(c) 2000, by Dianne Underwood
Clinton, Arkansas.


Several people have expressed a desire to me to start tracing their family trees, but they state they have no idea where to begin. Many have looked at genealogy pages on the Internet and are overwhelmed by the amount of information they have found at those sites. The answer is very simple.

The most important rule in genealogy is to always start with WHAT YOU KNOW and work towards the unknown. This simply means that your family tree starts with you. From there, you go to your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc. Write down what you know about each generation (for example, names, birthplaces, marriages, deaths, occupations, and any personal stories that are of interest to you).

Next you may want to visit with the older members of your family. Bring a notebook and pen or better yet, a tape recorder so you can capture the oral histories of your family.

Of course some of their memories may be a little faulty. My father told me his grandfatherís name was Albert and after months of research I found out it was actually Alfred.

After that you can start the treasure hunt. This involves hunting through boxes, drawers, attics, etc., for the following: letters, cards, obituaries, newspaper clippings, marriage licenses, military records, old Bibles, birth certificates, old deeds, anything that contains names and dates of your family members.

The family plot at the cemetery is a good spot to check. Tombstones can offer a wealth of information ... or practically none. Jot down exactly what the stones say and note everyone who is buried on the plot. Chances are they all fit in your ancestry somewhere. If you find a tombstone that only has the date of death and the age of the person when they died you can figure out their date of birth using the following formula:


  • Tombstone inscription;"Grampa Orman died May 6,1889 71yrs, 7mos, and 9dys. old.
  • From the yr-mo-dy of death subtract the yr-mo-dy the person lived.
  • From that result subtract 8870
  • The answer is the yr-mo-dy of birth.


    1. died 1889, May 6 = 18890506
    2. age 71yr, 7mo, 9dy = -710709
    3. subtract, you get =18179797
    4. subtract again = -8870
    5. answer is = 18170927 which is this Sept. 27, 1817

Next month we will discuss record keeping, documentation, and some good sites to begin your online research as well as other places to obtain family records.

Dianne Underwood

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I contacted this disease about two years ago and it has changed my life completely. 

Hours are spent surfing the net in the hopes of finding long lost family members. Holidays are planned with the route that will allow me to spend time digging through old records and tramping through cemeteries. My picture albums now contain photos of tombstones and old homesteads. My e-mail address book contains the names of many distant cousins I have never met. 

Family members wonder about me when I show up with pad and pen to take notes of our conversations, but you never know when Aunt Martha will remember cousin Henry's first child's name!

Many people feel that researching their family history would be very boring. How untrue that is. I have found many interesting stories in my own research. 

My great-grandfather killed his neighbor, left his pregnant wife and fled to Canada where he raised another family. 

My great-great-grandmother was a midwife and her book of records was kept hidden for 50 years by another family member to hide the fact that their mother (age 14) had a child out of wedlock-father unknown. 

And, I was able to obtain the following article from the library concerning another family member. It is reprinted here as it first appeared in the The Times, published in Charleston, South Carolina, printed Saturday evening, November 27, 1802:

Georgetown, (S.C.) November 20, 1802:

On the 10th instant we announced the condemnation of John Smithart, for the murder of his wife--we are sorry to add, that on the night of the 26th ult. he made his excape from Gaol in a manner somewhat singular. Since his condemnation he has been attended by his brother, who resemblemed him so much that one might easily be taken for the other. On the evening of the 16th inft. the brother of the prisoner informed the gaoler that he would stay there that night, and requested that he might be let out early the next morning, as he wished to go home--the gaoler consented to his request, and on hearing a rapping at the door arose and let out of the room, as he supposed, the prisoner's brother. On going into the room about 12: o'clock, on the 17th instant, he found that the prisoner had deceived him by dressing in his brothers clothers, and had likewise taken his brother's horse, which he had prepared under the pretence of going home.---The brother, we understand, has since been discharged on the Habeas Corpus. 

If anyone is interested in tracing their family tree but have no idea where to begin please let me know and I will be happy to help you get started. It is really very easy and you will have something very precious to pass down to your children and grandchildren. 

Dianne Underwood 

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