Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's a great time to fill the branches on your family tree

Telegram Staff Writer

Christmas is a time for giving - and it's a time for asking.
'With everyone over, it's a prime time to find out what you can about your family,' said Norman Sisk of Temple, president of the East Bell County Genealogical Society. 'Start with the oldest person in the room and work you're way down.'
The grandparents and great aunts and uncles of the family will be able to provide the foundation of the family tree: the main names of the family, and the cities and states of origin.
'Quiz them about their aunts, grandparents and uncles, where they lived, who they worked for and where they traveled,' Sisk said. 'Ask them about their favorite family memories, and then ask them to see their family Bible.' The family Bible can have a host of information, from birth dates and death dates to marriage records. That information should be copied and distributed to all members of the family.
'That way if something happens to the original Bible or to the person who owns it, then the information is not lost,' Sisk said.
Once the relatives start visiting about their past, take notes.
'Or use a recorder,' Sisk said.
There's several benefits in doing this sort of research.
'It's to preserve your family's name and place in history,' Sisk said. 'And it can teach you things that you never knew about your family.'
His research, for example, showed him that he was 3/8 Cherokee.
'If I didn't catch the genealogy bug, I'd have never known part of my blood came from the Western Cherokee Nation of Arkansas and Missouri, Sisk said. 'Having the documentation will be able to help the kids in the family as they apply for scholarships offered to minorities and Native Americans.'
E.C. Brown of Temple, another genealogy enthusiast, learned he was a direct descendent of Chiefs John Brown and John Jolly of the Cherokees.
'I keep on learning something else,' Brown said. 'The Browns go back farther than I ever could have imagined.'
Both men admit family research is not a game for the faint of heart.
'This is a game of perseverance,' Sisk said. 'The trick is not to try to do everything in one day and not to give up.'
The trunk of the family tree is the family's basic information from your point of view: you, your siblings, your spouse, your children, your parents and your grandparents. The many branches are the cousins, aunts and uncles.
'Once you get all that together, your best bet is to organize it on a pedigree chart,' Sisk said.
Basic charts account for six generations. The more complicated ones can trace up to 20 generations. Such charts can be obtained online by googling the term 'pedigree chart.' Charting materials are also available in the genealogy office on the second floor of the Temple Public Library.
'And when that's filled in, it's time to find out what you can about those people,' Sisk said. 'The Internet is a great source, and a lot of the research can be done for free. You're looking for land ownership records, marriage records and birth certificates. Even old job applications. All those documents will give you clues as to who their family was. And then it's the chore of cross-referencing to ensure your facts are correct.'
Free trustworthy research sites include,,,, and
'Through the sites like these, you can sometimes hit gold and come across someone, like a cousin two or three times removed, who has the chunk of the family tree you're missing,' Sisk said. 'And you can compare notes.'
Other helpful resources are newspapers and maps.
'In newspapers, you've got the police records, the birth announcements and the wedding announcements,' Sisk said. 'You can often find newspaper archives online too.'
Maps help determine land ownership.
For the local area, the Temple Public Library has maps of land grants and purchases that span across several hundred years.
'Finding out where your family lived helps you determine what county they were from,' Sisk said. 'And the county is the big key to the documentation you will need to confirm the facts you gathered. Documentation like marriage licenses and birth and death certificates.'
The licenses and certificates are often the hardest items to obtain.
'First you have to find the right county office, then you have to wait for your call to be returned and then you pay for the processing and copying fees,' Sisk said.
Oftentimes the best way to take care of that task is to visit the county court and ask for the documents in person.
'It might cost more,' Sisk said. 'But it saves you time and headache and you get a trip out of it.'
All the work is well worth it.
'All of the sudden, you'll look down and realize you have a gold mine of information,' Sisk said. 'You'll know your heritage.'

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