Genealogy is a study of ancestry. Beyond names and dates, it can help answer questions about who you are and from where you came.
Genealogy can also play an important role in local history research. The small events that shaped a person’s life can illuminate his/her place in a community and by extension in the world.
Where to start?
Getting started in genealogy may seem overwhelming, but there are many resources that are available to help you in your search.
- First, know that archivists and librarians at the East Tennessee History Center (ETHC) stand ready to help! Whether you need help searching a resource or want assistance registering for an upcoming genealogy workshop, feel free to ask anyone at the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection or Knox County Archives.
- Second, start with what you know–yourself! Download a lineage chart from this page, and begin by entering your full name (number 1) and when and where you were born.
- Third, record the same information for your father (number 2) and mother (number 3).
- Keep going! Grandparents and great-grandparents come next. And here is where vital information may begin to not be as easy to find. What do you do?
Now is the time to begin thinking like a detective and search for clues to your family’s history.
- A great place to start is by interviewing your relatives! Be nosy. Ask not only about birth, death, and marriage dates but also about family traditions and stories? From where did your ancestors immigrate? Where did they work? What church did they attend? Answers to such questions may provide clues that will unlock your family’s past. Be sure to keep good notes!
- Ask to look through your family’s materials, such as family Bibles, baby books, newspaper clippings, wedding invitations, funeral cards, letters, diaries, and photographs. These family materials can be wonderful resources for genealogical research.
- Dig deeper into the resources available at ETHC! If your ancestor was married or divorced in Knox County, search the indexes provided by Knox County Archives. And if your ancestor has an East Tennessee connection, the Calvin M. McClung Collection’s biography files, surname files, and First Families of Tennessee folders are worth a look. These materials can be requested from the John Z.C. Thomas Reading Room on the third floor of ETHC.
Here are some helpful tips that will keep your genealogical research on track:
- Conduct and document your own research. Just because someone has published your family history in a book or on the Internet does not mean it is accurate. Verify all research.
- Keep a detailed list of your sources. It not only documents your research, but it also lets you keep track of the resources you have already reviewed.
- Search different spellings of given names and surnames.
- Keep it logical! As you identify ancestors, especially in census records, does the information provided make sense? Remember: 80-year-old men do not fight in wars, and 70-year-old women do not have children. If you find a record that suggests such, you likely have found two people with the same name.