Research Tips

Give Your Genealogy an Annual Checkup

Featured Video Play Icon

Subscribe via:  iTunes  |  YouTube  |  RSS  |  Google Play

Is your genealogy as excellent as it can be? You surely want it to be. It is the goal of every serious genealogist to have their work be above reproach, and only occasionally questioned by other serious genealogists when new source material or research comes to light. In other words, you want your genealogy to be on the level of the professionals, whether it is just for your own family’s use, or if you intend to publish it one day.

Whether you are a beginning genealogist or a veteran, there is a chance you will make mistakes in your genealogy along the way. It is human nature, and also the nature of genealogy; some sources can be misleading or can be interpreted a number of different ways. You may think you have done a wonderful job of putting your family tree together, but there could be unnoticed mistakes or out of date information lurking in there. There’s only one way to find out, and it is something you should make at least an annual habit of doing… give your genealogy a checkup.

An annual checkup ensures your work is rock-solid and as good as it can be. It also helps you take new research into account, re-evaluate confusing sources based on new things you have learned, and to patch up other holes in your work. Here is how to do a genealogy checkup, and what to look for when you’re doing it.

The first thing you should do is to work by family lines. Make a list of the lines you are going to check on, and work from that list, in the order you made it. This will keep you on track because it is easy to get lost going down a sideline or line by marriage without realizing it unless you are working with a strict list.

Once you know what family lines you will be working on, and in what order, begin going through the people in that line one by one, looking for any gaps in your citations. Every genealogist knows how important it is to provide citations for every event and person listed on a family tree, but in your haste to get information copied into your tree, especially if you are doing work in the field (such as on a genealogy vacation in an area you don’t usually visit), it is easy to forget some of the citations, or think you will remember the source for recording later. If you find places in your tree that should have citations but do not, that’s okay. It happens to the best of us.

Look for a source for the event or person online and/or among your genealogical files (both physical and electronic). You may have it on you and not know it, or at least have digital access to it. If not, if the source is something you got in the field and you would have to travel back there to retrieve it, make a note of it. If you are not planning to go back to that location anytime soon, write, email, or call the place where you originally got the information, and ask if they can do a lookup for you. Since you probably already have a good idea of where you got the information, it shouldn’t be too hard for a worker at the repository to find it for you. Once you get the source, record it onto your family tree immediately. You don’t want to forget to include it again.

Once the citations are secured, take a look at the dates associated with births, deaths, and marriages. You need to make sure they make sense. Another common genealogical mistake is to record dates incorrectly, such as by dropping or inverting numbers, recording the current year (since you’re used to writing it), or otherwise typing a date that doesn’t make sense. Make sure children are born in realistic years for their parents to have had children, and make sure children aren’t listed as being born before their parents. There are other types of dates that don’t make sense you should be looking for because this is a common mistake. You want your genealogy to make sense, so it will be taken seriously. Correct any unlikely or impossible dates as you find them.

To finish up your checkup, have another look at sources that may have confused you, and areas where there was no information available. A second look at confusing sources may yield new understanding with time and distance. There may also be new interpretations of that source online or in books or genealogical magazines. If there was no information available on a particular person or event, new research in the genealogical field may have uncovered the sources you need to add that information to your family tree. You may be able to even add a few more generations to your tree with newly discovered information.

Remember, there are record collections being made available to the public for the first time all the time. Depending on a state or country’s privacy laws, a certain number of years may have to go by before certain documents are released. Other records have been hidden in dusty old courthouses and archives for decades (or centuries), and are just now being accessed by the big online genealogical companies to be scanned, indexed, and made available to subscribers or visitors. If you are missing information, having a second look around for sources, or even an annual look, may one day yield just the thing you need to take that family line to the next level and beyond.

By performing annual checkups on your genealogy this way, you can always be sure your work is as flawless as it can be in the genealogical world. You will be poised perfectly to take advantage of new discoveries and record releases to add to your tree. An annual checkup makes sure your genealogy is in perfect health, always.

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!)