As a genealogist, your goal is as perfect a family tree as possible. While there are always uncertainties in genealogy, and new archive discoveries, as well as DNA, continually change long-held assumptions about families from royalty to farmers, getting your research as perfect as you can with the information available to you is paramount. In fact, you can never have too much advice about building a flawless family tree.
In helping you with your quest for excellence in genealogical research, here are some tips you might not have heard of before, but are very useful in building a strong family tree.
Be Selective in Your Research
Your family tree has hundreds of lines. As you go back in time beyond three or four centuries, it turns into thousands. This is because the number of your ancestors doubles with each generation going backward. You have four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents, 32 great-great-great grandparents, and so on. You obviously can’t just jump into your family tree and swim around in the leaves, hoping to find something useful. You have to focus on one line at a time, and in doing so, be selective with your research.
Decide which branch you want to work on first. Then, decide if you are only going to take it back to the first immigrant to North America, or if you are going to follow it back as far in time as you can. Don’t forget the female lines as you do your research. They are just as important to your lineage as the male lines. Once you’ve done enough work to satisfy yourself on one branch, move on to another, with the same amount of focus.
Understand the Availability of Records
You are going to find more records for your own generation, and the two or three just before you, than anything farther back in time. There are a few reasons for this. At first, it will be because certain vital records were not required until the late 19th to early 20th century. As you go even farther back in time beyond the 1880’s and 1890’s, you will discover that all or most of the records you need simply aren’t there, because they have been lost during the passage of time. Courthouse fires are a common reason for lost records. Others are lost be courthouses, archives, and the families that kept them.
Some may actually still be out there, but hidden, in places no one has looked in centuries. They will most likely come to light one day, but may not be available while you are researching. Do not get discouraged and quit if you can’t find a record you need. There are usually alternative sources for most things, and articles have been written on them. Look for them, instead.
Don’t Copy Research that Has Already Been Done
There is a chance someone might have already researched your family tree. Their work may be online or in the form of a published book. Do a check for these things before devoting too much time to a family line. However, do not take everything published online or in a book as gospel, either. Make sure anything you find has sources, and check for yourself to make sure those sources are correct. Only then can you use someone else’s research in your family tree; if you do, be sure to give them credit in your own source citations.
Use the Library
Don’t let having a limited budget keep you from doing your genealogy research. Some of the best research sites are expensive to use, such as Ancestry.com and GenealogyBank.com. Ordering the records you might have found on these sites can cost money, too. So, save yourself some money and further your genealogy research by going to the library.
There are free genealogy resources online, but they are not always indexed, and it can take some time to search through them. On the other hand, most libraries have subscriptions to the expensive genealogy websites, and you can use them for free on the library’s computers. There are even some genealogy websites that are ONLY available to libraries, such as Lexis/Nexis and ReadEx. You will want to take advantage of all of these. You might even find some interesting information those who only rely on subscription sites at home will miss. – Learn More
Anything in genealogy can be open to interpretation or even suspect in nature, including government documents. The information on any document is only as good as the person providing it. When looking at sources, question the origin of the information, the reliability of the person giving it, and whether any transcription errors may have occurred. Also, think about the time period in which the document was generated, and how certain things in that time may have different meanings in the past than they do today. Always look for alternative sources, as many as you can find, to back up or refute the documents you find.
Your genealogy work will only be reliable to future generations (and publishers) if you keep good records of your work as you go. Don’t just treat your work haphazardly like a hobby, even if that is what it is. Even as a hobby, you want your work to be taken seriously. Being organized means you will know what work you have done, what work you still need to do, what sources you have used, and their origin and reliability.
Having this information is good not only for giving credibility to your work but for keeping you on track. Once you have researched several lines (and branches of those lines), you may forget what you have learned, and what the sources you used said. If your work brings you back to those lines, you will have all the information you need at your fingertips to pick it right back up again without repeating any research work. – Learn More
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!)