6 Surprises for Newcomers to Genealogy
Genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States. Genealogy hobbyists may be introduced to the field through popular television programs such as Finding Your Roots or Who Do You Think You Are? or are enticed by family stories or other genealogy hobbyists. But once they get hooked, they often encounter a few surprises along the way.
The reference librarians of the Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy regularly work with visitors who are just getting started and have found genealogy researchers are often astonished by the following revelations:
Everyone gets stumped and it is no reason to stop researching.
That’s right. In genealogy research, it’s often called the dreaded “brick wall.” It really is no reason to stop your research or to become discouraged. Instead, think about new ways to approach your research or to concentrate on another individual in the family tree.
Your ancestors often appeared in the news.
People are often happily amazed to find their regular ol’ ancestor in the newspaper. But there they are indeed, published in obituaries, birth announcements, business dealings, marriage announcements, community reporting, and even criminal accounts.
There is more information in the census than they thought would be there.
Population schedules, which are currently available up to 1940, can contain such genealogical gems as birthplace, year of immigration, language spoken at home, profession, information about neighbors and the neighborhood, and whether or not one was naturalized. Researchers are often pleasantly shocked about how much data they can gather from a census record.
Their family name(s) are spelled in a variety of ways and their names have meaning.
After laboriously spelling out your own surname for consistency, you might be surprised when you discover that an ancestor or relative spelled it differently than you do. Similarly, finding the origin and meaning behind a name can be a revelation in itself.
Family names were not changed at Ellis Island.
This popular myth is frequently dispelled as researchers learn more about the immigration processes of the past.
There is more information in city directories than they thought would be there.
Like the census, there is more genealogical data in the humble city directory than researchers may have initially known. City directories help researchers ascertain addresses, professions, local churches and schools, and indicate when someone may have moved or passed away.