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Genealogy Society Teaches Residents How to Become Family 'Detectives'

Using internet, interviews and pictures to be a “detective”

When Bob Breen was asked to fill out family tree information in his first grandchild’s baby book, he realized he did not know very much about his ancestors. 

This lack of knowledge sparked his interest and inspired him to begin researching his family history. 

Breen, a member of the Ocean County Genealogy Society, presented various research methods used to discover a family’s lineage at the Manchester Library last week.

“[Researching family history] is not hard to do, but it is very time consuming," he said. "There are some situations where you just cannot find the information, no matter how hard you try."

Even though information sometimes can be difficult to come by, Breen nonetheless said that a wealth of history can be found.

"I found way more information than I ever expected to find,” he said. “I have taken some courses in ancestry research, and I was able to research my family all the way back to 1492."

The first step is to write down all that you personally know about your family said Breen. This includes all of the relatives as far back as one is aware of – generally grandparents or great grandparents. 

Begin by writing down the who, what, when, where and why did the event happen and remember that you are not just documenting major events, but the individual’s life, Breen said.

The next step is to interview family members and anyone else who may have input, Breen said.

“Make sure to ask both open-ended and specific questions," he said.

Breen stressed a key point: "Let them talk, let them talk, let them talk," he said. "The more the person talks, the more relevant information you can learn. Make sure to squeeze out every bit of detail.”

Photographs can also contain a great amount of information. 

“You have to act like a detective — like Sherlock Holmes — to try to figure out who people are and how they fit into your family history," Breen said. "Also, talking to older family members who can tell you about the event in the picture, or the names can be very beneficial to your research.”

The last major step is to use the internet to search for vital family records, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, immigration records and federal census records. 

“The 1930 census gives so much information," Breen said, using that government study as an example.

Some information that can be obtained from the census are schools attended, birth location, if the person could read and write, occupation, citizenship and year of immigration. 

"Keep peeling it back year by year with the census, and go as far back as you can,” Breen said.

Breen said that Manchester residents can gain access to the free, world-wide edition of Ancestry.com at the library.

More information is available by visiting the Ocean County Genealogy Society's website.

LJ June 23, 2011 at 06:56 PM
BRAVO BOB BREEN, OCGS' NEWEST SUPERSTAR! Great job, Bob! We are so proud of you and know that your audience walked away with many great genealogy tips to start their research. If anyone would like to visit our Ocean County Genealogical Society, you are more than welcome! We meet the 1st Wed of the month, March - Dec, at 7 pm in the Home Town Dairy Room of the Ocean County Library Toms River Branch. Come join us! We're having a blast digging the past! Linda J. Barnes OCGS VP & Program Chair Email: <ocgensociety@yahoo.com>

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