully by knowing his brothers' and sisters' names I was able to find him.] Also look in family bibles and even on the back of pictures for hints about your ancestors is helpful. Town names can become important especially when people in your family start moving, a lot of families may have come from more rural parts of Puerto Rico and later moved into the urbanized parts to seek better jobs and opportunities. Not all families come from San Juan you know :)

***Side note: In Puerto Rico, many if not everyone goes by both paternal and maternal surnames, make sure to jot down both of these names. It'll be very helpful when you need to look through tons and tons of people with common names like Rivera, Torres, Sanchez, Gonzalez, etc or Maria, Jose, Juan, etc. EX: Alejandro Rivera Gonzalez (my great grandfather- Rivera from his father, Gonzalez from mother). Also, sometimes ancestors might have switched around surnames, ex: mother's first, father's last, or take on different surnames. The Census records are documents filled by what the people going around have been told, so not all the information is 100% accurate just because it's an 'official' document.***

2. After you've gathered all the information you can/enough to begin research, start by looking for ancestors on census records, the 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940 will be the only current available records for Puerto Rican families seeing as how Puerto Rico only became a commonwealth only after 1898. Start by typing in names and towns (if you're unaware of where they're from leave that part empty) and begin your search. Check to see if your public library offers free service to or HeritageQuest. For ancestry use, you'll have to use the library's computers for searching and with HeritageQuest you can use it at home only if your library has a compatible library card to use; this website only contains 1910 and 1920 Census records from Puerto Rico. SAVE THESE DOCUMENTS for future reference!!

3. Keep faith and keep searching!! You don't know many times I've searched and searched to find nothing and later to come back and find what I was looking for! [Perfect example: I've been searching and searching for my great great grandmother in the 1920 Census records and wasn't able to find her. I typed in just Maria, expecting either her surname as Charles or Gustavo and expecting to find her in Caguas. I found her as Maria Chales, the 'r' missing in her surname.] That's another thing, expect mistakes, sometimes people spelled the names based on sounds, so Orozco can also appear as Orosco or Alvarez as Albarez. Spanish tends to allow that possibility :)

4. Keep tabs on your ancestors, I have a family tree on with attached pictures and documents (you can make it either public or private, mine is private). I prefer because if there is a hint for the ancestor you can see what type of hint it is and see whether is it accurate or not; sometimes it helps to figure out a rough estimate for when ancestors lived/died. Keep some sort of tree with all the branches you have and make it as accurate as possible. If you're unsure of a surname, place of origin, etc. make sure to jot that down as well. For example: Soler (?), the question mark will tell you you're unsure of the name; Rivera/Rodriguez, the (/) tells you you don't know which of the two it might be but you it it's one of them; Mojica (Muxica), providing an alternate spelling lets you know that an ancestor might have spelled their name differently or appear with one or the other or both depending on time frames of the documents. [These are my methods for keeping tabs on information, it might work for some but not for others, so if you need to create your own system by all means!]

5. Don't forget about WWI and WWII Registration Cards!! These can provide hints for (male) ancestors and their professions, whether they had a wife/children and sometimes even their height, eye color, hair color, skin color and any condition they might have had. [One of my ancestors notes in his Registration Card that he has a broken rib.] These registration cards are available on as well. 
***Side Note: Make sure to check in the Census Records where it says Mother's & Father's Birthplace, maybe not all of your ancestors were born in Puerto Rico. You might find some from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Spain, France, Corsica, Denmark, amongst the many countries immigrates came from. For those ancestors you'll have to search the appropriate country's documents for them.***

6. After you've searched all the Census Records and Registration Cards you'll get to a point where you won't be able to find all your ancestors on these documents, now that you're a seasoned genealogist time to move on to bigger and badder documents (I say bigger and badder because they're really cool and sometimes difficult to use haha!) Try your luck at FamilySearch. Go to the "Caribbean, Central and South America" section, and then click on "Puerto Rico". Two options will come out: The Registro Civil (Civil Registry) and Church Records. I personally would say go for the Civil Registry first seeing as how they have birth, marriage and death all there. The church records are complimentary to the Registry records and can be helpful as well. Two important things: 1) You'll need to have a basic level of reading Spanish for this, seeing as how all the documents are in Spanish. If you can't read Spanish grab a loving friend to help you figure out what it means. (All the documents follow a similar layout so once you have that figured out the names and dates will be the most important things) 2) Some records do not have indexes to them. This means you'll have to search records one by one. This is a hassle only if you see it as one, remember, you are searching old documents so be prepared to put your mind frame in those years when the documents were made that there was no "Google" search bar. Every document you find from then on will be rewarding to you.

7. Save these documents in an appropriate manner that will allow you to find them easily when you go back for them. Example, keep a folder titled 'Ancestry' and within that one, one labeled "Maternal Files" and the other "Paternal Files" (This way you won't have to search through ALL the records when you want to go back to one.) Save files for example like this: Pedro Sanchez Torres- Matrimonio- Image 178.jpeg This allows you to easily see a) the name of the ancestor, b) what sort of document it is and c) on what image it is on. You can also save the Folio number which is the actual sheet number of the book, I don't tend to since it's on the actual document. Also by saving it as .jpeg it allows it to open as an actual picture you can zoom in on and everything.

8. Some ancestors, the more recent ones at least who've worked and applied for them might have SSN Social Security Numbers. Sometimes if you search websites such as: Social Security Death Index or Tributes you'll be able to find some ancestors. Sometimes if you can't find them on documents and you have their SSN try using this website to order their Social Security Application; the person will have to be deceased. It costs 27$ to order if you have the SSN and 29$ if you don't. I've done it twice and have gotten back results, it takes about average 3-4 weeks to receive the copy. It helped me crack a brick wall for an ancestor I wasn't sure about. (Read my post about my great grandfather Manuel Correa Rivera to see what I mean.)

9. Only some of the church records for Puerto Rico have been added online under the "church records" link under 'Puerto Rico'. To check to see if your town has church records but not online check FamilySearch Catalog and type in the name of the town. There you'll see what is available and you'll be able to order the microfiche to a FamilySearch center near you, click on the link to see which are near you based on your zip code. You'll need to pay a fee for having the microfiche sent to you and it'll depend on how much you want it to stay there at the center. I'm not completely sure on the prices so check by calling the center or asking in person if it's close by.

10. Last but not definitely not least, have fun with it! Remember you gotta do this for the love of it, it will become hard at times and you'll want to forget ever starting your tree but without a challenge how will you be rewarded? If you're unsure try, try again and even ask someone for help or reassurance if you need it. Be open to new information and maybe even shocking information if you find something no one has talked about in your family. (Hey, it can happen, for example an adoption or NPE- Non-Paternity Event) Learn the story of your ancestors and their past!

***Final Side Note: Don't believe everything you read online. Unless it has a proper source cited you can trace don't be too sure it's the right information. Sometimes people have public trees up but which contain wrong information (or at least to you), a simple slip up can lead you down branches that don't really belong on your tree [It happened with one of my ancestors while searching in the Census records, I had the wrong woman on my tree]. Also make sure to double check everything you have and have your own citing system. That way if you ever have to prove you have the right information, you'll have it all ready and presentable!

So those are my 10 research tips for how to start up a family tree! Good luck and God speed!

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