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 Where Do I Begin?

For the novice genealogist, theprospect of tracing their family history can be more than a bit intimidating, especially if one knows little about the family and has had little contact with relatives. Although there are many "how-to" books which provide basic guidelines and procedural steps to follow, each search presents different problems, and the solution of one problem usually leads to several new and unsolved ones. As in any field of research you simply take a logical approach, and work from the known facts to the unknown. Taken step-by-step, the process becomes much simpler and less daunting.

As Brownells, we are lucky in that a great deal of research has already been done on the early generations of the family, and, in some instances, on all the generations that came after Thomas and Anne Brownell. The challenge for most Brownells is to connect themselves with these earlier generations and to then trace the lines of the women who married into their line of the Brownell family.

There are two methods of compiling ancestral history; one is by ascendants and the other is by descendants. The end results are quite different. A family history is a compilation of the ascendants (ancestors) of one individual. A family genealogy is a compilation of descendants of an immigrant ancestor or ancestors.

To do a family history, one starts with oneself and works back from generation to generation, to the immigrant ancestor. The end result is the compete lineage of one individual. This is the method I used many years ago to trace my lineage back to Thomas and Anne Brownell.

The family genealogy starts with the immigrant ancestor and traces down, generation by generation, all of that person's descendants, to the present generation. This is a much more complicated task than compiling a family history. It can involve many individuals and requires widespread research and voluminous correspondence. James Archer Brownell used this method in compiling his monumental work on the descendants of Jeremiah Brownell of Nova Scotia.

For our purposes here, it is assumed that you are interested in compiling your family history, eventually connecting yourself to Thomas and Anne Brownell.

Your first step is to begin with the known-yourself. Using a genealogical (or pedigree) chart, fill in the blanks as far back as you can go. Enter your name (or the name of the person whose ancestry you wish to trace) as Number 1 on Chart 1. List your father and mother in blanks #2 and #3 and so on until you come to the fifth column, #16 to #31. Ancestors #16 to #31 on all charts are ancestor #1 on a continuation chart.

To extend any line beyond the limits of chart #1, use another blank chart and mark it "Chart #2, Continuation of Chart #1" inserting the ancestor whose line is to be extended in the position of #1 on Chart #2. Transfer this ancestor's number from Chart #1 to that line on Chart #2. An ancestor's number is never changed, regardless of the position it takes on the chart.
Note that one's own number is 1. Every father's number is twice that of his child, and every wife's number is her husband's number plus one. With the exception of #1, all men's names carry even numbers and all women's names odd numbers. Your father's ancestry is all above the center line, and you mother's ancestry is all below the center line.

This chart shows one's lineal ascendants only. The numbers assigned to each of your ancestors will be unique to your lineage. Even though another person's genealogical chart may include some of the same ancestors, the numbers will not match yours.

Under sources of information at the bottom of each genealogical chart list each source from which you derived information. It may not seem important to you now, but you will soon have so much data that you will forget where you got particular pieces of information unless you write down the sources. When I first started my genealogical research, I didn't do this. I have regretted it ever since. I now not only make a note of my sources, but if at all possible, I photocopy the material so that I'll always have access to it.

Don't regard your chart as a family history. It is only a work sheet. Remember that all of the ancestors you have charted here were real people who lived full lives, and whose biographies you will want to record in another section of your family history.

The next step is to complete ancestor charts (sometimes called family group sheets) for each ancestor on your genealogical charts. Enter a husband and wife together on an ancestor chart, then proceed to fill in all the blanks, using all the information you have. It is frequently useful as well as interesting to know the aunts and uncles and at least the brothers, sisters and first cousins of your ancestors. The ancestor chart is accordingly the most important single record you will keep. Again, be sure to list your sources.

It would be wise at this point to purchase a three-ring binder for your genealogical and ancestor charts. Include in your binder sheets of blank composition paper for taking notes. You can take this portable filing cabinet with you when you visit relatives, libraries, cemeteries, or courthouses. You thus keep all your information together and have it near at hand when you need to refer to it.

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Copyright 1999 Bill Brownell

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