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Helpers, IGI, Biographical Sketches

HIRE A HELPER: When you have run out of leads from the items list on the other pages you will have to get into the items shown below.  This may be more that you want to do, especially if the information has to come from another state.   It can cost a lot to visit a distant state to do research using records and libraries with which you are not familiar.  Local genealogical researchers can provide an efficient alternative.  Genealogical magazines (available at local genelaogical societies) and local genealogical researchers can help you get contact information for a researcher who is familiar with the records you seek.   Email makes the contact and exchange of information fast and inexpensive.

THE LDS AND IGI: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS, often callen the Mormons) has the largest collection of genealogical source material in the world.   They have microfilmed records in churches, government files, and private collections all over the world, and they have kindly made this information available to the entire community without charge.  Family relationships between tens of millions of people have been placed in the International Genealogical Index (IGI).   A CAUTION:  In the enthusiasm to find relationships between many people links were sometimes assumed that are not supported by documentation.   Since several transcriptions of data were involved in producing the IGI names, dates, and places were sometimes mispelt or swapped.  So while IGI is a valuable resource to get you started on research it has a fair number of errors and is not acceptable as documentation.

You may either search for your ancestor in IGI on the LDS Web site or visit a local LDS family history center and use their microfilm or CD-databases to see if they have information on the parents of or additional information about a known ancestor.   The microfilm that contains further information about that ancestor is noted on the index listing.  You may rent that film for use (over several weeks) at the local center for a nominal charge.  Beyond the IGI information there is microfilmed information on virtually all the types of source noted on the present page.  Even if you can't afford to visit fifteen records centers in Michigan, you can order from the LDS microfilms containing the deeds, family histories, probate records, census lists, church baptismal records, tombstome listings, etc. that you want to search.

Be sure to make the copies that you need for documenting your application.   Handwritten summaries are not acceptable documentation.

NOTE:  When you copy a record, note on the back of the copy the year, state, microfilm roll, and frame or city, ward, and page (and note that You may make a pencil mark (ON THE COPY ONLY) to help the reader find your ancestor's name.

CHECK A GENEALOGIST'S GUIDE TO RECORDS: There are several (thick) books that tell you what is available and where to find it in every county and state in the nation.  This will probably reveal sources you had not thought of and keep you from hoping to find sources that do not exist.  It tells when state censuses were taken (in-between federal censuses), when vital records began to be required in the state, whether biographical histories are available for the county, the addresses to write for information, when the county was founded and what county covered the area previously (records remain with the county which was in existence at the time the record was made), etc.

You may find these books at a local library, college library, historical society, or genealogical society.  Several popular books of this sort are:

  • "The Source"
  • "Vital Records Handbook" by Thomas Kemp
  • "The Handy Book for Genealogists" (Everton Publ. Co., Logan UT)
  • "Compendium of Historical Sources", by Ronald Bremer (Progenitor Gen. Soc., Salt Lake City UT, 1983 etc.)
  • "Ancestry's Redbook"

NOTE: We plan to get full citations here shortly.

Most of these have been published in several editions, and while the later ones are more comprehensive, the information in the earlier editions should generally be accurate.

Several major starting points may be found on our Genealogical Resources page.

VITAL RECORDS (birth, marriage, and death records):  For many years states have required hospitals, clergy, and doctors to report these and have recorded them in state record centers.  Some states (or towns) started this practice in the 1600s, others started as late as the early 1900s.  The records are usually kept at and are available for viewing at a Bureau of Vital Statistics or the Health Department.

NOTE: Be sure to get the "long form" of a birth certificate (or other certificates).   The "short form" simply confirms the birthdate, place, and name.  The "long form" has the names of the parents and perhaps even more information such as their ages and birthplaces.

The ease and cost of viewing or getting copies of these records varies from state to state.  In some states (such as New Jersey) you can phone the vital records office, ask them to copy a specific record, and give a credit card number to pay for the copy and for mailing it to you -- and you will have it in ten days.   However many states require that you write in to get a form, then send in the form with a check, then wait several weeks.  If you do not know how the name was spelled and the exact year of the event it may be difficult or expensive to locate the record.

Note that death certificates may be especially helpful by having in addition to the date and place of death, the date and place of birth, the spouse or a child's name (as next of kin), and the parents' names and places of birth.


These records often provide excellent name, date, place, and relationship information on family groupings over three or more generations.  Women sometimes went to their mothers' homes for their first birth.  Members of the same family were often baptized (or christened), married, and participated in activities at the same church for many generations.   At death they had memorial services there and used familiar funeral parlors to arrange for burial in family plots.  So the names of relatives may be found with records for the deceased.

NOTE: When you copy a record, note on the back of the copy where you got it -- the name of the book (and publisher and date) or the file folder and the record center where you got it.  You may make a pencil mark (ON THE COPY ONLY) to help the reader find your ancestor's name.

These may provide information on birthdate and place, parents' names, and links to other records about the parents. The names and ethnic affiliations of many fraternal organizations are listed in the genealogy source books noted above.  Some of the older, larger ones are B'nai B'rith, Elks, Free Masons, Hibernians, Knights of Columbus, Knights of Pythias, Masons, Odd Fellows, and Red Men.

COUNTY BIOGRAPHICAL HISTORIES: were very popular in the 1890s.   A large percent of the nation's people had immigrated or moved to new states (sometimes several times) in recent times and they wanted to record their ancestors, previous homes, and present occupations for the benefit of their descendants -- US (And aren't you glad they did, and don't you want to leave a similar record for your descendants?).   While the extended biographies and woodcut portraits were printed only for those who could and chose to afford them, they often provide listings of everyone in town.   These are available at county or state history or genealogical libraries and local college libraries.

NOTE: When you copy pages from a book, be sure to also copy the title page and see that it contains the title, publisher, city of publication, and date of publication.   Sometimes you have to copy two pages to get all this.

CITY DIRECTORIES were the phone directories of their day.  They helped deliverymen and friends locate the homes of residents and provided a means for advertizing the products and services of local firms.  They provide circumstantial evidence that a person was alive and living at a certain address.   Death dates may be inferred from a dropped listing or a change in listing from John Smith to Jane Smith, widow of John.

NOTE: When you copy pages from a book, be sure to also copy the title page and see that it contains the title, publisher, city of publication, and date of publication.   Sometimes you have to coppy two pages to get all this.  You may make a pencil mark (ON THE COPY ONLY) to help the reader find your ancestor's name.