7 Tips For Beginning Genealogists

Over the years I’ve learned quite a few little tricks of the trade for doing genealogy research. Trial and error taught me several things, but I’ve also learned a lot from taking genealogy classes and participating in webinars. And some things I’ve picked up from other people, just like I’m passing on to you.

Genealogy Class copy

Everyone’s need for information is different at any given time, so this list is in no particular order of importance.

  1. Do not automatically assume that anyone else’s research on your line is completely accurate.  Anytime you see someone else’s information posted on one of the genealogy sites, take it as a clue, or a hint. Do not take it to be fact unless and until you verify the information. Following someone’s incorrect data can waste a lot of your time, and if you happen to pass this data on to someone else, it can waste their time as well.
  2. Document, document, document your sources as you find them. Believe me, I know what its like to be on a roll, when everything just seems like its flowing right to you. You think that you’ll remember where you found that great bit of info, and you’ll right it down later. Its happened to me lots of times in the past. Trust me, by the time you get around to writing it down, there’s something that you will have forgotten.
  3. When you document your sources, make your citations as detailed as possible. If you’re that person who is looking at your work sometime in the future (and chances are, you will be that person), make it as easy as possible for them to retrace your steps. What was the name of the book/article/document? Where did you find it? In a library, a courthouse, a historical society, or online? If it was online, what was the URL? What search terms did you use? If it was in a book, what page was it on? Who wrote the book? What was the copyright date? The easiest thing to do when citing a book is to make a copy of the title page. If the copyright date isn’t on that page, make a note of it.
  4. Have a written research plan. If you’re researching more than one family, this is even more important. Here’s what happens. You’re looking for Great Uncle Harry’s marriage information online. In the process you find Aunt Matilda’s yearbook photo. Don’t let yourself get distracted with that. Go to your research plan and make a note (I would suggest a new page with Aunt Matilda’s name at the top) of what you found, and all of the details of how to get back to it. Bookmark the page. Let Aunt Matilda wait, for the moment. She’ll understand.
  5. Make a spreadsheet of genealogy websites that you’ve been on and liked, or that you still want to look at. Find a way to designate which is which on your spreadsheet. Different color fonts for the ones you’ve been to and the ones you haven’t. Use hyperlinks to make them clickable. Title the columns to categorize them, whether its by location or by type of record, or both. Whatever works for you. Just know that its very convenient to have all the sites in one spreadsheet, so that you can quickly find that site.
  6. Know that family research is an ongoing process. You never really finish. The answers that you find bring even more questions. And unless you’ve gotten all the way back to Noah with all of your paternal and maternal lines, you ain’t done. Sure, at any point in time, you could call it done, but if you’ve got the bug, you always want more.
  7. Stay organized. You need separate files for each branch of your family, and you need them to be color coded so that you can find what you’re looking for. As your papers start to accumulate, you may even need a separate file drawer for each branch, and a file for individual people or couples in the drawer. This is the point I’m at now. There’s a really great article titled Color Your Ancestors! from The In-Depth Genealogist.

So, those are my tips for successful genealogy research. They have served me well, and I hope you find them useful also. If you have any that you would like to add, please feel free to share them.


How I Got the Genealogy Bug

When I was a child, my family visited two places every summer, without fail – my mother’s parents’ house in Alabama, and my father’s parents’ house in Florida. Life is always good at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and I enjoyed seeing both sets of grandparents. Visiting my paternal grandparents was especially fun because I had a lot of cousins my own age living in the same small town. There was always someone to go exploring with on my grandparents’ spacious property.

On my mother’s side of the family, there was only one cousin that was my age, and she lived a couple of hours away from my Grandparents. I very rarely saw her, so I had to entertain myself. I did get to spend a lot of time with my aunts and uncles, and I had the opportunity to listen to them, and Grandma and Grandpa, talk about the adventures they had together growing up. One day, in the early 1970s, I heard Grandma say something that got my attention. She was talking about the fact that her sister had married Grandpa’s brother. Now, I had never met any of my grandparent’s siblings, or ever seen any photographs. I knew absolutely nothing about them. But this little tidbit of information really interested me, and I began to wonder what else I didn’t know about my ancestors. That was the moment that I got the Genealogy Bug.

The next afternoon, I asked my grandparents if I could ask them some questions about their brothers and sisters. (My first interview!) They were thrilled that I asked, and were very eager to answer my questions. They gave me the names of all of their siblings which, as it turned out, were mostly nicknames. I got the names of the siblings’ spouses and children, and for the first time ever, I heard the names of my great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents. I was amazed! Grandma and Grandpa told me everything that they could remember, and I wrote down all that they said. I even sketched out a little family tree.

weeks and ward facebook page #1
When I interviewed my grandparents that afternoon, I did not realize that finding out about my ancestors was going to make me want to know even more about them. I thought that once my specific questions were answered, I would have all the information that I wanted. I was wrong! The passion to know more followed me home. But then I was stumped as to what I could do to find out more. I read books on genealogy, and realized that at 13 years old, pretty much all I could do was write letters to get more information. And that didn’t appeal to me very much. So I put all my interview papers and my family tree sketch into a folder, and told myself that one day, I would pursue this.

After having children of my own, that day did come. By this time, I had a computer and the means to find answers online. I also have a husband who is always up for a road trip and adventures in finding and indexing cemeteries. And any other crazy research quest I suggest. I have now researched both my maternal line and my paternal line. And my husband’s maternal and paternal line. And anyone else’s who asks me to. But my favorite line to work on is the one that started me on this adventure – my Grandma and Grandpa. And what I love the most about that is, I still have my notes from my interview that summer afternoon, and the family tree sketch. And anytime that I find a new piece of information on that line, I pull out my papers to see if it fits with what my grandparents told me. That’s my final test for accuracy in my research.

I’ve been doing serious genealogy research for over 20 years now. Every family tree that I work on, whether I’m related or not, intrigues me. Everyone’s story is interesting, and I love to dig in and find out more, not just the facts, but the story behind the facts. Do you have a genealogy mystery that you would like help with? Contact me, and I’ll do a little digging for you!

Let Me Introduce Myself…

My name is Connie White, and my business is called I Speak Genealogy. I do genealogy research and reporting. I have over 20 years experience in genealogy research. Actually, a whole lot more than that (I started when I was about 13 – that’s another story), but my serious genealogy work began in 1996. My work includes the following types of projects:

Heir- Finder services: I provide research, documentation, and affidavit preparation in regards to locating distant heirs and proving their lineage for probate attorneys.

Family tree research services: I provide research for answers to specific family tree questions, or provide a more extensive ancestor/descendant search, and provide a written report including sources and documents.

When I am not doing freelance genealogy work, I’m busy with several volunteer positions. They include:

Curator for my local historical museum: I organize and manage the archival inventory and supplies, design displays, create indexes, research any additional biographical information needed for displays, and give tours of the museum.

Volunteer Historian for local estate home: I research and document records related to the family and property, and help plan historically related events for the property.

I am also President of my local historical society, a member of my county historical commission and historical marker committee, and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Suffice it to say, my passion is researching genealogy and historical events. Its been my dream ever since I picked up pen and paper and began asking questions of my grandparents all those years ago. Everybody’s story interests me as if it were my own. Visiting cemeteries and court houses are my idea of a great vacation. And I would love to help you find your roots and create your family tree.