How to research your family history part 2

Sunday, January 17, 2010

This is the second in a 2 part series that outlines the strategy that I successfully use with the researchers I assist.


Identify what the problem is (or in other words, what piece of information they are trying to find). Usually this is to identify the parents of a particular individual and is most commonly related to finding the birth of the known individual.

Identify the location and date range of the event you are looking for. Examine any known facts about the ancestor for clues that might help. Examples might be death record information, census returns with birth location and age, marriage record stating age, military records stating age, etc.

Identify the record types that might contain the data. This is not always the obvious. Yes a birth would be recorded in civil registration, possibly a baptismal record, but a census return may also have an age (calculated date of birth) as would a marriage certificate and military service record. A marriage (spouse) may be recorded on a civil marriage certificate, church marriage record, marriage licence (although technically this only proves intent), but a census return may also indicate a marriage by the words relationship to Head of Household: Wife.

Search the Family History Library Catalog for the location (either national, state/province, county, town levels) to see what records might be available. Also read the research guide for the country/state/province you are researching in to find out what records are available and for what periods of time. Usually the research guide will tell you the FHLC film numbers for the collections discussed if it is available through the FHL.

Consult the materials. This may involve ordering the films/fiche, searching online database, hiring a professional researcher, visiting an archive etc.

Record the results. All researchers record the information they find, but what about the information you don't find. Don't forget to record the materials that you have searched with no success. Why? Just to make sure that you search them again looking for the same thing. However, be aware that certain online materials are being constantly updated and that just because you don't find the record today doesn't mean that you won't find it in the future. For this reason it is advisable to make note of the date on which you did the research and which version of a record (online, film, etc) that you consulted with. If you found relevant information, record the WHOLE record. Sometimes there are hidden gems of information that don't seem relevant but may turn out to be important later on. Transcribe the whole record so you don't have to find it again or simply photocopy it.

Write down the citation. Just in case you didn't record the whole record or you need to refer to it again, make sure you write down the whole citation. This is usually a sore point for researchers who are hung up on the proper way to cite their sources. Don't worry about doing it "properly" worry about doing it "fully". Make sure there is enough information that ANYONE can find the record you are referring to. Usually this would require a book and author name with page reference, magazine and article name with date published or film/fiche number with page references.

Analyze the findings. If you found relevant information, don't forget to analyze it to see what it actually tells you. Does this new piece of information actually answer your question or is it just circumstantial evidence?
I hope this information helps you with your genealogy research. If it does I'd love to hear about your successes.

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