Sometimes, novice genealogists wonder if the subscription and non-subscription genealogy websites really work. If they have actually started using them, they may not be getting as much out of these sites as they imagined. If you are a beginning genealogist and are not finding the type of information you expect on family tree and genealogy research websites, it is usually not because they don’t work. These sites are very reliable and have quite valuable information you would otherwise have to travel long distances to locate or pay high fees to get through the mail. If they didn’t work, they wouldn’t have millions of happy subscribers and users. The issue with most beginning genealogists and family tree websites is that they don’t know how to use them to their best advantage.
If you’re a beginning genealogist and want to learn how to use family tree websites so they work for you, and you’re able to get the best possible information on your family by using them, here’s what you need to know.
Understand What is Available on the Site You’re Using
Not every family tree website is going to have every genealogical record. Most of them specialize in certain types of records. Even large sites with many different record collections, like Ancestry.com, don’t have everything. There are other sites with records that fill in the gaps in Ancestry.com‘s records (and others duplicate them). Knowing what the site you’re using has in its databases before you start looking will save you a ton of frustration and disappointment. It is also smart to study what record collections a subscription site has before joining it, so you’ll know if it’s a site you can use. If the site has what you need, the chances are higher you’ll feel like you got your money’s worth from using it, and you’re also more likely to keep renewing your subscription.
Actually, Use the Site
If you subscribe to a family tree site, actually use it. This means using it on at least a semi-regular basis. If you just use it once, a few times, or not at all, you likely won’t find much of use to you and will feel like the site didn’t work and wasn’t worth your money. However, in reality, the site works just fine. You just didn’t make it work for you by using it. It takes a few uses on most sites to start getting the hang of the site and to learn how to find the records you want for your genealogy research. Don’t give up if you don’t have a productive introductory use. Ask for help on the site’s message boards or from the help desk if you really need it, or just keep working with it until you understand the site. You’ll soon start finding all kinds of amazing records about your family’s history.
Have Some Basic Family Information in Hand When You Start Your Search on Any Family Tree Website
Most family tree websites won’t do you much good if you don’t know what you’re looking for on them. Even if you only have some basic information on one family line, start with that and see where it takes you. You would be surprised how many new family lines you can discover from just having a handful of names (and sometimes even just one name) on one line. Basically, you need a place to begin. When you find records pertaining to the person you’re searching, these will usually lead you to others in that line, or into other lines through marriages. Wait until you have a name to get you going before you use any family tree website, subscription or free.
The farther back you trace your family tree, the greater the likelihood becomes that you will find someone has written a book or published an online tree of that family taking them even farther back in time. These can be terrific resources, but you have to make sure the information you’re discovering is correct. You don’t want to build a family tree on the information you might discover later is incorrect. Even if you don’t discover it, you want your family tree to be accurate. So don’t take anyone’s word for it unless you verify their sources for yourself by looking up the original documents listed in the source section. If there are no sources, you need to find them to verify the information is correct. Do these things, and you will find that all family tree websites you use will work perfectly for 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!)