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Researching Your Family's History

Finding Information Online - Key Sites

Use Online Library CatalogsTake a look and see what may be of interest to youNewton Free Library's Genealogy Databases

Below you will find five of the most used sites for genealogical research. The first and the last are free to anyone. The Newton Free Library subscribes to the other three.  Use is restricted to in the library only for Ancestry and NEHGS's American Ancestors. Heritage Quest can be used outside the library by Newton residents.

Develop Your Research Skills

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Source: This is an original record or document created by someone with first hand knowledge of an event.  It is also a source or record created very near the time of the event being covered.  Primary sources are what genealogists look for when trying to document family relationships.  However, primary sources are not to be taken as infallible.  Mistakes are made, sometimes accidentally and sometimes on purpose.  You always have to evaluate your source, whether it is primary or secondary.

Secondary Source:  This is basically everything else.  If you are looking at a transcription of an original document, it is a secondary source.  It is at least one remove from the original document.  When you transcribe a document, you increase (introduce) the chance of error.  A person can have trouble reading the original document.  Although a transcriber is supposed to copy letter by letter and word by word, our brain has a tendency to race ahead and read what we think is there.  If possible, check the original document.

Documents can be both primary and secondary.  A death certificate is a primary source for death information, a secondary source for birth information, since it is usually recorded well after the fact. Even an object such as a gravestone may not be reliable. There are a number of instances when a survivor changes their year of birth on a gravestone to appear younger.  Sometimes the literal etched in stone does not mean your looking at a concrete fact.

A Surrogate:  This is an image of the original document (photograph, microtext, or digitization) and is usually considered as good as looking at the original. Two cautions.  Make sure the surrogate you are looking at includes the entire document.  Sometimes it has only been partially done.  Also make certain that your document was not color coded.  If you are looking at a black and white Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, you are not seeing the original.  Buildings were color coded and you are missing critical information.  When you are looking at a man's World War I draft card, the color of the card tells you when it was issued.  There were three separate drafts in the United States. 

Using FamilySearch's Record Search

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Ginny Audet
Reference Department
Newton Free Library
330 Homer Street
Newton, MA 02459