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