A Beginner’s Guide to Genealogy

For anyone bitten by the genealogy bug, there has never been a better time to delve deep into your own family’s history. Columbia is rich in resources to make your journey of discovery a rewarding one.

“As a researcher of over 35 years — since I was 16 — I am still finding new ancestors,” says Tim Dollens, circulation supervisor at the Columbia Public Library. Tim is also the president of the Missouri State Genealogical Association.

Tim shares his passion in genealogy with library patrons through a variety of free classes. He is also generous in explaining the vast library holdings that are go-to resources for Columbia area genealogists and those ready to get started.

“For the person who believes that they want to pursue their genealogy for years to come, I can’t stress enough that they do the following: 1) join a local genealogical society to network with other genealogists — even if your ancestors aren’t from where you live. You could also join the genealogical and historical societies where your ancestors lived. 2) Check out the software on the market that helps you keep track of your research and organize your family tree. This could include: Family Tree Maker, Legacy or RootsMagic. All offer free versions you can download on your computer,” Tim says.

Online resources & classes

“Technology has made a significant difference in how we find the missing branches of our family trees,” Tim says. He recommends attending one of his free monthly genealogy classes at the library. He also gives quarterly presentations on “Genealogical Research Using Heritage Quest” and “Genealogical Research Using Ancestry.com Library Edition.”

But Tim offers a warning to those doing their research online. “You can’t trust everything you see on the internet,” he says. “Always look for documented research. Original documents are the best.”

Columbia Public Library

The Columbia Public Library should be the first stop. An extensive collection of books on local history, directories, cemetery logs and other resources are sure to spark a connection.

Cemeteries

“Most records are not on the internet and you will need to visit the original origins for specific information about an ancestor,” Tim says. “For example, you will need to visit the cemetery and read the headstone or gain access to the burial information from the sextant.”

Churches

Clergy and church staff generally have the church records, which could include baptismal records, marriage records, death and funeral records and even tithing records.

Courthouses

Courthouses across the country have all kinds of records from land records, wills, probate records, civil disputes, divorce proceedings, tax and voter records. And of course, libraries and archives often have original and transcribed copies of records that would or could have information about your ancestors.

 

“I always say that your ancestors are waiting for you to find them,” says Janie Smith, a Columbia genealogist and co-owner of R&J Jukeboxes in Rocheport. She is quick to share her passion for genealogical research but adds, “It looks so easy on that PBS show, but it does require time and effort. Yes it is much easier to do than ever before, but it is not easy.”

As a way to get started, Janie suggests taking Tim’s free genealogy classes at the library. She also recommends that new researchers consider logging into Ancestry.com and HeritageQuest.com from the library. This allows you to try the online resources without having to pay subscription fees (which have already been paid by the library). You can sign up for free classes that walk you through how to use these websites.

“How you begin your search depends on each individual,” Janie says. “Maybe you’re starting with parents or grandparents … If your parents or grandparents were in Boone or Callaway counties, we may have some things in print, cemetery records and things like that.

“The first thing you want to know is the date of death of, say your grandparents. If they lived in Boone or Callaway, get an obituary if you know the date. You can search the Columbia Tribune microfilm, which began in September of 1901, for all of those obituaries or death notices.

“When doing genealogy research, never take things on a website like Ancestry.com as proven. You definitely have to have proof of family lines through primary resources, such as books, land records, and most importantly birth, marriage, and death certificates,” Janie says. Here are some of her favorite resources for genealogy research.

Digital Heritage website

In addition to online resources, Janie recommends searching historic newspapers on the Missouri Digital Heritage website: www.sos.mo.gov/mdh. The site is sponsored by the State Archives. It also includes collections of magazines, including the Conservation Department’s Conservationist magazine.

Newspaper Archives

For those searching in nearby Callaway County, the Callaway County Public Library has microfilm for older Callaway newspapers. Also, most libraries have cemetery transcriptions, where someone would go write down all the names in local cemeteries and index it.

City Directories

“City Directories are very helpful,” Janie says. “They provide an alphabetical list of names by address. This is an old resource, but the older ones gave where the person worked and their spouse’s name, which can be a really key thing.”

Local Historical Societies

Janie is big on networking with genealogy groups and historical societies. “Be sure to connect with local historical societies,” she says. “We have the Historical Society of Missouri and the Boone County Historical Society right here. You would also be amazed at the genealogy connections you can make by branching out into other areas, too.”

Janie belongs to 14, including Magna Charta Dames and Barons, Sons and Daughters of the Colonial and Antebellum Bench and Bar 1565-1861, Jamestowne Society and New England Women.