Maryland Genealogical Society
Maryland Genealogical Society
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Basic Research
1.   Start with what you know and work from there.
2.   Genealogy magazines are a great learning resource for both new and experienced genealogists. They have all types of general articles on "best practices," the latest Web sites, software, how to research specific topics, ethnic backgrounds, geographical areas, etc.
3.   Collect all relevant records in one place. Develop an organized filing system (both paper and electronic) so you can find things. Then make sure you file information in its proper place, so you can find it when you want it.
4.   When taking notes, use standard size paper, one surname per page, record the date and place of your research and the sources consulted.
5.   Genealogy is the search for our ancestors. Family history is the study of the lives they led. Using the information from each area provides us with a true picture of our family.
6.   Research your genealogy to learn about your family and your place in that family, to leave a legacy for your children and grandchildren, and to research and trace your family's medical history.
7.   Remember that each generation doubles the number of ancestors. It's easy to get lost if you don't plan ahead for your trip. Focus on one or two families. The others will still be there when you get to them.
8.   Female lines are as important as male lines. One-half of your ancestors are female!
9.   A generation is 22-25 years for a man and 18-23 years for a woman.
10.   Remember to document everything you find on your ancestors. Undocumented genealogy is mythology!
11.   Meaningful genealogy requires thought. Develop a plan – "Why am I doing genealogy?" Set goals of what you plan to accomplish in a reasonable time frame, i.e., go back 4 generations, go back to the immigrant ancestor, do only my father’s male line, etc. Periodically update your plan and set new goals as you've achieved previous ones.
12.   Know your relationships: An ancestor is a person from whom you are descended. A descendant is a person who is an offspring, however remote, of an ancestor. A relative is a person connected by blood or marriage to another person.
13.   To find a birth date from a death date, subtract the age in years, months and days from the date of death. This is a very close approximation.
1.   A census is an official counting of the population living in a specific place on a designated day set at intervals. The census places an ancestor is a specific place at a specific time.
2.   U.S. federal censuses have been taken every 10 years beginning in 1790. Most of the 1890 Federal Census was destroyed in a fire. Census information is confidential for 72 years after the census is taken. The 1940 Census will be released in April 2012.
3.   Soundex is a system of coding names for the census based on sound rather than alphabetical spelling. A variation called American Soundex was used in the 1930s to develop an index of the US censuses from 1890 through 1920, before the current online indexes were available. These Soundex "Indexes" are available on microfilm at the National Archives and might be useful if you can not find someone in the online index databases. If you need to find the Soundex Code for a surname, free Soundex converters are available at and other Web sites.
4.   Don't overlook Census "Non-population" Schedules. In addition to the census "Population Schedules" that most people are familiar with, many Federal Censuses included other special Non-Population" schedules: Slave; Industry & Manufacturing; Agriculture; Mortality; Social Statistics; Union Veteran and Widow; Defective, Dependent and Delinquent. If your ancestor fit any of those categories, you may find useful information in those census schedules. While some are not as easy to access, they should not be overlooked.
5.   In addition to the regular decennial censuses, the federal government took several special territorial censuses in the nineteenth century. Also, some states took their own censuses in the years between the federal censuses. These can provide important information, particularly if they cover the 1880's and 1890's, since the 1890 federal census was destroyed by fire. Partial censuses of Maryland exist for the years 1776 and 1778.
6.   Tax lists can serve as substitutes for censuses in places and times when census records are not available.
7.   Prepare a census timeline before you begin. Review what you will find in the census you are searching. Work backwards from the most recent census. Expect spelling and age variations.
8.   When copying census information, copy everything exactly as it is written. Do not change or update the information even if you think it is incorrect.
9.   When the head of the household is no longer listed, don’t assume he/she is dead. It’s possible that the former head of household is now living with one of the children (or anywhere else).
10.   Don't assume that all children listed in the census belong to the wife listed. This may be a second wife and the children a combination of "his and hers."
11.   When you're looking at a census record, be sure to look at 10 families before and 10 families after the family you are researching. These individuals are most likely the friends (and possibly family) of your ancestor.
12.   A person whom you know or believe was deceased before the date on a census record may still appear in the record if they were alive on the "official census day." The census was supposed to reflect the composition of each household as of the official day, regardless of whether they were visited and recorded at a slightly later date.
13.   If you don't find someone (Part 1): some people are listed incorrectly in the Census. Some are listed incorrectly in indexes (although correct in the actual census). Then there are nicknames, alternate names and alternate spellings of names. Do "wildcard searches." If a child's father died and you know his step-father's last name, you might find the child with the stepfather's last name.
14.   If you don't find someone (Part 2): Occasionally, pages are missing from online images, although the pages exist. If you don't find a person you believe lived in a particular location, consider all these possibilities and look for another resource on that census (there are several online collections, plus the original microfilm). Try to manually search each page in the Enumeration District you believe they lived in.
15.   If you don't find someone (Part 3): the entire Census process is subject to human error, from initial recording to indexing to putting images online and correctly linking to them. But some people were missed completely, intentional and otherwise. Sometimes, entire neighborhoods or streets were missed. It happened. If you've explored all the strategies in Part 1 and 2 above, sometimes you have to move on.
Charts and Forms
1.   The Family Group Sheet identifies a couple and their children. Everyone has two group sheets - one showing them as a child with their parents, and one showing them as an adult with any spouse(s) and/or children.
2.   The Pedigree Chart records an individual and his or her direct ancestors (parents, grandparents, etc.). Women are listed with their maiden names.
3.   A Chronological Profile begins with your ancestor's birth and is filled in with various occurrences in his life. Continue to fill this in as information becomes available to provide a picture of your ancestor's life.
4.   The Research Log lists record repositories (libraries, archives, etc.) visited and the sources consulted. Be sure to record all sources examined, whether or not any information was obtained from them. Give full citations for books, manuscripts, microfilms and other sources, including author, title, publication data, pages, and call numbers, so that information can be located again by you or by another researcher.
5.   Use a Correspondence Log! This includes the name and address of the person you have written to, what you requested, the date the request was sent and a column for the outcome. Remembering every letter written is impossible. Follow up if you don’t get an answer within a month.
Church Records
1.   Church records may include births, christenings, marriages, deaths and burials. Be sure you have the correct church/religious denomination. If you’re not sure, search the churches closest to home first and then broaden your search in ever-widening circles.
2.   Check for cemetery records with the church, sexton and funeral directors. Visit the cemetery and take a picture of the tombstone. Check the obituaries in that time frame.
3.   In Maryland, records for many churches are available at the Maryland State Archives. Records for closed churches are often at central archive facilities for some major religious denominations. You can find links to some of those archives' Web sites under "Religious Organizations" in the Links section of this MGS Web site.
Evidence and Documentation
1.   Direct evidence speaks to the point in question. Indirect evidence gives facts from which you can come to a conclusion.
2.   Primary evidence is personal testimony or a record created shortly after an event by a person with personal knowledge of the facts.
3.   Secondary evidence is information which is not the result of personal observation but comes from the testimony of others.
4.   Undocumented genealogy is mythology. Remember to document everything you find on your ancestors.
5.   Genealogical citation is not always uniform. Elements include name of the person who created the document, date of the records, form used (county deed book, microfilm, etc.) and where the document can be found again. There are many resources available on how to properly document information. The most critical information for you is where to find it again.
Hometown Records
1.   City Directories provide names and occupations of residents and much local business information.
2.   It's very important to check maps. Boundaries change over time. Be sure the area where you think your ancestors resided is actually the area where they were.
3.   Newspapers are wonderful hometown records. In addition to looking for obituaries, be sure to look for articles about special events... births, baptisms/christenings, weddings and pre-nuptial events (bridal showers, etc.), birthdays (parties), anniversaries, etc. Business transactions, crimes, fires and accidents, lawsuits and many other activities were reported in newspapers; and may give great insight into your ancestors' lives.
4.   Town and county histories can be invaluable to form a picture of your ancestors in the time they lived in the area.
1.   Immigration is entering a country where you are not a native to take up permanent residence. Emigration is leaving a country where you have been a citizen.
2.   Major ports of entry were Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans.
Internet Research
1.   The Internet is not the “be all and end all" of genealogy. It is just ONE of the tools in the genealogy toolbox.
2.   Join a Mailing List ( There are Mail Lists for most counties and major cities, plus surnames and many other topics you might be interested in. E-mails about subjects on the list will come to your e-mail box. If you have time, read queries that others submit, plus the answers people provide. It is an easy free way to learn.
3.   Search location and surname Message Boards at Rootsweb and other sites for others looking for the same person(s) you're researching. You can go to the Message Board to search but you can also ask to be notified of new entries.
4.   A wiki is a Web site that allows multiple users to create, modify and organize Web page content in a collaborative manner.
5.   Blog is an abbreviated version of Weblog, a term used to describe Web sites that maintain an ongoing chronicle of information. See and
6.   All material found on the Internet should be considered a secondary source - even scanned images.
7.   When searching on Google and other sites, your results and the number of results will depend upon how you enter your keywords. If you don't find what you want, try different search words.
8.   Google your Family Tree at
9.   Look for genealogy and history materials at
10.   Information from Internet on-line services may be passed on in good faith, but it may not be correct. Look for sources and documentation, and then check them.
Interviewing Family & Friends
1.   Be sure to make a list of all living relatives when you start your genealogy research. Interview every one of them. Be prepared with a list of questions. Use a tape recorder for the answers or take very good notes. Respect the person’s privacy.
2.   When writing to a relative for information, make specific requests. Don't ramble! Offer to share your information.
Land Records
1.   There are various types of deeds to property. The most common are the warranty deed which transfers property with assurance of good title and the quitclaim deed which transfers one person’s interest in the property without guarantee of good title.
2.   When looking at deed indexes, be sure to look at both the "Grantor Index", an index to those selling the land and the "Grantee Index", an index to those buying the land.
3.   STATE LAND STATES are states that originally owned and distributed their lands. This includes the original 13 colonies, plus Kentucky, Maine, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, Hawaii and Texas. They used "metes and bounds" to survey the land.
4.   FEDERAL LAND STATES were created from the public domain, land the United States bought or acquired. The land was created into territories as the population spread out. Survey is done according to the rectangular survey system.
5.   Many legal instruments other than deeds appear in deed books. They include Bills of Sale, Prenuptial Agreements, Powers of Attorney, Contracts, Affidavits, Wills and Inventories and Voter and Jury Lists.
1.   Naturalization is the process of becoming a citizen. Through much of our history, it was a two-step process taking at least five years. The Declaration of Intention or "first papers" could be filed after two years of residency. Naturalization and the Oath of Allegiance could be taken after an additional three years of residency.
2.   From 1790 through much of the 20th century, an alien could become naturalized in any court of record. Thus, most people went to the court most convenient to them. These included municipal (city or county) courts, state courts or Federal courts. In addition, they may have filed their Declaration of Intention in one court and been Naturalized in a different court.
3.   Before 1906, the processes used by the various courts for documenting naturalization varied greatly. Many jurisdictions retained very little paperwork, especially after the naturalization was complete. The result is that many naturalization records from before 1906 are difficult to find and have little genealogical information if you find them. A Federal Law passed in 1906 standardized many naturalization rules and record keeping was generally better after that.
4.   For most of our history, wives and minor children became automatically naturalized when the husband/ father was naturalized.
5.   Starting in 1862, Army veterans could petition for Naturalization without having filed a Declaration of Intention and with only 1 year of residency.
6.   Naturalization records from Baltimore City and various county and state courts in Maryland are generally at the Maryland State Archives. Naturalization records from Federal courts in Maryland are at the National Archives regional facility in Philadelphia.
7.   Detailed articles on the history of naturalization processes and records can be found at:, and at