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Genealogy Research 101
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Time, patience and an inquiring mind are basic equipment for anyone who wishes to compile a genealogy. This history of a family frequently resembles a jigsaw puzzle which must be put together piece by piece. It may take months or even years to complete a single line of descent, and evidence must be considered and clues followed until each piece is fitted into the whole. The Charleston County Public Library offers genealogy services and tools to help get you started.
Step-by-step genealogical research plan
- Consult the genealogy bibliography in the search resources. We've done the work of arranging the information into three main categories to make the information easier to organize for your lists.
- We have a small number of cataloged family histories in the South Carolina Room. Check the library online catalog for your family name or the name you are interested in researching to see if a book on the family has already been published. Since the library is constantly adding volumes, please recheck the catalog often.
- Check the library online catalog for books about your family's county of origin. County histories often contain information about local families. They are usually located in the SCR 975.7 area in the South Carolina Room.
- Check the Index to the Wills of Charleston County and the Index to the Wills and Miscellaneous Records of Charleston County. These records cover the years 1671 through 1868. Also, check the Index to County Wills of South Carolina. These antebellum wills for other counties in South Carolina are available on microfilm. The index is on top of the microfilm cabinets.
- Check the file of death records from the Charleston County Health Department. They cover the years 1819 -1926, but they are not complete, especially for the early years.
- Check the indexes to The South Carolina Historical Magazine and South Carolina Magazine of Ancestral Research for the surnames in which you are interested. Also, check Local and Family History in South Carolina: a Bibliography by Richard Cote for sources of family history information elsewhere in the state.
- If you have time, browse through the collection in the South Carolina Room. The following sections may be especially useful: SCR 280 — Church histories, SCR 920 — Collective biographies, and SCR 929 — South Carolina genealogies.
- Check the U.S. Census records for South Carolina. Copies of South Carolina censuses, only, are available on microfilm from l790 to l920. Printed indexes to the census from l790 to l870 are on top of the microfilm cabinets. Microfilm indexes (Soundexes) are available for the l880, l900, l9l0, and 1920 censuses in the census microfilm cabinet. (Note: The l890 census was lost in a fire in Washington, D.C. in the l920's.)
How to compile a genealogy
Time, patience, and an inquiring mind are basic equipment for anyone who wishes to compile a genealogy. This history of a family frequently resembles a jigsaw puzzle which must be put together piece by piece. It may take months or even years to complete a single line of descent, and evidence must be considered and clues followed until each piece is fitted into the whole.
Note-taking: To avoid repetition in your search, try to keep an accurate and careful record of all information and its source. For data obtained through correspondence or personal interviews, note the name and address of the informant. If found in a book, note the author, title, volume, page, and call number for library books. If you work in more than one library, it is wise to designate each by some abbreviation.
Organize your information
To simplify and clarify your research, a chart of some form is advisable. A pedigree chart is commonly used; examples may be found in many books about genealogical research. You can ask at the desk for charts that may be photocopied.
Fill in as much of the chart as you can, noting full names, places of residence, dates, and any other information which may be useful.
Search family Bibles, diaries, family papers.
Give a copy of your chart to older relatives for additions and corrections.
When your chart is complete to at least several generations, you will be ready to use the printed sources in the library.
To the beginning genealogist
If you have never done genealogy or wish to improve your knowledge and skills, we strongly recommend you read one of the basic how-to books for beginners. Many may be found in the 929.1 area in both the SCR's genealogy and in the circulating nonfiction collections. Look under GENEALOGY in the catalog for a complete listing.