My Genealogical Process – Part 1 of 2

By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.Several weeks ago, I gave a talk at the Greater Portland Chapter of The Maine Genealogical Society regarding my process. I had mentioned that I don’t typically use a genealogical plan in the traditional sense that most genealogists do. Instead, by following a process that I follow every time for my ancestors, I have a robust and more complete vision of my ancestors. Using a consistency in approach definitely improves efficiency, reduces duplication, and reduces skipped steps. It is like a “plan,” but it is a plan to use with every ancestor you research

Use Genealogical Software

I recommend using genealogical software. I don’t think it matters a lot what program you use. I use Family Tree Maker. There are many other great products available. I’ve previously used several other programs, including RootsMagic, Legacy Family Tree, Heredis, and Reunion.

The ultimate purpose of using genealogical software is that it provides linkage. When you create a source, you can link the source to a fact and link the fact to individuals. Then you can look at an individual, see their facts and see the links to the source. It provides a 3-way picture of how things interrelate. The software also provides a means to manage those facts easily. Providing precise citations for your sources provides the information necessary so that other researchers can follow in your footsteps and duplicate what you found. Having good source citations provides credibility in the work that you’ve done.

Select a person

I use ahnentafel numbers for my ancestors. Starting at any number, I typically research that ancestor, then the following Ahnentafel number, then the next. It helps me build upon my previous work. Alternately, starting at any person, I follow a line by researching that person, then double the number to their father, double again to their grandfather. A second alternative is to focus upon a location and study the people in that location. Often a single place focuses upon a family line, but it can also help build an understanding of sources available for that location and improve FAN[i] research.

My Steps

    • Review
      • Review what I know.
      • Review what I think you know.
      • Review what others think they know.
    • Research
    • Resolve or Elucidate Conflicts.
    • Document

[In Part 2 of this article, I’ll write about Doing Your Research, Resolving Conflicts, and Documenting. But for now, I’ll focus on Reviewing.]

Review – What you Know

As you have build up facts regarding an ancestor you have also developed facts for other ancestors. For example, if you find your grandfather in the 1940 census, you should have learned about the other family members in 1940 – maybe his parents’ names and ages (approximate birth year). What you know is that the 1940 Census indicated the family as it existed. That source should be applied to all of the individuals mentioned.  The steps to “Review what you know:”

Review all your sources for that individual’s facts:

    • Is the source/citation proper and complete?
    • Is all of the information from that source incorporated into facts?
    • Are all the facts associated with all the people?
      (For example, looking at the 1840 Census, are all of the children expected to be in the family identified as “apparent” in your tree.)

In many respects, I think of this a part of a “Do-Over”[ii] in that you are looking at your sources and making sure what you have suggests facts.

Review – What you think you know

Somehow we all seem to have facts regarding our ancestors that we don’t have a source for that fact. All facts should have a source. You should endeavor to identify a source for all facts you have associated with an individual. Reviewing what you know and what you think you know should put your ancestor into a fresh, pristine, starting place for further research.

Review – What Others think they Know

Finding your ancestor on Family Search or other people’s Ancestry Trees is a great place to begin. However, don’t copy their conclusions, relationships, or facts into your tree. Instead, look only at their sources.

    • Do you have that same source already? It is nice to know others agree with you, isn’t it?
    • Does their source apply to your ancestor? Is there enough to prove to you that it is an accurate conclusion and that the source document contains facts you should enter into your tree? Often when someone gets the source to person wrong, it replicates to many other trees. So, just because many people think it is correct, that doesn’t make it right.
    • Again, DO NOT accept other people’s facts; create your own facts based upon the source you have found.

This step is sort of the beginning of your research, but you are using the expertise of others to get you started. I enter all information into my facts. For example, I’ll sometimes have several name entries, “John,” “Jack,” “John Henry,” or any other name that refers to the individual. Likewise, birthdates often seem to change in various documents. I enter them all. Later on, in the Resolve Conflicts step, I’ll address the different names or birthdates.

Next time, in Part 2, I’ll address Doing Your Own Research, answering the Basic and Secondary Questions, Toolkits, Conflicts, and Documentation.

Part 2 will publish on July 6th and will post HERE.


[i] Family, Associates, & Neighbors
[ii] Thomas MacEntee has an excellent book, The Genealogy Do-Over Workbook that can help show you ways to clean up your past genealogical errors and omissions.

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