How do you approach genealogy research?
Do you just “go for it” or do you formulate a plan?
Today’s post is just a tip on how to achieve more successful results as you research ancestors in your family tree.
Just “going for it” means haphazardly checking various websites, hoping to find any information at all. While this strategy can be fun, as in following BSOs (bright shiny objects) or even a last resort, when little can be uncovered about a person or family, it doesn’t maximize your chances for positive results.
Instead, develop a focused plan:
1. Write a specific research question to be answered. Examples might be When and where did Joseph Jones die? or even something a little broader like Who were the children of Joseph Jones?
Your research question is going to determine the resources you will investigate.
2. Have your research log ready, whether it be paper or in a tech format.
You need to document each resource you read and note whether your research was productive in terms of finding information of value, or not. Some say research logs should be kept so we don’t waste time looking at the same items more than once. However, sometimes we need to return to the same source because new clues might point to further information. A research log works both ways!
When working in a library or other repository where time is limited, be sure to note the bibliographic information to be able to find the record again. Don’t worry about the source citation format when away from home unless perhaps you enter data directly into your software program at the moment you find it and immediately created a source citation.
Otherwise, time spent on-site is better spent looking at possible resources that can’t be accessed from home.
3. As you access each source, evaluate its relevance and reliability to your investigation.
An online family tree with new-to-you details should be regarded as a clue, while digital images of a recorded will provide primary evidence, as the will was created by the person during his lifetime and has been left for posterity.
Do you see any problems or conflicts with your evidence? For example, did two or more men of the same name live in the county at the same time? Can you be sure the evidence pertains to your person of interest?
Who provided the information in the records you’ve found? A census taker might have asked anyone at home for their family information. Parents’ names on death certificates might have been provided by someone who never personally knew the parents of the deceased and is only able to name who he/she “thinks” they are, etc.
Be sure to collect digital images or, at the least, good photocopies, that can be scanned later at home, including title pages of books and journals. Those images might even include pages you’ve found that don’t pertain to your person/family of interest. For example, let’s say there are two families of Lawrence Thompsons living in the same county and they are close in age. One piece of evidence you’ve found is a transcription of the family Bible record of Lawrence Thompson. However, you quickly realize that the names of his eight children do not include names that you know of in “your” Lawrence’s family. A digital image for future reference may help you later sort out marriages, land deeds, court minutes and probate records into the two separate families.
4. Review the new pieces of evidence that you have found.
Separate them, mentally and/or physically, into three categories – YES, they belong to my family, NO, the record/s pertain to some other family or MAYBE, not enough is yet known to determine to whom the evidence pertains.
5. Every fact should have more than one piece of evidence supporting it, IF POSSIBLE.
Let’s face it. It would be ideal to find a birth certificate, a church baptismal record that included both birth and baptismal dates, plus a war draft registration card and a death certificate which all provided a single date of birth. That might or might not happen!
However, at least two pieces of evidence supporting each life fact is the standard to meet.
6. When the research question has been answered, review all the evidence once again. Looking at all the details at once sometimes gives new insights and leads to new research paths.
Don’t be disappointed when no new evidence is found. Sometimes, it is just as – or even more – important to eliminate people and locations as pertinent to your own family. This is especially important when distinguishing between people of the same name.
If you are satisfied that the information you have uncovered can be accepted as reliable, then record your findings, with explanatory notes and source citations, in your genealogy software or on paper, if that is your preference.
7. Create a new research question and begin the process anew!