Research Tips

Every Family Historian Should Focus On These Three Things

Every Family Historian Should Focus On These Three Things

There are all kinds of things to study in genealogy. So many details of our ancestors’ lives are in records out there in the world, located or still unlocated. It can be difficult to know just what to focus on to make sure your research stays on track and doesn’t go off on any tangents. While following interesting leads and recording unusual and unique details about our ancestors is important and enjoyable. we must make sure it doesn’t derail us from our research plan, as the plan can help us really get where we want to go with our research. Therefore, no matter what side projects you may take on, you should still keep your research focus where it belongs. These are the three things every family historian should always bring their focus back to in their research.

1. Accuracy

Being accurate is always job number one in genealogy. It is so easy to get off track and use unreliable resources to save time, or because they seem trustworthy. You may also misinterpret some records if you don’t read them carefully. Being accurate means reading original documents more than once, to be sure you’re interpreting them the right way, and comparing them to other records to see if they match up, as well as how they compare. It means going over the information and sources listed in derivative or third-party works you may be using and looking at their original sources to make sure they are accurate. If there are no sources, it is your job to find sources to confirm what you are reading. If there are no sources, using DNA to establish the correct relationships between people is an essential tool for the genealogist who values accuracy in their research. This should be every genealogist.

2. One Line at a Time

Dividing your focus between several family lines at once will make it so you don’t get a lot done on any of the lines, and increases your risk of making a mistake in your research. While it is perfectly fine, and even desirable, to research many family lines, you should ideally be doing them one at a time. You don’t want to divide your focus too much, so it becomes impossible to do a good job on any line. Keeping people, places, and facts across lines can also be confusing for some genealogists.

What you should do instead is work on one line for as long as you like. Resist the temptation to look into other lines. When you are tired of working on a line, take a break by working on another line. Since a genealogist’s work is quite literally never done, you can always come back to any lines you’ve set aside later. Work on a line, set it aside to work on another line, come back to the original line, work on another line, and so on, as much as you want to. Just make sure your focus is solely on one line at a time, to be sure you do the best work on it.

3. Local Sources First

When doing genealogy research, it is best to focus on local resources first. If your family lines are not local to you, then focus on the resources you can get online. If your family lines are local to you, then you can use things like local archives, museums, libraries, churches, cemeteries, old newspaper archives, and historical societies to get the real story on your family in your town. You can then move on to online sources, as well as sources that are located farther away. Do your work going outward from where you live, getting the next closest sources, then the next closest after that, and so on. Eventually, you may be getting records from foreign countries via mail, websites, the local branch of an LDS Family Research Center, or inter-library loan. When you work your way out from your local area, it is easier to follow the trail of your ancestors back in time, because you will literally, on paper, be tracing them back in time. If your closest sources aren’t local, just use the same technique, starting with the closest sources to you.


Will Moneymaker founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his surname. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)

2 Comments

  • Great article Will. You’re right about jumping from one line to another. The leader at the local genealogy club I attend calls it “squirreling.” Staying focused is key.

  • You’re right, I’m sure, about one line at a time, but I just can’t help myself – I love the variety of jumping around. In the end, I think we all have to do what makes us happy and keeps us interested. Also, I reach a block on lines and change to other ones while waiting for new records to come on line or saving to be able to buy non-digitized records.