Local resources can help make your search easier.
When Jane Purcell began researching her family history in 1983, it took her more than two years to collect documents and make the connection between each generation.
At the time, Jane already had several years of experience collecting historical data. She began working with the Missouri State Archives in 1975, but back then, she would visit cemeteries, write letters, make phone calls to other state departments, and even joined a genealogical society that helped her collect information.
“That was the hard way to do it,” Jane says.
Today, thanks to people like Jane, who made this kind of information available online, finding our family history is more convenient than ever.
While you could begin searching online, Jane suggests first reaching out to family members to find physical records such as photos, family Bibles, marriage records, death certificates, and deeds. Once you have names, dates, and locations from family records, it will make using online resources easier, and there are plenty of websites to choose from.
“To start with, I recommend getting a software program such as Family Tree Maker because as you collect your data, you can enter it into this program and it will sort your information and make family trees. I even created a book with it,” Jane says.
This can be especially helpful when searching through multiple websites.
Birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage licenses can often be found through local health services such as the Cole County Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. However, it’s important to note that before 1910, birth and death certificates didn’t exist, and state recording of marriage licenses and divorce decrees didn’t begin until 1948.
In fact, the further you go back, the harder it may be to find documentation on any one specific person. But with resources like the Missouri State Archives, you can find information about someone’s lifestyle and what groups they may have been involved in.
“Knowing your family history not only connects you to your ancestors, but also to your community and world history,” Missouri State Archives Reference Services Manager Christina Miller says. “People researching their family history end up looking for more than just birth and death dates. There are so many stories that help connect you to a deeper understanding of history. And once you know the stories, you can share them with younger generations.”
The Missouri State Archives is the official repository for government records. They house physical records of the state government and have county government records available on microfilm. While death records, which are sealed for 50 years after a person’s death, are the most requested documents, the state archives also has land, marriage, probate, military, penitentiary, and court records.
“As we are celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage, we have been trying to identify all the relevant records in our collection,” Christina says. “One of the favorites is the poll book showing the first woman to vote in Missouri. An August 31st, 1920, special election in Hannibal had provided the first opportunity for Missouri women to cast their ballots, five days after the 19th Amendment was ratified. Because the election was a month after the 1920 census, we were able to compare names from the same ward in the census to the poll book. This tells fascinating stories of sibling groups, husbands and wives, mothers, and daughters voting together for the first time. It is currently my favorite record.”
Other resources include the Missouri State Historical Society, in Columbia, which currently has the most extensive collection of newspapers in the state. You can also search on The Daughters of the American Revolution website, where you can see if your ancestors fought in or contributed to the American Revolution.
But whatever websites you choose to search through, it’s essential to cite your sources. This is why choosing a suitable software program to save all of your information can help you in the long run.
“That is very important,” Jane says. “When you enter the information into a program, there’s an area to cite your sources. That way, generations to come will know where that information came from, and they’ll know that it’s correct. I subscribed to Ancestry.com, and I have found that a lot of the information is not correct. If they don’t cite their sources, you have to check it.”
The last time Jane documented an entire family history was in 2009 when it only took her two to three months to create a book for her daughter-in-law.
“I think if you know where you came from it can make you feel a bit more confident in a sort of way,” she says. “Some people I guess might not really care who their ancestors are, but I find it so interesting to know what they have done and what hardships they had to go through… It’s very time-consuming and addictive, but very rewarding.”