Danville Genealogy 101

Whether you are a native of Danville or a newcomer, because you are a resident you have become part of Danville's "genealogy."  So, the first step to take as you embark upon an exploration of our wonderful city is to know how to research your own family tree.  The information presented below will provide you with the basic tools that you will need to identify your ancestors.


The family unit is the basic structure of society. Knowing about your family is an important part of knowing your history and heritage. A history of the descent of you or your family from ancestors is known as genealogy. Genealogy can become quite complicated so it is important that you have some method for recording and organizing genealogy data as you acquire it. If you have access to a computer, there are computer programs available that will help you record and organize your genealogy data. Some can be purchased and others are free. If you have access to the Internet, there is a good genealogy program that you can download for free. It is Personal Ancestry File, or PAF, from Latter Day Saints. Once you have a genealogy program on your computer, you will be able to use it without being connected to the Internet. Here are links to some of the programs I mentioned above:

Four Essential Questions

Whether adding to a genealogy file or a personal history, there are four essential questions which must be answered. They are:

  1. Who? - refers to a named person to whom the other questions will pertain. The person is usually identified by a name, but it may be necessary to add other criteria to distinguish the person from other persons having the same name at other times and places.
  2. What? - refers to events in which the “Who” person participated. In a bare bones genealogy file, they may consist of only birth, marriage, death and burial. In a fuller genealogy file or a personal history, other events, such as baptism or christening, graduations, places lived, places worked, churches joined, military service, organizations joined, etc. may be included.
  3. When? - refers to the date of each event included in the “What?” The most common date used consists of the day, month and year of the event, but sometimes only the year may be available. In rare cases, the hour or minute of the event may be available.
  4. Where? - refers to the place where the event occurred and should be as specific as possible. Sometimes only the country, state or county is available and must be used. The “Where?” should give directions for finding the place. With modern technology available through the Global Positioning System (GPS) which uses satellites, the place can usually be determined within a few feet using latitude and longitude positions and should be used whenever possible to identify places.

Genealogists should be encouraged to make genealogy entries and personal history files as complete and as specific as possible. An abbreviated personal history file is often included in obituaries.

Genealogy Forms

If you do not have access to a computer program, there are forms that can be used to record and organize your data. The first is a Pedigree chart which lists your direct ancestors for as many generations as you wish, but remember that the number of direct ancestors doubles with each generation. For example, your second generation consists of your parents, of whom there are two. Your third generation is your grandparents of whom you have four, two maternal and two paternal. Your fourth generation consists of your great grandparents of whom you have eight, four on the maternal side and four on the paternal side. Your fifth generation consists of your great, great grandparents of whom you have sixteen, eight on your maternal side and eight on your paternal side. These will be your grandparents’ grandparents. I suggest that a good initial goal is to record five generations on your pedigree chart.  This will take you back approximately 150 years. Of course, you can go further if you wish. You can find several places on the internet to download Pedigree charts for free. Here is an example form that I like:

Another form which you will find helpful is a Family Group Record. The first one you will need is for your parents:  it will list them, you and your sisters and brothers. Data about them can be listed on the Family Group Record form. Then you will need two Family Group Record forms, one for each of your grandparents. These forms will list your grandparents and their children which will include your parents and your aunts and uncles. Then you will need four Family Group Record forms for your great grandparents which will list their children who will include your grandparents and your great aunts and uncles. You can continue to use Family Group Record forms for as far back in your ancestry as you want to go. Family Group Records for your aunts and uncles will list their children, who will be your first cousins. You can use Family Group Records for anyone in your extended family who has children. You can see quickly that without a computer program or Pedigree and Family Group Records, it will be very difficult to keep track of everyone in your extended family. Here is an example of a Family Group Record form that I like:

Data Sources

There are many sources of data that you can use for your computer program or genealogy forms.  These sources include census records up to1930, the Social Security Death Index for people who died after 1935, obituaries, birth records, marriage records, tombstone inscriptions, funeral home records, Heritage books, VA/NC Society vertical files, Civil War military rosters, City Directories, newspaper articles, family histories and Internet sources, such as Ancestry.com and others. You may need to go back and forth between sources to put together a complete picture of your extended family. Volunteers in the VA/NC Genealogy Society’s search room can assist you to find data about your family.


Your first cousins are the children of your uncles and aunts, who are the brothers and sisters of your parents. Your second cousins are the grandchildren of your great aunts and uncles, who are the brothers and sisters of your grandparents. Your third cousins are the great grandchildren of your great aunts and uncles, who are the brothers and sisters of your great grandparents. All cousins, first, second or third will be in your generation. The term “removed” is used to describe cousins of different generaions with “once removed” used to describe cousins one generation from yours, “twice removed” used to describe cousins two generations from yours, and so forth. The children of your first cousins are not second cousins but rather first cousins once removed. Your children and the children of your first cousins are second cousins. The only cousins who will bear your surname are ones that descend through males.

The conditions and terms used in the paragraph above can be used for any member of your family. Just substitute the name of that person for the “your” in that paragraph.

Generations Chart

The following chart will assist you to determine an approximate starting date when you use census and birth records to search for ancestors.  For example, if you were looking for your great grandparents (and you will be generation "1") and the length of each generation in your family is approximately 25 years, then you could start your search by examining records from three generations previous to your birthdate (which will be the approximate birthdate of your great grandparents).

Descendents' Organizations

Descendents' organizations are made up of persons who can prove that they are descendents of participants in some historical event, usually a war or AN early settlement. Some of these organizations are:

U. S. Census Records

Census records are an invaluable source of genealogy information. They present a snapshot of households at the time that the census was taken. Census records in the U. S. have been taken every ten years in years ending in zero since 1790. For privacy reasons the records are not released to the public until 70 years after they are taken, so 1930 census records are the latest currently available. Records from 1790 through 1930 are currently available except for 1890 which was destroyed. Only records of 1850 or later contain names of everyone in a household. Prior to that only heads of households were listed with the number of others listed by sex and age categories without names.

The information contained in census records varies from census to census. To determine the information to be found in any given census record go to http://www.genealogysearch.org/free/forms.html and click on the years under U. S. Census Worksheets to obtain a blank census form for that year where the column headings will indicate what information is to be found on census records for that year. You may wish to print out a copy of the blank form for each year and retain it as a reference and to help you interpret the column headings of online census records which are sometimes difficult to read.

Census records are available online from a number of sources. One source is Heritage Quest which is available through many public libraries which usually require a library card number and sometimes a card number and a pin number for access. Access is available through the Danville Public Library for patrons with a library card. To access census records, go to the Danville Library website and click on HeritageQuest Online link. When prompted for Barcode, enter your Danville library card number and then click on the Connect button. Another source of census records is Ancestry.com which is a subscription service, but access may be obtained through your public library or your genealogy society if they are subscribers.