Ok, so there really isn’t a Time Traveling Merit Badge… Or, is there?
Enter the Genealogy Merit Badge.
Exploring your roots – where your family name came from, why your family lives where it does, what your parents and grandparents did for fun when they were your age – can be fascinating. Discovering your ancestors back through history is what genealogy is all about.
However, while genealogy can be fascinating and exciting, it can also be overwhelming, tedious, and frustrating. Hobbyist genealogists typically pursue their own ancestry and that of their spouses. Professional genealogists may also conduct research for others, publish books on genealogical methods, teach, or produce their own databases. They may work for companies that provide software or produce materials of use to hobbyist and other professional genealogists. Both try to understand not just where and when people lived, but also their lifestyles, biographies, and motivations. This often requires—or leads to—knowledge of antiquated laws, old political boundaries, migration trends, and historical socioeconomic or religious conditions.
Genealogists use a variety of resources to gain insight into the family histories. They use three types of information to research a family’s history: Primary sources, Secondary sources, and Anecdotal sources. A primary source is an object or document created or present during a particular time period or event that offers an inside view or perspective. Some examples of Primary sources include: Tombstones, obituaries, photographs, diaries, letters, pottery,quilts, clothing, etc. The most important primary resources are historical documents such as birth certificates, government records (such as Social Security Death Records and Census records), ship manifests and passenger lists, etc. A Secondary source interprets a primary source. Examples of Secondary sources are an article discussing previous findings, a history textbook, etc. Finally, Anecdotal sources are subjective stories and recollections about a family and its experiences, such as oral family histories and traditions.
The most important thing about genealogy is to remember that it is research. And, like all research, you need to use as many Primary sources as possible. You need to take notes, and cite your sources. Remember, when doing research, we base conclusions on the evidence that we have available to us. So, in the terms of research, the Anecdotal sources form a framework for conducting our research. The family histories become the hypotheses. The Primary sources become the evidence that will either support, or refute our hypotheses, and the Secondary sources will help us understand our results, in light of the world around our families, and our families’ interactions with that world.
The Genealogy Merit Badge gives Scouts a taste of genealogy, and an opportunity to learn a bit about their family’s history. The Genealogy Merit Badge Pamphlet is a good guide to getting started, and the workbook will guide the Scout in completing the merit badge requirements.
The best place to start is with your own, immediate family: Yourself, your parents, your brothers and sisters. Then, work your way out: chart your grandparents, and then your aunts, uncles, and cousins. Ask family members about what they know about your family, particularly older family members. Be sure to take notes about who you’ve talked to, when you talked to them, what you discussed, any questions you asked, and anything you learned. It might be easier to take your notes on the Genealogy Research Log (here’s another version), to help you organize your research, and your notes. Complete a Family Group Record sheet for each family unit (father, mother, and children). Use Additional Children sheets, as necessary. Once you have gathered the information for each family, plot each family on a Pedigree Chart (this is the chart that most people think of as a family tree). It is very important that you correctly identify your ancestors in any records that you may find, as there are often records that refer to individuals who have many things in common with your ancestor, but who are not your relatives.
Most people use computers to help them with their genealogy research. Many people use family tree software to document their work, and create their family trees. There are many software packages to choose from. There are free software packages, and there are commercial software packages that you can buy. Some companies even have both free and paid versions. MyHeritage Family Tree Builder, and Gramps are free software packages. Gramps is available for use on most computers, and is Open Source software. Legacy and RootsMagic offer free and paid versions of their software. Perhaps the most well known commercial genealogy software is FamilyTree Maker, by Ancestry.com. Personally, I prefer MyHeritage Family Tree Builder.
In addition to stand-alone genealogy software packages, there are also online, or web-based services that allow users to create and share family trees. Each of these services require the user to create an account, which is usually free. The most well known among these is Ancestry.com. MyHeritage.com also allows users to create free family trees, online. While Ancestry.com allows unlimited family members, at no charge, MyHeritage.com limits the number of family members available for display on their website. The stand-alone software available for both services allow users to enter information in the software package, which is then synchronized with the online versions. Both offer paid subscription services that allow users to search a multitude of historical, and other records, that have been scanned and indexed. Both offer limited, free trials of their services, and both offer mobile versions of their programs. MyHeritage.com subscriptions run about half the cost of Ancestry.com. Another service that allows users to create their family tree online is FamilySearch.org. Like Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com, the service notifies users of potential matches in electronic historic documents. Unlike the other two, FamilySearh.org is completely free. Users should be aware, however, that FamilySearch.org is run by the Mormon Church.
There are many places to find records, online, to include Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, and FamilySearch.org. But, sometimes you need more than what these sites offer. That’s when you turn to other sources. Records can be especially difficult for African Americans and Native Americans. That’s when you turn to other resources. If one of your family members is a descendant of one of the “Five Civilizations,” you should check the Final Dawes Rolls Index to learn if any of your ancestors applied for tribal membership. The National Archives gives a great guide to searching the Dawes Rolls. The problem with tracing Native American ancestry is that Native Americans typically weren’t on the Census, prior to the 1900s. So, we have to use clues to help us out. Unfortunately, Dawes Rolls only covered Native Americans from the “Five Civilized Tribes:” the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole nations. Those found eligible for the Final Rolls were entitled to an allotment of land, usually as a homestead. The Rolls contain more than 101,000 names from 1898-1914 (primarily from 1899-1906). They can be searched to discover the enrollee’s name, sex, blood degree, and census card number. The census card may provide additional genealogical information, and may also contain references to earlier rolls, such as the 1880 Cherokee census. A census card was generally accompanied by an “application jacket”. The jackets then sometimes contain valuable supporting documentation, such as birth and death affidavits, marriage licenses, and correspondence. The problem with the rolls is that not everyone who applied was, in fact, a Native American. And, many were denied, or rejected. Their names do not appear on the rolls, and they were not entitled to a land allotment. However, all applicants were recorded, and indexed on the Final Dawes Rolls Index. If your family member was not living in the Oklahoma Indian Territory in the 1890s-1900s, they will not be on this list. Furthermore, in order to be accepted on the rolls, the individuals had to agree to remain in Indian Territory, and live under the authority of the Tribe. The individual’s on the index should match your ancestor’s name and age. If such a name appears on the list, you will be given a result that will include a Card #. I searched for my ancestor, who the family belies was Native American, William Walls. He was born in 1829 or 1835 (Census data conflicts). This would have made him about 70 during the Dawes Commission. I found a William Walls on the index, that matched his approximate age. The problem was that he was coded as being a freedman, and doubtful/denied (FD). The civilized tribes had slaves, both of African descent, and other Native Americans, often captured during Indian battles. As the William Walls I was interested in was not on the Final Rolls, he was more difficult to find data on. However, his Application Jacket might give valuable information about who he was, and his ancestry. Applications can be found on Ancestry.com, if the applicant was enrolled. Otherwise, to get the application for those who were denied, most often people contact the National Archives, or the Oklahoma Historical Society, both of which charge for physical copies. However, you can also use the Card# to search the applications at Ancestrypaths.com’s Five Civilized Tribes record collection. I learned that my William Walls was an African American slave of a Choctaw, and eventually lived in Arkansas. While this was not my relative, this information was helpful to eliminate him and his family from my tree, and gave a very interesting look into history.
Resources abound on the internet. Great places to start are Ancestrypath.com and Cyndi’s List. Cyndi’s List gives links to Native American Resources well beyond that of the Dawes Rolls. RootsWeb, an Ancestry.com site, is also a good place to get started, but keep in mind that this site is owned by Ancestry.com, a commercial subscription service. Finally, FindAGrave.com, is often useful for tracking the physical location of your ancestors. Keep in mind that people are often buried near where they lived, and near their surviving relatives.
There a ton of resources, both online, and otherwise. Some people even join genealogy societies, to learn how to better research their family history. Here is a list of resources provided by Scouting.com:
Boy Scout Journal; American Heritage merit badge pamphlet
Visit the Boy Scouts of America’s official retail website at http://www. scoutstuff.org
for a complete listing of all merit badge pamphlets and other helpful Scouting materials and supplies.
- Brockman, Terra. A Student’s Guide to Italian American Genealogy. Oryx Press, 1996.
- Burroughs, Tony. Black Roots: A Beginner’s Guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree. Simon & Schuster, 2001.
- Croom, Emily Anne. The Genealogist’s Companion and Sourcebook. Betterway Books, 2003.
- Hendrickson, Nancy. Finding Your Roots Online. Betterway Books, 2003.
- Kavasch, E. Barry. A Student’s Guide to Native American Genealogy. Oryx Press, 1996.
- Kemp, Thomas Jay. International Vital Records Handbook, 5th ed. Genealogical Publishing, 2009.
- McKenna, Erin. A Student’s Guide to Irish American Genealogy. Oryx Press, 1996.
- Paddock, Lisa Olson. A Student’s Guide to Scandinavian American Genealogy. Oryx Press, 1996.
- Renick, Barbara. Genealogy 101: How to Trace Your Family’s History and Heritage. Rutledge Hill Press, 2003.
- Robl, Gregory. A Student’s Guide to German American Genealogy. Oryx Press, 1996.
- Rollyson, Carl Sokolnicki. A Student’s Guide to Polish American Genealogy. Oryx Press, 1996.
- Ryskamp, George A. Finding Your Mexican Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide to Mexican American Genealogy. Ancestry Publishing, 2007.
- Schleifer, Jay. A Student’s Guide to Jewish American Genealogy. Oryx Press, 1996.
- She, Colleen. A Student’s Guide to Chinese American Genealogy. Oryx Press, 1996.
- United States National Archives and Records Administration. Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives. National Archives and Records Administration, 2001.
- Warren, Paula Stuart. Your Guide to the Family History Library. Betterway Books, 2001.
- Wolfman, Ira. Climbing Your Family Tree: Online and Offline Genealogy for Kids. Workman Publishing, 2002.
- Yamaguchi, Yoji. A Student’s Guide to Japanese American Genealogy. Oryx Press, 1996.
Toll-free telephone: 888-326-2476
Family Tree Magazine
Toll-free telephone: 888-850-5122
Archives and Libraries
National Archives and Records Administration
Toll-free telephone: 866-272-6272
Library of Congress
Local History and Genealogy Reading Room
The Newberry Library
The Family History Library and Family History Centers
National Genealogical Society
New England Historic Genealogical Society
Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet
The USGenWeb Project
The WorldGenWeb Project
Family Tree Maker
Genealogy Pro for Mac OS X
Family Tree Maker® 2008
Legacy 6.0 Family Tree
Personal Ancestral File
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints