Building Your Family Tree

Are you interested in researching the history of your family? Herrick has resources to help you get started. We have Pedigree Charts and Family Group Sheets where you can fill in information on your family. It’s best to check with your family first to get all of the information you can from them. One helpful hint: Use birth names only when filling in the married people on your family tree. 

Has someone already written a history of your family? You can check at Herrick or there are places online to see if someone else has done research already, such as FamilySearch, opens a new window, or Public Member Trees, opens a new window on the Ancestry Library Edition, opens a new window website.

If you are starting at the very beginning, here are some ways to get started:

  1. Look for your family's vital records (birth, marriage, and death certificates).
  2. Ask relatives (parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents) what they remember about their parents and grandparents' families.
  3. Check with friends of the family.
  4. Try some of the many Internet Websites. FamilySearch, opens a new window is a great place to start.
  5. Contact your local Genealogy Society.
  6. Look for information in local newspapers. Check with your local library to see what they have on microfilm.
  7. Look for the cemeteries where your ancestors may be buried.
  8. If your ancestors were members of a church, look for church records. Many church records go farther back than government ones.
  9. Comb Federal Census, opens a new window records.  The Herrick District Library has many census records and indexes available.  
  10. For more ideas, read some Genealogy Magazines. Family Tree Magazine, Internet Genealogy, and Your Genealogy Today are all available at Herrick.

Family Tree Magazine

Internet Genealogy

The list goes on—there are many more places to search. See below for more ideas of places to look.  There are also many how-to books at Herrick which you can check out. Some are books for beginners, some cover different countries and other subjects, such as the census, wills, military records and more. You can also ask for help from the staff at Herrick District Library and we will help you get started!

Another hint - if you are doing genealogy research and have exhausted everything Herrick has to offer, both in print and online, there are other options for you.  A few of the other options are land records, probate records, and naturalization records.  Check our More Resources in Michigan guide for other places to look for some of these records.


Start with your own family: Fill out information on pedigree charts. If you are married, make out a form for the husband and another for the wife. You should be able to fill in some of the information from memory or from records in your home. Answer the blanks to be filled in as if you were doing it for someone entirely unacquainted with your family. If you are not absolutely sure of the full names and dates, don’t rely on your memory. Spell all names correctly. If there are nicknames, enclose them in parentheses. When giving the names of children, list them in order of birth.

Use family charts and pedigree charts: Type your record if possible, otherwise print by hand rather than using the cursive system. Be sure to record counties where called for as the county records will be extremely important in getting more information. The pedigree chart shows only part of the family record. For recording members of families, use family charts which indicate the head of a family, the wife and children of the marriage. The following websites include free genealogy forms:

Decide on the style you will use in writing names: and follow consistently. Most used is the Natural Order (John William Smith), or surnamed first in capitals (SMITH, John William). The latter is the standard style used by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) in Salt Lake City, Utah. Write every name in full. On all genealogical records the names of females should be the maiden name only. You will avoid a lot of confusion if you adhere strictly to this rule. Regardless of how many times a woman may have been married, use her maiden name only. If her maiden name is unknown but her given name is known, write it, “Mrs. Bertha Cowles.”

Decide on the style you will use in writing dates:  Never use numbers to indicate months. The least confusing system is to indicate the day first, followed by the month abbreviated to three letters, then the year in full (3 Jan 1969).


Has someone already written a history of your family? To see if the Herrick District Library already has a history of your family, check the Surname Index. Following are some major lists of published family histories:

Does any branch of the family own an old family Bible containing genealogical information? Does any family member have in their possession copies of gravestone inscriptions, newspaper clippings, memorial booklets, etc.?


1. Birth, Marriages or Death Certificates

  • For Michigan, check with the county clerk in the county where the birth, marriage or death occurred
  • VitalRec has links to all U.S. vital records sites and selected foreign sources
  • In an online search engine (such as Google) type VITAL RECORDS plus the name of a state or country

2. Relatives, all kinds, everywhere. To find relatives who you have lost contact with try:

Try these books:

Finding Anyone Anywhere Anywhen

The Ultimate Search Book

3. Friends of the family

4. Other Researchers - Some internet sites can link you with other researchers. Try:

5. Residents and former neighbors of the old home town.

6. People whose names were found in newspapers or old directories

7. Internet Databases - Herrick district Library has the following databases available:

8. Genealogy Societies - Genealogical Societies can help you in your search. Two societies in the area are the Zeeland Genealogy Study Group and the Western Michigan Genealogical Society, located in Grand Rapids.

9. Association of Professional Genealogists - Professional genealogical researchers that can be hired for in depth research, sometimes on location.


Family Data

  • Interviews with senior family members (record if the person agrees)
  • Account books
  • Needlework
  • Photographs
  • Diaries
  • Bible records
  • Military records
  • Old silver engravings
  • Heirloom jewelry
  • Scrapbooks
  • Newspaper clippings
  • Letters

Public Record Resources

  • Vital Records (Begin 1867 in Michigan)
    • Birth
    • Death
    • Marriage
    • Naturalization
  • Land Records (Register of Deeds Offices)
    • Deeds
    • Mortgages
    • Maps and plats
  • Church Records
    • Baptisms
    • Marriages
    • Burial records
    • Membership rolls
    • Cemetery records
    • Probate Court (if records are public)
      • Wills
      • Petitions to probate will
      • Letters of administration
      • Letters to determine heirship
      • Decree of distribution
      • Releases (signed by heirs)
      • Guardianship papers
      • Change of name

Library Research Sources

  • Guides (How to Books)
  • Indexes (specialized—microfilm)
  • Genealogies—already compiled
  • Local Histories
  • Genealogy Periodicals
  • Land Records
  • Maps, Atlases, Gazetteers
  • City Directories
  • Church Records
  • Newspapers
  • Vital Records
  • Veterans’ Files
  • Cemetery Records
  • Surname Records
  • Family Heraldries
  • Federal Census – 1790-1940
  • Van Reken Historical File
  • Vertical Files


Cemetery Records

  • Cemetery Records of Allegan and Ottawa Counties

Census Records

  • Allegan County Indexes for 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870
  • Mortality Deaths Census Allegan and Ottawa Counties 1850, 1860, 1870
  • Ottawa County Indexes for 1840, 1850, 1860
  • Holland City, Zeeland City & Holland Township Census Indexes (various years)
  • 1884 and 1894 –  Ottawa County MICROFILM
  • 1850-1930 – We have microfilm for complete state of Michigan


  • Atlases of Allegan Co., Mich. 1864, 1873, 1913
  • Atlases of Ottawa County 1864, 1876, 1912, 1930
  • Plat maps for Allegan & Ottawa Counties – various years

Church Records

  • Various local church memberships, marriages and baptisms
  • Local church anniversary booklets

Military Records

  • Civil War Records for Michigan Soldiers 30 Vol. with index
  • Veterans’ Files - Newspaper clippings of articles and photos of veterans from WWI, WWII, the Korean War and the Iraq Wars, even a few Civil War veterans. These articles include veterans through 2008. This collection is non-inclusive.


  • Births (MICROFILM) – various years
  • Marriages (MICROFILM) – various years
  • Deaths (MICROFILM) – various years
  • Historical and Business Compendium of Ottawa County c.1892
  • Portrait and Biographical Record of Muskegon and Ottawa Counties c.1893
  • Holland City directories – 1892 to present (printed alternate years until 1960)
  • Deaths, City of Holland 1897 -1905
  • History of Allegan & Barry Counties. Michigan – c.1880 – Indexed
  • Early Memories of Saugatuck, Michigan – May Francis Heath. Indexed
  • Michigan Pioneer and Historical collections (1875-1915) 30 Volumes
  • Holland, Michigan: from Dutch colony to Dynamic City, c2014 Dr. Robert Swierenga


  • Allegan Gazette -- May 5, 1883 – December 10, 1892 & July 21, 1954 –December 31, 1954
  • Allegan Journal --1856-1897 (Not Inclusive)
  • Allegan News -- January 4, 1901- December 15, 1955
  • Grand Haven News-- December 22, 1858 - July 17, 1867 (Not Inclusive)
  • Grand River Times --July 2, 1851 - October 28, 1857 (Not Inclusive)
  • Holland City News --1872-1977
  • Holland Sentinel -- January 9, 1912 – Present
  • Ottawa County Times --1892 - 1905