Genealogy Class Tips

On March 31st, we had a wonderful class at the library on Genealogy. Topeka Genealogical Society President, Barbara LaClair, gave a wonderful introduction to searching for your family history. Whether you were a complete novice or someone who’d had years of experience, I think there was so much helpful information to take away.

For those of you who couldn’t attend, here are some highlights of the program:

Why Learn Your Family History?
According to Barbara, “Researching our ancestry helps to give us a sense of place and who we are. It makes history come alive. And, it is the ultimate puzzle–never finished, each answer leading to more questions and requiring all of our problem-solving skills.”

The Research Process
1. Start with yourself and what you know (use pedigree charts and family group sheets)
2. Look around your home and ask family members for documents and records that provide more information. Record what you find and consider what information you are missing.
3. Start talking to your family members about what they know or remember.
4. Now you may want to turn to other sources of information. The Internet is probably a good place to start.
Consider the following types of sources: census records, vital records (birth, death, marriage), courthouse records (deeds, probate, and more), cemetery records, newspapers and obituaries, military records, church records, etc.
5. Record everything you find. Always note your sources!

A Few Basic Rules
Barbara recommended a few basic rules for your genealogy project:

  • Record women by their maiden name
  • Write dates as day, month, 4-digit year (10 January 1865)
  • Write locations from smallest locality to larger (Rossville, Shawnee County, Kansas, USA)
  • Location names may change over time–record as designated at the time of the event
  • Spelling doesn’t always count in genealogy–meaning don’t ignore or discount name and place spelling variations
  • Always cite your sources–record enough information that you or someone else could come back to the same source
  • Genealogy without documentation is only mythology
  • Don’t believe everything you find–check, verify, and analyze carefully

Local Repositories of Genealogical Information
Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library
, 1515 SW 10th, Genealogy Center upstairs. Free access to

Topeka Genealogical Society Library, 2717 SE Indiana. Open 1-4 pm M, W, Th, Sat. Free to members, $3 donation per day for non-members. More than 10,000 books, 700+ periodical titles. Strong Kansas collection, resources from nearly all states. Free access to, New England Historical & Genealogical Society.

State Archives & Library, Kansas Historical Society, 6425 SW 6th St. Open 9-4:30 T-F. Kansas newspapers on microfilm, Kansas history, some genealogical materials from other states, free access to

Topeka LDS Family History Center, 2401 SW Kingsrow Rd. Open 12-8:30 Tues, 12-4 Wed, 9-4 Sat. Microfilm borrowing from LDS Library in Salt Lake City. Free access to and

Midwest Genealogy Center, 3440 Lee’s Summit Rd, Independence, MO. Part of Mid-Continent Library system, a 52,000 square-foot free-standing facility dedicated to genealogy. Strong Missouri collection, resources from all states. (816) 252-6272

Frequently-Used Websites
U.S. Genweb Project  All volunteer, free websites for each county in the U.S. Content varies widely, but always worth checking. Usually provides a history for county formation.

FamilySearch LDS Family History Center site. Search databases and indexed records, catalog from the LDS Library in Salt Lake City, Genealogy wiki, Research Guides, and educational videos. Census records, vital records, and courthouse records are being digitized and added on an ongoing basis. If you are searching for foreign records, you may want to look here.

WorldConnect Project Searchable database of donor-contributed family trees.

Heritage Quest Access on your own computer in Kansas–access provided through the State Library of Kansas. If you have trouble connecting, contact us at the library for assistance. Go to the “Explore Resources” page on this website to find Heritage Quest. Searchable census indexes and images for most federal census years. PERSI periodical index. Freedman’s Bank Records, digitized historical books, Revolutionary War pension application files (select files). This is a fee-based subscription database/website, but check the Local Repositories above for free access at their locations. All federal population censuses, Kansas state censuses, WWI draft cards, Civil War pension application index cards, early plat maps and atlases, newspapers, yearbooks, and much more.

Fold3 This is a fee-based subscription database/website, but check the Local Repositories above for free access at their locations. A searchable database of historical records. Some U.S. census records, compiled Civil War service records, Revolutionary War pension applications (complete files), Native American census rolls, Five Civilized Tribes rolls and applications, Southern Claims Commission files, FBI case files, some census, city directories, and newspapers.

Bureau of Land Management Patent search. Search for original land patents from federal government to private ownership. Digital images of patents available on the website.

Find A Grave Large and rapidly expanding site for posting and searching cemetery listings and photos of tombstones.

Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness A networking site for trading genealogical assistance and lookups with other genealogists. Organized by location.

Genforum A system of online message boards, organized by surname and location. Post queries here and find help and other researchers working on the same ancestral lines.

Mocavo A search engine that searches only genealogy-related websites.