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Finding Your Roots

A Beginner's Guide to Genealogy

Start with yourself and work from the known (names, dates, places). Keep in mind who, where, when and what.

  • WHO is to be researched? (persons, families)
  • WHERE were they? (states, countries, ships)
  • WHEN were they there? (dates, historical eras - what else was happening that might cause them to do what they did?)
  • WHAT are you looking for? (names, dates, places)

At home, look for:

  • Personal papers, diaries, and letters;
  • Newspaper clippings;
  • Funeral programs & holy cards;
  • Family birth, baptism, marriage, and/or death certificates, licenses, or announcements;
  • Family bibles;
  • Baby books, high school year books, and school papers;
  • Scrap books and photo albums (these are really helpful if labeled)

Visit or write relatives and ask for family information. Try to get as many towns, cities, parishes (counties), states, and countries as possible. Try to find out when your ancestors lived there.

At libraries, check these sources:

  • Census materials;
  • City and parish directories and histories
  • Cemetery inscription books (lists of names and dates of who is buried there);
  • Biographies of local area residents;
  • Sources of immigration records and ships' passenger lists;
  • Address lists for vital statistics records in other parishes, counties, states and countries.

NOTE: Most libraries do not have actual documents; often you must go or write to a courthouse, state archive, or diocesan archive.

When you find information, whether you copy or photocopy it, write down the author, title, page number, and volume number (if it has one), or photocopy the title page. Some day you might have to recheck your work.

Go, or write to, parish courthouses, state archives, or diocesan archives for:

  • Birth, death, marriage, and baptism certificates;
  • Probate records (wills and successions);
  • Records of deeds (land ownership);
  • Tax records

NOTE: There may be a fee charged for searching for and copying the information, so check with the agency.

When you write to other parishes, counties, or states, etc., be sure to give as much information as you can about the person you are searching for. Be as clear and brief as possible. Follow the agency's instructions on how to receive the information.

When you do your research, remember to:

  • Carry your ancestor chart(s) or copies with you (so you will be working on the correct names);
  • Begin with the present and work back (if you skip, you may connect with the wrong person);
  • Be alert to possible spelling variations in names, places, and changes in dates;
  • If you abbreviate, be consistent and clear;
  • Be aware that not all records contain the same information (some marriage licenses may list parents and their birth places, but others may not);
  • Organize the information which you collect so that it can be easily reached and added to.

NOTE: Document everything! If the original documents do not agree, try for more documents, and then accept the most logical information. However, ancestors were people too, so what seems the most likely may not be correct.

Be patient. You won't find everything in one day.

Selected Bibliography

General Works

  • Croom, Emily Anne. The Genealogist's Companion and Sourcebook
  • Drake, Paul. In Search of Family History: A Starting Place
  • Kelley, Harold. In Search of Your Family Tree (not in APL catalog)
  • Kemp, Thomas Jay. International Vital Statistics Handbook (not in APL catalog)
  • Stryker-Rodda, Harriet. How to Climb Your Family Tree: Genealogy for Beginners
  • Wright, Raymond S. The Genealogist's Handbook: Modern Methods for Researching Family History

Louisiana Works

  • Boling, Yvette Guillot. A Guide to Printed Sources for Genealogical and Historical Research in the Louisiana Parishes
  • Diocese of Baton Rouge, Catholic Church Records, 1707-1885
  • Hebert, Rev. Donald J. Southwest Louisiana Records
  • Sacramental Records of the Roman Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, 1718-1815

Books marked with an asterix (*) in the call number are for in-library use only.

Other Genealogy Collections

    502 Highway 30, Gonzales, LA
    Phone: (504) 644-2377
    7711 Goodwood Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70806
    Phone: (225) 231-3740
    701 North Fourth Street, Baton Rouge, LA
    Phone: (225) 342-4913

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