By Don Taylor
This article is part two of my genealogical process (Part 1 is here). In Part 1, I selected an ancestor, determined what I know, reviewed what I think I know, and looked at what others think they know about my ancestor. The following steps in my process are:
- Basic Research.
- Family Search.
- Your Other Paid Services.
- The Basic Questions.
- The Secondary Questions.
- Build and USE Your “Toolkit.”
- Resolve or Elucidate Conflicts.
- Basic Research.
The Basic Research
I like Family Search for several reasons. First and foremost, it is free. Next, I like how it is easy to copy the source citation data and many of the facts to the clipboard on my computer. It is also easy to download the images to my computer. I always rename the file to one based upon the data found at the top of the page. For example, If I found Enoch Mannin in the 1880 Census, the top of the presentation page says:
United States Census, 1880
I would then download the image file and name it “Enoch Mannin – United States Census, 1880.jpg.”
Next, I create my source. Under the “Notes Tab,”[i] I review the actual document and note any details that weren’t in the copy-paste of information. I add those notes or details to my notes and color the text. I add my notes in purple, so I know what I’ve added.
For example, I would add Enoch was a farmer, Manerva was Keeping house, and Sam attended school.
I have an Ancestry subscription, which I use a lot. Ancestry Library Edition is available at most libraries and can be a great help if you are on a budget. Ancestry allows for much more complicated searches. You can add a keyword to your search criteria to possibly find that ancestor with a common name that you know lived on Main Street. Once I’ve discovered a record I associate with my ancestor, I download the image and “print to PDF” the record’s details. I name both files with the same name, but one is a .jpg, and the other is a .pdf. I open the pdf and add any facts in the image but not in the printable transcribed document.
I also have subscriptions to Newspapers.Com and several other services. I figure if I pay for it, I better use it to find something about my ancestor. Searching newspapers often can provide amazing tidbits of information. I usually search for my ancestor using various name formats (i.e., “John Smith” or “Smith, John” in a particular state during particular years. Newspaper searches can be very enlightening.
It is also when you should search any other services you may have available through your library, such as MyHeritage or other sources.
The Basic Questions
The goal of this initial research is to learn the basic facts about your ancestor. Those facts include:
- Birth – Where, when & parents’ names
- Marriage – Date, place, spouse’s name.
- Death – Date & place; burial
- Census (Find the individual in all censuses.)
- Children (Births, marriages & deaths of all)
The Secondary Questions
The findings from the basic questions should lend themselves to asking many secondary questions. For example, if an ancestor is reported in the 1940 census as having had a college degree, can you find that ancestor in a yearbook or otherwise find information about their education. Likewise, if your ancestor owned their home, can you find a deed, grant, bounty, or other land ownership document.
Based upon what you have learned during the basic questions, your secondary questions might include searching for the following:
- Burial/Will/Probate records
- Education records
- Fraternal organizations
- Land Ownership
- Military Service
- Religion/Church Records
By no means is a complete list of secondary questions. Instead, secondary questions should be questions about additional records you can search for.
As you research, you can build your own “toolkit” of websites you find particularly useful. I find the Family Search Research Wiki particularly useful. It tells if there was a state census, if a county lost all of its records, and often when the state required various documents. It is my go-to place for ideas.
My second essential toolkit site is The Ancestor Hunt. Initially focused upon newspaper website, it now included links to eighteen Resource Categories, including Obituaries, Directories, School Records, even Coroner Records. It is a great resource.
Cyndi’s List is another fantastic resource. She has hundreds of categories of websites that you can find hundreds of links to various websites. She has so many links and information; I highly recommend using the “Search Cyndi’s List” search box. If you don’t know what to search for, you can find a topic by following the comprehensive category lists.
Admittedly, I tend to use online resources in my toolkit, but I do use various “Cheat Sheets,” particularly “Family Tree Magazine Research Guides.” They can also provide ideas of places to look for sources of information regarding your family. Continuing on the Research Guides, Rootsweb (now Ancestry owned) has a great reference book called Red Book: Sate, County, & Town Sources, which is now available online.
Lastly, develop your own toolkit for websites. I use my bookmarks in Chrome to store the hundreds of websites I use for my research. As an example of my toolkit, I’ve exported my “Maine” bookmarks and posted them as my “Maine Toolkit.” http://dontaylorgenealogy.com/maine-toolkit/. You will see it is throrough but not complete. Other sites of links, such as Cyndi’s List and The Ancestor Hunt, provide links to sites based upon the author’s organizational method. You should organize your bookmarks in a way that fits your way of doing business and contain links to sites or pages that worked for you.
Resolve or Elucidate Conflicts
You can never be done researching an ancestor; however, at some point you will come to the conclusion you have researched an ancestor “enough for now.” Then is time to evaluate what you have found.
When I find facts, I add them all to my genealogical software. So, I may have multiple names, different ages, different places of birth for an individual. I then evaluate the evidence. For example, was his name “Henry William Brown” or “William Henry Brown.” I then look at the sources. Are they primary[ii] or secondary[iii]? Is the evidence Direct[iv] or Indirect[v]?
When there is a conflict between facts, explain why you selected a particular fact as “preferred.”
Document any fact “shortfalls.” Are there missing birth, census, marriage, or death records? Are there any undocumented children? Also, in my notes about the person I add things like, “Do not confuse with [another person with similar attributes].
What might need to be done, where can find the answers?
- “Further Actions” might be a “traditional research” plan. It makes sense to do one once you know the exact question you are wondering about.
- Is there a record somewhere you know of that you must go somewhere to see or view? Do you need to hire a genealogist to find it?
- Is there a brick wall? If so, what might you do to bust it down? For example, I can’t find anything about my great-grandfather, John Montran. To help find answers, I have created a newspaper automated search for anyone named “Montran” that is in the news. Hopefully, I’ll find something that will provide additional information to help me learn more about him.
Much like property value is based upon three things: location, location, and location, my first rule in genealogy is document, document, and document. Not only does the process of documenting help force organization to your work, but it also helps you to consider everything carefully.
This is also a great time to research your ancestor’s locations and local to uncover events that may have contributed to their story. For example, I learned:
- The Columbia Turnpike opened in 1799 between Berkshire County, MA, and Catskill, Greene County, NY.
- My ancestors moved from Berkshire County to Windham, Greene County, NY in 1802 (25 miles from Catskill).
- It is my supposition my Parsons ancestors took advantage of the improved transportation to make the move. So, I might write something like:
- ” The opening of the Columbia Turnpike in 1799 provided an easy route for the Parsons family to locate to Windham, NY, in 1802.”
I am a huge proponent of sharing your research, conclusions, and opinions. You have spent hours researching and learning about your ancestor’s life. If you keep it to yourself, it will be lost eventually. If you aren’t proud of your research and don’t want to share it because it “might be wrong,” leave that to people who review it. Be sure to show your sources and explain why you decided upon a preferred fact, so your work will be accepted by others.
I wish you well and hope you develop your own process to review, research, elucidate conflicts, and document the lives of your ancestors.
[i] I use Family Tree Maker 2019 for Mac. However, most computer software easily allows you to paste text from your clipboard to your software’s notes.
[ii] Primary Sources are records that were created at the time of the event by a person who had direct knowledge of the event.
[iii] Secondary Sources are records that were created by a person that was not a participant of the event or is a record that was not created at the time of the event.
[iv] Direct evidence states a fact exactly and clearly.
[v] Indirect evidence provides information that you must interpret to reach a conclusion.