Category Archives: Methodology

A Solid Search Strategy = Successful Genealogy Results

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!


Reminder: Always Check the Original Source!

As I research various families, I always seek out the original source. That’s not always possible – originals are sometimes lost, repositories not cited, etc. – but often, the original source is extant, can be found and definitely should be viewed before accepting details as accurate.

Here is an excellent example from my husband’s Larrison family.

Revolutionary War pensioner John Stufflebean married Elsee (Larrison) Ketchum in Estill County, Kentucky in the summer of 1795.

Without a doubt, Elsee is part of the colonial New Jersey Larrison family, but connecting the dots from Elsee to parents and grandparents is problematical.

George Larrison, also in Estill County, Kentucky in the 1790s, is almost certainly Elsee’s brother.

Therefore, I have been collecting Larrison clues in the great expanse of land between New Jersey and Kentucky.

Here is a tidbit I found in a book online:

Note that the bottom line of this abstract mentions the Larison Brothers. The patent is dated 1784 and would prove that at least two Larrison/Larison family members had land in Kentucky and were possibly already living in what was then Fayette County.

I’ve tried to find this land patent, but haven’t been successful. However, recently, a new Larrison cousin, who lives in Kentucky AND works as a land surveyor, had no problem finding this patent and kindly shared an image of it with me.

Here is a crop of the pertinent portion:

This is beautifully legible handwriting for the time period. Look at the last line:

to a Hickory Corner of Terrason & Brothers & John Carnan thence

I have no idea who thought this entry said Larison Brothers, but it absolutely does NOT!

How many hours could I have wasted tracing people and places mentioned in the original abstraction see above? Answer: Too many!

Many thanks to my husband’s distant cousin who got to the bottom of it very quickly!


Applying What I’ve Learned in My One-Place Study to Genealogy Research, Part 1

For the last several months, I’ve been hard at work on my one-place study of St. Dimitry’s Greek Catholic Church neighborhood, which is made of up two small villages in Slovakia – Hajtovka and Ujak, which today is called Udol.

My project consists of two parts – an Excel database of entries of all baptisms, marriages and burials found in the parish register, which begins in November 1827 – and a Word document in which I’ve built out the parish families through the 1800s and added in bits about the earlier history of the area and lists of the house censuses in 1853 and 1859.

I’ve also transcribed the Ujak and Hajtovka families found in the Hungarian census of 1869, when the villages were part of what was then called Saros (sounds like Sharish) County.

This is the first post in a series about how much can be learned with a one-place study.

Before you think, “Oh, I’ll never do a one place study!” –  what I have learned applies to any genealogist seeking “hatched, matched and dispatched” records. In other words, my discoveries might open your eyes, too, as to what is and is not found in official records.

This series will be examining multiple factors in the life of a town:

History of the Region
Religion – Clues to other records
FAN Club
Surnames – Spelling Variations & Aliases
Church Records – Accuracy, Errors & Missing Entries
Social Context
Daily Life in Udol and Hajtovka, Gleaned from the Church Records

Today, let’s delve into the history of a region. While history is important everywhere – for example in the U.S. when county borders changed in a state or the country changed, as with Texas and the Southwest, those were not events that repeated often in the same place in American history.

For those studying families that lived in mainland Europe, history becomes extremely important.

Let’s look at the history of my maternal grandmother’s villages, Hajtovka and Udol, formerly called Ujak.

First, where are they? Before the internet, you’d be hard pressed to locate either village. I couldn’t find them on any maps back in the 1980s. Queries from Nana elicited only that they were not close to any big cities and the nearby river was the Poprad.

That clue meant that her villages were in northern Slovakia near the Polish border. Today, online maps have simplified the search:

Udol is the light green area in the center. Hajtovka is a mile to the west

Slightly southwest is the town of Plavnica; to the northwest is Matysova while Maly Lipnik and Starina are to the north of the village.

These are ancient towns, as most are mentioned in records dating from the Middle Ages.

Populations? Today, Udol has 417 inhabitants, Hajtovka 72, Maly Lipnik 457, Matysova 72 and Plavnica with a whopping 1600.

Still lost?

These villages are in today’s eastern Slovakia in the foothills of the Tatras Mountains. Udol is also one of the westernmost ethnically Rusyn villages.

Historically, they were in the path of many governmental changes. Passing through were other Rusyns, a few Jews, definitely Slovaks and Hungarians and even Russians plus other Slavic peoples. Surprisingly, Chmel’nica, due west of Udol and Hajtovka, was settled by Germans.  A number of Romanis (wanderers) also meandered through the area.

What did this mean politically? In the 1800s, the powers that be determined the official language of government records and documents, which included church records.

Hajtovka and Udol shared one parish church, St. Dimitry’s Greek Catholic Church, which still exists in Udol today. Literally overnight, and I don’t mean 1 January and the start of a new year, the scribe changed the language in which he recorded baptisms, marriages and burials.

While most of the records are thankfully written in Latin, there are time periods where entries are in Hungarian and several decades (including 1851-1857 and the early 20th century) where the Cyrillic alphabet is used.

There isn’t much of a learning curve from Latin to Hungarian, since most entries are in rows and columns so it is a matter of recognizing that Latin Michaelis and Susanna equal Mihaly and Zuzka (Susie) in Hungarian.

I have to admit, though, that sloppy Cyrillic cursive has put a crimp in my extraction progress.

In summary, understanding the history of an area allows a researcher to recognize influences in the daily lives of our ancestors. As we shall see in the next post, it forces us to cast a wider net than we initially expected to catch some big fish!