Tips for a Successful Application

Tips for a Successful First Families Application
Applying to the First Families of Western Pennsylvania is a wonderful way to honor your ancestor(s) and test your genealogy skills. We hope the application process will be enjoyable and provide these tips to give you the best chance of success.
  • Neatness counts. If a document or citation is not legible, it will be returned.  If the document itself is difficult to read, include a transcription.
  • Print labels to put your name/member number on the back of each physical document submitted.
  • Family Search has county-level research wikis, showing in what year birth, marriage and death records began and where to obtain them. The research wikis are not perfect but are an excellent place to start to determine if a record “should” exist and where to find it. For an example, see the Family Search Research Wiki for Allegheny County.
  • If an exact date is not known, acceptable entries would be: Between 10 Oct 1842–30 Nov 1842 (i.e. writing and proving of a will); Bef. 1842; Aft. 1842; Circa 1842.
  • Underline or draw attention (preferably with red pencil, ink or font) to the relevant portion of a document. Do not highlight.
  • Many documents are available online. Many are not. If a document, such as a birth, marriage or death certificate is known to exist, it must be included in the application. Such records may need to be obtained/purchased from the recording county or entity.
  • Don’t fret about writing “perfect” citations. A proper citation should allow another reader to find the exact information you used. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore: GPC, 2017 provides countless examples and models for writing citations.
  • A layered citation is needed when the information you viewed is not the original medium. For example, a digital image of a county will book found on must cite the original information (county, volume, page, etc.) and the digital information (recordset, online repository, image number).
  • The name and address of the repository should be included in the citation if the referenced document is only available at that repository.
  •  One document may include multiple types of evidence from multiple informants with varying degrees of knowledge. Each item of information must be analyzed to determine credibility. For more information, see the “Evidence Analysis Process Map” on the inside cover of Mills, Evidence Explained, 2017. For example, a death certificate may include:
    • A spouse, identified as the informant, provided primary knowledge as to the address and marital status of the deceased.
    • The doctor provided primary knowledge as to the date and the cause of death
    • The spouse provided secondary knowledge as to the date of birth and parents of the deceased
    • The address of the deceased could provide indirect evidence for the relationship to a family member who lives next door.
  • Supplemental documentation must be provided for any item that is secondary information or indirect evidence. Applications that do not include supplemental documentation for secondary information or indirect evidence will be returned. Using the example above, a census record listing the age and names of parents could be submitted as proof of birth in conjunction with the death certificate.
  • The closest census record after the year of birth should be submitted as supplemental documentation for birth.
  • Census records that don’t name the individuals in the household can still be used as evidence in conjunction with other records, especially if writing a proof summary. The identification of all “likely” members of the household is necessary.
  • Conflicting evidence often exists. Some conflicts are minor (like the age between census records being off by a year or two in subsequent decades) and some are major (like a marriage license application and death certificate giving a different name for a mother). Major conflicts must be addressed and resolved through a statement including how a conclusion was reached. For example, a marriage license gives the name of the PATRICIA’S mother as JANE SMITH, but PATRICIA’S death certificate gives the name of her mother as MARY JOHNSON. A statement such as, Patricia completed her own marriage license application and would have known the name of her mother. The informant on the death certificate was Patricia’s son-in-law, who only knew Patricia’s stepmother, Mary Johnson. Therefore, the marriage license application is the more credible source. Of course, documentation of the date of Jane Smith’s death and the remarriage of Patricia’s father to Mary Johnson would only help to solidify the case.
  • Retain a copy for yourself of the entire application prior to submitting it.
  • If additional documentation is requested, documentation may be submitted by Nov. 30th of the second year following the request. If additional documentation is not submitted, the application will be closed.
Western Pennsylvania Counties and Year of Formation
Allegheny 1788 Clearfield 1804 Lawrence 1849
Armstrong 1800 Crawford 1800 McKean 1804
Beaver 1800 Elk 1843 Mercer 1800
Bedford 1771 Erie 1800 Somerset 1795
Blair 1846 Fayette 1783
Venango 1800
Butler 1800 Forest 1848 Warren 1800
Cambria 1804 Greene 1796 Washington 1781
Cameron 1860 Indiana 1803 Westmoreland 1773
Clarion 1839 Jefferson 1804