Where to find information
It's Monday again and I'm sitting here looking at a blank screen trying to get some inspiration on what to write. Yesterday I spent time with cousins visiting Florida from Washington State. We don't see each other frequently and it was a great afternoon and evening reminiscing about our family. Although they have been researching for a while, much of the information they have collected is from family trees with no real sources (except someone else's family tree). We talked a lot about the basics of good research, but this ties in to a number of requests I've received recently, as well as a request from my local genealogy club for a discussion on "how do I find records?"
I'm on a number of Ireland lists, Facebook groups, etc., and people are frequently writing in asking for information on their ancestors. Sometimes they'll give a name, approximate date and location, but more often it requires a number of back and forth messages requesting more information. My sense is that these people are not doing much research. Perhaps their newbies and have gotten an ethnicity estimate and are trying to find their Patrick Sullivan in Ireland.
So if you're a newbie, welcome to the wonderful world of genealogical research. Before you begin researching your ancestors, you might want to do a bit of research into how to do effective genealogical research. There are lots of places to get the basics...join a genealogical society or club; take an online class (for free) at FamilySearch.org. Here is a class by Rhonda McClure on Getting Started in Genealogy. Read blogs on how to research (here's my shameless plug...go to my blog and scroll to 7 January of 2019 and read the first 6 blogs...through 11 February 2019). These blogs discuss the Genealogical Proof Standard and are a basic outline of how to do good research.
OK, if you're not a newbie, we get to a point where we need to learn something new to continue our research. What then? Perhaps you've traced your ancestor to a new location...you find out that they migrated to their present location from, say, Connecticut. Remember you start with what you know and work backwards in time. First, create a timeline (see sample above) for your ancestor. Make a list of every record you have for them in date order. I use a spreadsheet for this so I can sort it by various categories, such as date or location. Can you define the timeframe when your ancestor was in Connecticut? Do you know the town in Connecticut? Do you have a corroborating detail to make sure you have the correct individual when you find the record. Are you sure the individual you found is "your" Michael Daly.
Before you begin searching for your ancestor, STOP! You are not ready yet. You need to research in the locality. What kind of records are kept in Connecticut? What dates do the records cover? Was there any loss of records or any unique record sets? To use a fairly well known example, why would you search (over and over) for your ancestor in the 1890 census? With few exceptions it was destroyed and doesn't exist? Unless there is a miraculous intervention, the census will not reappear from the ashes (although it was actually destroyed more by the water). Looking for a birth record in Pennsylvania in 1860 is another waste of time...again, with few exceptions Pennsylvania didn't keep state wide birth records until 1906. Repeating these same search over and over will get you the same result...nothing. That's not to say you shouldn't repeat searches for new records that may have become available online, but only if the records were kept and exist in some format somewhere.
If your research takes you to another state in the US, my first stop is the Red Book, and yes, it is a big red book. You can find it in your library or, you can find it online in the Ancestry Wiki (think Wikipedia for genealogists). It has a chapter on every state. Turn to (or click on) Connecticut and read the entire chapter. It begins with a history, then addresses different types of records. You learn that "marriages in Connecticut were recorded as early as 1640" and by 1650 births, deaths and marriages had become the responsibility of the Town Clerk. Record keeping was better in some towns and during certain times than others, but up until 1897, you need to know the town where the record was registered. After 1 July1897, the State took over the responsibility and although the original records are still in the town, the State has an index to all vital events from 1897. Here's an interesting fact about Connecticut records. Although there are normally restrictions on the dates for obtaining records, if you are a member of a Genealogical Society registered with the State, you can search all records up to the present. That means you can go to a Town Hall, show your membership card and access their record vault. You can also make an appointment with the Department of Public Health in Hartford, and access their computer database for records after 1897. I haven't been there for a while, but they allowed reservations on Tuesdays and Thursdays (call to be sure). If you're planning on traveling to Connecticut for research, it makes sense to join one of the Connecticut Genealogical Societies.
Another place I go to for information is the FamilySearch Wiki (select it from the dropdown Search menu). Type in Connecticut and get the State Outline. Here you'll find some additional information, especially on newer online records (the Red Book was last published in 2004).
Connecticut never had a state census, however they have one unique census, which was a Military Census done in 1917 of all males between 20 and 30 years of age (currently available on Ancestry). Another unique record set for Connecticut is called the Hale Collection (also now available on Ancestry). In the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, 2000 cemeteries in Connecticut were identified and documented (many of those stones don't exist or are unreadable today). If you are from, say California, you probably don't have a similar record set although sites like FindAGrave or Billion Graves may fill in some more recent information.
Other categories of records that are listed include church records (did you know that the Congregational Church was a State Church in Connecticut until 1818? That could be why you can't find records for your Anglican (Episcopal) ancestors). Land and Probate records can be very important in researching early ancestors in Connecticut. Here is a link to a blog from my old website on Breaking through a Brick Wall with Land Records. If you don't know how to research land and/or probate records, check The Source (also on the Ancestry Wiki) which discusses categories of records, or check out a class at FamilySearch on the topic. To be an effective genealogist we need to be constantly learning and since many of us are "retired" it's a great way to keep the brain working!
So when you come to a speed bump, brick wall or new location, learn about the records in that place before you jump into trying to find your ancestor.