How to research your family history part 1

Saturday, January 02, 2010

I've had a lot of experience helping patrons of Family History Centers over the years. Patrons vary in their level of experience in family history search. While it can be overwhelming to try to help patrons coming into the center, the strategy you use is the same regardless of level of ability, research location and research time range.

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


Write down everything you know - The biggest advice I have for a new researcher is to put everything you know down onto a pedigree chart supported by a family group sheet for each "couple" with their children. Of course, they must start with yourself and work back without skipping any generations.
This was made clear to me a few years back when a fellow researcher told the story of their search which they started with their grandparent. This researcher was retired and their parent was deceased already. They researched for several years with much success before an elderly aunt? finally explained to them that actually their parent was adopted into the family and that the grandparent they had being researching was not actually a blood relation (being the adoptive parent).

This illustrates the importance of evaluating what you REALLY know and not what you THINK you know. Obtaining birth certificates for yourself and your parents may be part of this process especially if your parents are deceased.

Look for missing data - Once the pedigree chart is filled out, the next thing is to look for missing data on the pedigree chart. What I mean by this is not every life event that could have occured, but the main three events surrounding an individuals life: birth, marriage and death (birth and death can be supplemented with baptismal/christening and burial records).

The reason for obtaining this information is to establish relationships between individuals. A birth record will almost always name at least one of the parents and possibly both (as will the baptismal/christening record). A marriage record will obviously identify the two parties to the marriage and quite possibly one or both of their parents. A death record might identify the spouse or other relative reporting the death and may identify the parents of the deceased.

Once you have successfully identified that missing piece of information, you can move on to the steps I use for specific problems outlined in Part 2 of this article.

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