Friday, October 5, 2012

Ten Steps to Getting Your Genealogy Right


Ten Steps to Getting Your Genealogy Right

  1. Collect documents and information from within your own home.
  2. Collect documents and information from your living relatives.
  3. Input information into a computer database.
  4. Source every detail on every person to validate documentation of the facts.
  5. Print a pedigree chart to use as a road map.
  6. Do census research on every couple on your pedigree chart.
  7. Create a timeline of events in each couples lifetime.
  8. Do online research for documents that are needed.
  9. Research every location where a couple lived to prepare for onsite research.
  10. Research collateral lines to substantiate your main line.

What made me create this list? Yesterday I worked with a couple that are fairly new to genealogy and looking for direction in their research. This is something that happens quite frequently. The first thing we do is review what they have done to that point. They always come with varying stages of research and with a lot of enthusiasm for future possibilities. During the first session the goal is to have them leave even more eager to do their genealogy right and hopefully taking home some new documentation for their ancestors. So let's look at the steps in detail.
 
1. Collect documents and information from within your own home.
Usually the most valuable documents are found in your own home. These are the core information of who your immediate family is and how you came to be. Incorporating your personal family members is important for future generations. Most people know about their parents and grandparents. You also will save yourself a great deal of time and money if you can gather this information.
 
2. Collect documents and information from your living relatives.
Take what you have compiled from #1 and make contact with your living relatives. If they live close enough plan for a personal visit, but allow them time to gather documents from within their home. Offer to compile their collection in a notebook if what they have is scattered around their house. Do a personal interview of them, but this may be best after compiling their collection in a systematic organized manner. Sometimes you only get one chance to do this, so capture the moment by requesting the interview prior to the visit and then going prepared with all needed equipment.
 
3. Input information into a computer database.
The best time to start creating your own personal database is right now. Relying on an online provider to store your database is not 100% reliable. We all know how quickly the Internet changes. How would you feel if someday you went to use the only website where your family tree can be found and no longer have access to that file? Protect your family information and also create a file you can easily share with anyone. There are many options for creating this database, but the key is using something that works for you and is easily shared. Overtime you will learn how to use the various features such as printing pedigree charts, family group sheets, lists of locations, and much more. Then be sure to back it up multiple ways: flashdrive, other family members computers, external hard drive, the cloud, etc. Once this is done you never need to take your documents and other collections outside your home where they might easily be lost. For help in getting started visit a Family Search Center or Genealogical Research Facility near your home.
 
4. Source every detail on every person to validate documentation of the facts.
This is really a component of #3, but it so often overlooked that it deserves special mention. Every computer database program provides a way to source the documentation for each individual. If there is a piece of information for the entire family it can be included in the father's information. The best part of such a database is the tab for notes for that person. It is important to decide on a format for using this section, so that it is consistent for everyone in the database. Here is where you can provide census information, immigration details, obituaries, wills, personal histories and just about any tidbits that you want to preserve. Using this section ensures that you will not duplicate your research in the future.
 
5. Print a pedigree chart to use as a road map.
This is the best tool in ensuring that your genealogy is correct. It is always possible to get wrong information at some point, but when this happens this chart will help in correcting that information. On the chart you can note the census years where this person was located, the immigration information and their naturalization status. By circling the B, M, D, vital records letter one can quickly see where documentation is missing. Being a very visual person it enables me to see that the generations are linked. Making note of how many children they had alerts me to collateral lines for future research.
 
6. Do census research on every couple on your pedigree chart.
For any country where there is online census information this truly is a required first step in evaluating where your relatives lived and what the family structure was like. You should copy and paste the details into your personal database. Be sure to include important details such as the parents' place of birth, how many children the mother had and are still living, etc. It is possible to miss children who were born and died in between the usual ten-year span, there may be inaccuracies, and some may not be found, but these details will be worked out later. There are tricks to successful census research and if you experience difficulty in locating someone check with the local Family Search Center or Genealogical Research Facility.
 
7. Create a timeline of events in each couples lifetime.
From what you know at this time based on your home resources, family resources and the census data begin a timeline for each couple. There are many examples of timelines on the Internet. The best advice is to keep it simple: date of event, name of person, place of event, and a few short details. This may be done in your personal database or by creating a Word or Excel document. The purpose of the timeline is to focus on the many details known about the family or individual. From this information a future research plan can be developed.
 
8. Do online research for documents that are needed.
With the explosive content for genealogy research on the Internet, it is essential to explore the availability of records for your family. Every day more documents and information is being added to a myriad of websites. These may be government based, genealogy societies, volunteer sites and paid subscription sites. The best plan is to work in those that have no financial cost first and moving on to paid subscriptions. The Family Search Centers and Genealogy Research Facilities often provide access to some of the paid sites. They are also staffed with volunteers who can assist you in learning how to do this type of online searching. Google can also be a very useful tool in this process.
 
9. Research every location where a couple lived to prepare for onsite research.
This is where you may discover the most valuable information on your relatives. Knowing what is available for a location and discovering what is available online is a must before going for a visit. An often overlooked tool is the familysearch.org catalog. Within this catalog you will discover records that have been gathered for various locations. In their new browse by location section they are placing key digitized records not found anywhere else. The USGenweb also provides wonderful information based on locations.  
 
10. Research collateral lines to substantiate your main line.
While there may be little information on your direct line couples, there may be substantial information on their extended family members. A county history may not even mention your relative, but there is vital family information based on another sibling. By looking at documents for the collateral person you may discover a different spelling of a parents name or the place where they lived. Key words can totally alter the research that needs to be done.
 
There is so much that can be said on this topic. Doing genealogy should be fun and going about it in a systematic manner can ensure you continue to enjoy what you set out to do. It truly is never ending, but it is full of serendipity moments where we encounter the totally unexpected. This is what motivates me to volunteer in assisting others in the process. The look on someone's face as we encounter a much needed document, picture of a relative or history about the family are the very best of serendipity. The couple I worked with this week left with a vast amount of free and accessible resources at their fingertips. That is the objective of using the ten steps to getting your genealogy right.

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