Genealogy Research Tips

Read these 23 Genealogy Research Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Genealogy tips and hundreds of other topics.

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How should I keep records?

Make a note of everything you look at!

You've spent hours looking through some parish records without any luck. It's very, very easy to go on to the next search without making any notes about this - after all, you've found no information so there's nothing to write, right? No - a few months down the line you will find yourself experiencing deja'vu as you suddenly realise the records you have painstakingly searched for the last hour are the ones you looked at months ago. What a waste of time! Make sure you keep records of everything you've looked at even if it revealed nothing.

What if I can't find the right surname?

Try different spellings for the surnames you are searching

In previous years many people could not read or write, and would never - or very rarely - have seen their own names written down. This means that names were usually only spoken and often written phonetically. Imagine the parents giving the name to the vicar at the font: 'John McEwan' - 'Oh, right - John Magowan...' When searching in indexes always try to think of different ways the name could have been spelt (think of possible accents, or someone with a cold...)

How can I find out about my family legend?

Take family legends with a pinch of salt!

Family legends are fascinating, but do be careful not to take them as absolute fact. Legends can grow in the telling, so if you can, try and establish the facts through any documentation such as newspapers or parish records etc.

How do I start with family hisoy?

Start with what you know and work backwards.

Always work from the information that you have and work backwards in time. This way you can establish connections in a methodical and professional way. Trying to make a connection by starting with a possible ancestor and working forwards very rarely works and is more difficult than it sounds. Make a list of all the things you already know and work from there.

What are Some Mistakes Researchers Make?

Mistakes We Make When Searching Our Genealogy

When people are researching a family genealogy they often make some very simple mistakes. Make sure these don't happen to you!

  • Don't forget to talk to living relatives. Many researchers forget to talk to those that are alive and instead focus on those that have passed away. Living relatives are a great place to start!
  • Don't believe everything you see in print. After all, not everything we read is true. Do some research to back up what you find.
  • Just because your research says you are related to someone famous, it doesn't always mean you truly are. Don't get hung up things like celebrity.
  • Don't accept everything you read about your family and its legends as fact. Again, not everything you read is your research.
  • Do not limit your names to one spelling. Many last names were changed throughout the years and spelled differently as times changed. Keep this in mind when doing your research.

What is a Research Trip Kit?

Build a Research Trip Kit

If you are serious about doing genealogy research, you may want to build a research trip kit to take with you to the places you do your research, such as the library.

In this kit you will want the following items:

-A stapler and staples

-Sealable sandwich bags with several different sizes of paper clips for organizing like papers and several different sizes of rubber bands for binding together information

-Many sharpened pencils and erasers

-Small notepads to record small notes as you go and attach to papers you find the information from

-Lined paper in a notepad for writing larger amounts of notes

-One last sealable sandwich bag to hold coins and bills for making photocopies and printing microfilm.

This research trip kit is a great way to be prepared for those many trips to the library, genealogy society or the courthouse.

I'm getting frustrated - what should I do now?

Have fun!

Family history is one of the most enjoyable and addictive hobbies - but sometimes it can be very frustrating when you get stuck. Don't agonise too much over it - just go and search another line for while. When you come back, your mind will be refreshed and sometimes you can get some new ideas about where to search.

Why are Maiden Names Hard to Find?

Finding Maiden Names

For many years, genealogy pretty much ignored maiden names of females and their ancestral lines. Usually in the past a maiden name was given but very little information about that woman's history.

In today's genealogy world, people want to find out as much as possible about a woman's maiden name and her ancestors. However, if you have a family tree that doesn't include the maiden names of your ancestors, there are ways to still find out the information you need about her family.

Can I Take Pictures of my Research?

Photographing Your Library Research

When doing your research at the library, try taking a digital camera or even a disposable camera to photograph your findings. Many people do this instead of making copies, and others do this along with making copies of the items.

This is another interesting way to keep your finds quickly recorded for your research. You should however, make sure your library allows the use of a camera. Most do, but some do not and some do not allow the use of a flash. The library may also allow cameras but restrict exactly what you can photograph with it. It is a good idea to always ask before taking any pictures.

What Forms Should I Have For My Research?

Supplies for Your Search

Okay, so you have started your research and you have realized that writing down what you have read or found on regular paper just isn't cutting it. There are specific supplies you can use to help you out!

  • Pedigree charts are the main item you will want for documenting your research. A pedigree chart is a way you record an individual's bloodline from generation to generation. You will want the full name of each person, the birth and death of each person, and the date of marriage along with where all of these took place.
  • Keep a correspondance chart to keep records of who you have spoken to.
  • Use a research calendar that allows you record every place you have used for finding your genealogy information.
  • Use a research extract form for anything that you can't photocopy or print out. You are able to record information on it on your own.
There are still other forms you may want to utilize. Do an Internet search for genealogy supplies to find what may be missing.

What Questions Should I Ask My Family?

Ask Family Related Questions

When doing your family genealogy try to remember to ask as many family members as possible as many questions as possible. This will give you a huge amount of information to use in your search. Some good questions to ask are:

  • Where were you born?
  • Where specifically did you live when you were growing up?
  • Where did you like living the best?
  • What schools did you attend?
  • What year did you graduate from high school?
  • Did you attend college? If so, what dates and where?
  • How did you meet your spouse?
  • When did you get married?
  • Who was in your wedding?
  • Where did you honeymoon?
  • Where did you live after marriage?
The important thing to remember is to ask several questions for everyone and to get dates for everything. Having the dates and locations will help in your family genealogy search.

How Does Genealogy Keep Your Brain Healthy?

Ancestry Search and Your Brain

Did you know that researching your family history could help keep your brain healthy? It's true!

Exercising your brain helps keep it healthy and may even help prevent Alzheimer's Disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association. If you keep your brain active by staying involved and curious in things, your brain will be a healthier brain!

What is a better way to keep your brain active than researching your genealogy? You have to use your brain to do research and of course, you are pretty curious otherwise you wouldn't be wondering what your family's history is all about.

Therefore, doing genealogy because you are curious keeps your brain active, which in turn may keep your brain much healthier!

How Can I Keep My Family Tree Search Organized?

Family Tree Search Hint

When searching for your family genealogy you may struggle at times. Keeping everything organized is an easy to have the information you find right at your fingertips instead of having to dig around for your information. Just how are you supposed to keep that information organized?

If you are doing a lot of family history searching, then you should have some sort of record keeping software. Record keeping software is one of the easiest ways to keep track of and organize all the information you gather, even those that are not from the Internet. It is easy to input information and retrieve it when needed.

You can find this type of software on any major ancestry website, your local chain department store, a computer store or online stores such as Amazon. The prices will vary for each different record keeping software you look at.

What Should I Remember When Searching?

Some Specifics for Searching

When searching your family genealogy you should understand the best way to write information or input information that you are researching. You may be surprised to learn that by simply inputting information a specific way may improve your findings. Here are some tips to help you along:

  • When putting in dates of birth or death for genealogical research, you should use numbers to show the actual date and the first three letters of the month followed by the entire year. For example: 11 Nov 1999
  • If you are writing down a location, such as a city, you should be very specific. Not only should you write down the name of the city but also the county and the state in which it is located. You do not need to spell out the entire name of the state, you can use the state abbreviation.
  • Looking through a family member's last will and testimate can also give you valuable information such as birth dates, siblings, and children. This can give you valuable information when searching more than one family member.
Here's one very important tip to consider: if you are tracing your genealogy back hundreds of years, not every city was considered to be in the same state as they are currently located. Cities may not have been called the same thing as they are now. It is important to research what the names of places were when your relatives were born.

Should I Include my Unmarried Relatives in my Genealogy Research?

Your Unmarried Relatives

When doing genealogy research of your family, don't forget those unmarried relatives! Many people simply research those relatives that got married and had a family, but even those that chose not to marry and have children still have a history and a story to tell.

By omitting your single relatives you may end up missing a huge piece of your family tree, you may end up missing out on a family heirloom or even information about other unknown relatives. So, when doing your genealogy it is important to include everyone, married or not!

What is the Month of October Known As?

October and Family History

Did you know that October is Family History Month? That's right - October is the month in which you should celebrate your family history and maybe even motivate you start your own genealogy search!

In 2001 October was officially named Family History Month in hopes that people would talk to their neighbors, friends and family about their family history. It may be a great way to get to know your friends and their ancestry!

One great idea to celebrate this Family History Month is take a genealogy class. A genealogy class can help you to get started in your genealogy search for that long, lost relative who emigrated from Germany. Many genealogical societies offer genealogy classes for you to take. Online classes are offered also through major genealogy websites. It is up to you to decide which one will work best. There may be a fee for each class but it also may even be free!

What are Some Things Kids Can Do?

Genealogy for Kids

Kids can do genealogy too! There are some fun family activities you can do with your children to get them involved in your genealogy search!

Try putting together a treasure chest of genealogy supplies for your child. Put markers, old pictures, disposable camera, clipboards and scrapbooking materials in the chest. Your child can use it to make his own genealogy book.

Another fun genealogy activity for kids is to go visit places where relatives lived. Take a road trip and visit the towns your relatives once lived in. Visit the cemeteries your ancestors are buried and have them do a tombstone rubbing with a crayon and paper. It is a neat one for your child to see the dates your ancestors lived.

What Should I Know Before I start Searching?

What to Know Before Starting Your Research

Before starting your genealogy research you will need to have a general idea of what you're searching for. Here are some helpful suggestions that will help to get you started:

  • Write down what you already know about your family.
  • Ask yourself exactly what you want to learn about your family. Do you want to learn where your ancestors were born, when they died, when they were born? The more specific you are the better to help your search.
  • Decide what type of records you want to search. Do you want to search compiled records or original records? Compiled records are researched by others and original records are records that are created at the time of the event.
How you organize your information is up to you. There are charts that can help you in recording what you find in your search. The above information can help you in your genealogy search. Good luck!

What If I Can't Find My Ancestor's Name in a Search?

Name Switches

Name problems are not uncommon when researching your genealogy. You may encounter problems with spelling, phonics, and transcription errors from people who recorded the names previously. You may also find that people who have recorded your family history may have also switched first and last name.

Many census takers in history would visit several places of residence, such as boarding houses, that had several people of a different culture residing there. At times, due to the language barrier or people being absent and the census taker writing data from second hand information, the census take often combined the first name of one person with the last name of another, or even switched the first and last name of an individual.

If you are having trouble finding your ancestor in a search, try switching their first and last names and see what comes up.

What is a Family Tree Search?

Family Tree Search

If you are struggling in your search for your ancestors, there are sites out there that may make your research a bit easier. Genealogy research can be frustrating, to say the least.

Some sites allow you to enter your family ancestor information in detail and then do a search, some up to eight major genealogy sites, for you with the information you supplied.

A simple search engine search of "family tree search" may assist you in finding these types of sites. You most likely will have to register at the sites the search takes you to and some of them you will have to pay to see the information. Some will offer you a free trial period for a certain number of days while others will have you pay for the information before viewing. It really depends on the site.

Using a site that searches several sites for you may lessen your workload and your stress level. It can be very helpful, but just be prepared to pay for the genealogy information you want!

How Can I Find Vital Records?

Finding Vital Records

One great way to find information about your family genealogy is to search vital records.

Vital records are those records such as records of birth, death, marriage and divorce. The problem people often encounter is not knowing where to find these records.

How can I save time and headaches when conducting genealogical research?

Document, Record, and Copy

As you conduct your genealogy search, keep a written account of every step you make including noting the places you've visited online and in person. Alternatively, you can document your searches using video or voice recordings, whatever method works best for you. Store your documentation in a safe place, such as a fireproof filing cabinet, and make copies to be stored in a safe deposit box. In the event of your death or a natural disaster, all of your hard work won't be lost.

There is another great reason for keeping records and documentation of your research -- backtracking. Whenever you conduct a search, such as for cemetery records or census data, or find information in the form of gravestone rubbings, photographs or death certificates, keep them. Even if you do not have any clear reason for saving these documents now, you will most likely come to a dead end at some point in your research.

Backtrack using your documentation and records until you find a missing link, such as a misspelled name or date that has been altered. Sometimes issues as simple as lying to the military about being 18, as occurred frequently during war times in the past, or giving incorrect information on a census, which happened often in the case of unwed couples living under one roof, will throw a genealogical search off course.


Finding Vital Records

In the United States, you can search vital records through the library, your local courthouse and in many cases you must contact a specific city department to seek more information. For example, in Missouri if you are seeking a birth record you must contact the state's vital record department and pay a fee to receive the record you are requesting. Check out your state's policy for finding and obtaining vital family records and then begin your family genealogy search.

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Lynne Christen