How to do Genealogical Research from Official Documents?
Where can you do genealogical research? How can you search for your ancestors? What official documents do you need? It all starts first at home, and if possible, with family members who may have kept all kinds of documents related to previous generations. Often stored in drawers or in the attic, you can find photo albums, family booklets, military booklets, notarized documents, invitations ... With a little luck, there are some nonagenarians in your family. This is the moment to question their memory (so-called "oral memory") which will give you many interesting tracks for the research of your ancestors. If you do not find anything, here is a summary of official documents ("written memoir") to achieve this!
How far can you go back in genealogical research?
At first, everything depends on the geographical environment: countries and provinces can be very unequal in terms of the richness of archives. Although France has the richest archives in the world because of the antiquity of the state (17th century) and the first administrative institutions, their seniority generally varies from one commune to another. While it is possible that your family has kept records dating back to the sixteenth century, a family from the neighboring town may have stopped a year earlier ...
Secondly, the limit depends on the social environment. While the descendants of noble and notable families are often favored by wealthier and older funds sometimes leading to the Middle Ages, the discovery of a child ancestor may sometimes lead to a dead end. Let's say that, on average, you can hope to go back to the middle of the 17th century, either at the end of the reign of Louis XIII or at the beginning of that of Louis XIV. But you can often find traces of your family until the time of the Hundred Years War.
1. The family record book
The family book is without a doubt the most informative piece since it condenses three generations into a single document. Created and issued at the time of the marriage of the two spouses, this document includes their names and surnames as well as those of their parents, their dates and places of birth, and finally the names, names, dates and places of birth of their children as and when measure of their birth. Very useful to build a family tree, family booklets exist only since 1877, and allow you to go back almost 150 years back.
How to get a family booklet?
In case of loss of the family book, only one of the spouses can ask the town hall for a copy that ensures the archiving and updates, for example on the occasion of a new birth. However, it is not legally possible to obtain one after their death. This kind of document is usually kept by one of the children who has inherited it.
2. Family photos
What's more telling than a photo to reconnect with past generations? Not only are the pieces that can get you the most emotions, but they are full of information and allow you to exploit new tracks. Indeed, do not hesitate to show them to the oldest of your family. Maybe they will recognize some cousins, the region of origin according to some clues, the approximate date, etc.
3. The military booklet
This piece, once found, is very valuable when looking for information on a distant ancestor. Created under the Second Empire (1852-1870), the military book was issued to those who had completed their military obligations. You will find all the military decorations of the individual (assignments, injuries, decorations, etc.) but also its date and place of birth and the names and surnames of these parents.
4. Death announcements
The announcement of death or "death notice" is used to warn the family and the entourage of the death of an individual. Whether addressed by mail or by publication in the press, the announcement contains a lot of information although they do not all have the same degree of precision. Although not mandatory before the Second World War, those that existed contained the name of the spouse, children and grandchildren and potentially the names of their spouse, and parents, siblings.
5. Notarial deeds
Notarial acts concentrate all the acts passed before a notary and can for example represent an act of sale, purchase, donations ... The marriage contract, the will and the inventory after death constitute the most useful documents to genealogical research.
The marriage contract, which sets out the rights, duties and distribution of the estate of the couple, gives the names and surnames of the future spouses and their parents, and the dates and places of birth of the spouses.
The will lists the descendants close to a person.
The purpose of the inventory after death is to measure a person's property, so that there are references to acts that can lead to new avenues of research.
6. Various documents
These documents are difficult to enumerate: these are all the other papers that you can find in a drawer at the bottom of the attic: old postcards, diplomas, photographs, diaries, official documents or administrative documents that can give all kinds of information that can help you in your investigation and enrich your data.
7. Inquire the memory of the living
If you are missing information about relatives or a family member that is close enough in time, nothing will be more useful than going to visit an old cousin or an old friend of the family. But beware: some will be delighted to tell you their story of their youth and give you a lot of information (maybe a little too much?) While others will be more reserved. Remember that it can be painful for some grandparents and great-grandparents to dig back into their story, whose story may wake up some of the wounds of the past. This is not an interrogation: let them tell what they want, and at their own pace. Nevertheless, keep your thread in mind to welcome and organize the information you need: how many brothers and sisters? which parents and grandparents? how many children? which spouses? what are their places and date of birth?
How to sort and classify found documents?
In order to better preserve and transmit, you must choose which documents to keep, that is to say those which have an autobiographical interest or an emotional charge (diplomas, poems, declarations ...). How to classify these documents? Indeed, at a certain advanced phase of your research, you risk getting lost in the pile of papers and may not be very clear ... For optimal sorting, we advise you to classify these documents first by last names with a box of archives by name, in which you will rank a shirt per person.
8. The Cemetery
Eh yes! In any ambitious genealogical research, a detour through the cemetery is a must! You can get there, thanks to the guardian or the town hall, the place of death of the deceased and the place of their grave for example. This will allow you to go to the town hall to search for the death certificate in which you will find the names, surnames, age, occupation and home of the deceased, the names and surnames of the spouse and those of his parents, and finally, dates and places of birth if that person died after 1922.
Classify your information
The numbering of Sosa-Stradonitz
Before starting your family tree seriously, it is advisable to start by establishing a pedigree chart with the Sosa-Stradonitz numbering, used by most genealogists because of its clarity and intuitiveness. The "probant" - the one from which the ascending genealogy begins - is designated No. 1, his father No. 2 and his mother No. 4, his paternal grandparents No. 4 and No. 5 respectively for the grandfather and grandmother and so on.
The advantage of this numbering system is that even if your ancestry is made up of a few holes (a great-great-grandparent of which you have no knowledge), you can still move from one branch to another. to the other even if one is incomplete. Men will thus always be designated by an even number, and women by an odd number. This blog explains more about the SOSA numbering system.
Individual cards and abbreviations
After having collected a large amount of documents, you have a lot of information that now needs to be sorted and prioritized to better refine your research and leave nothing in the dark.
It is therefore necessary to fill out cards for each couple with a simple abbreviation system that gives you an exhaustive list of important information.