Our genealogy librarians are here to help you navigate through all of the various sources housed here at the library, whether you are just getting started in researching your family or just need a fresh perspective to break through a dead end. The library’s genealogists are happy to talk to you about your projects or to schedule a one-on-one for research help.
For more information on local history, also visit the website of the Wauconda Township Historical Society.
Don’t assume that the stories you’ve been told about your family’s descent from a famous person, or their origin in a particular place or time, are correct. Start with what you know – your parents and theirs – and work backwards from there. If you know your grandparents’ names and when and where they were born, track down their wedding register or birth certificates. These will often name their parents and sometimes even give information about the parents’ origin. Then do the same for those people. You might be surprised by what you learn!
There is a wealth of genealogical information now available on the worldwide web. We have some helpful resources on our Local History & Genealogy Research Resources page. Use the internet to find out about the places your ancestors lived. You can also use the internet to network with other people who are researching your family; they can give you pointers and suggest new avenues of research, and often they will be willing to share their own research with you. You’ll save yourself some work, make some like-minded friends – and you might even find distant cousins who can fill you in on other branches of your family.
As with any other on-line information, genealogy and local history information on the internet comes from a variety of sources, and some are more reliable than others. By all means, use the internet – it can save you countless hours and quite a bit of money. But always check what you find against legal documents and other valid historical sources. Knowing the local history and culture will put your subjects’ lives in context, and without this context you risk misinterpreting the evidence you find about them.
Even for people with less common names, it will often be true that there were more than one person of that name in a particular place, especially in more highly populated areas. Some records, such as censuses, give information on an individual’s siblings, parents, spouse, and/or children. This information can help you determine which records apply to your ancestors and which do not. For example, if you find Michael Stevens in the 1860 census and the 1880 census living with Martha, Jimmy, and Tessa, but the 1870 census has him living with Sophia, William, Matthew and Christopher, it is probably not the same Michael Stevens.
If you can track the family’s movement during the years of your ancestor’s childhood, you have a fairly good idea of the places he or she lived, which is where information and records are likely to be.
Your ancestor’s name might vary from document to document. Michael Stevens may appear on his marriage licence as Mike, in church records as Mitch, and on tax records simply as M. In some cases, a person might appear under a different first name altogether (often the middle name). And it’s almost inevitable that you will find your Stevens ancestors’ name spelt Stephens or even Stefan. Census records especially are terrible for misspelling names or getting them wrong entirely. In your search for evidence of Michael Stevens, you might overlook a census listing for Edward Stephens; but if that name appears with the names that you know belong to Michael’s family members, it might be Michael after all. If you know nothing about his family, you are likely to miss relevant information about your ancestor.
You may come across a situation where your ancestor simply does not turn up in any records at all. If you know who his relatives were, you might be able to find the information you need in documents connected to one of them. When one of my husband’s ancestors disappeared from local census records, I found the explanation in his brother’s will, which named among the brother’s heirs “the children of George M., deceased”. I have yet to locate any legal records of his death, so the brother’s will is the only clue I have.
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