My Genealogical Process – Part 2 of 2

By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.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.
      • Ancestry
      • Your Other Paid Services.
      • The Basic Questions.
      • The Secondary Questions.
      • Build and USE Your “Toolkit.”
    • Resolve or Elucidate Conflicts.
    • Document

The Basic Research

Family Search

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:

Enoch Mannin
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.

Other Services

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
    • Immigration/Naturalization
    • 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.

Your Toolkit

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.” 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].

Further Actions

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.

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.

For Online Divorce Records – See The Ancestor Hunt

Tuesday’s Tips
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.I recently saw an excellent posting on The Ancestor Hunt about Divorce Record Collections for Maine. They mention that some of the images may only be available at a Family History Center or an Affiliated Library. Remember, the Scarborough Public Library is an Affiliated Library. Due to Covid restrictions, access to the library and its resources is somewhat limited. (Check with them for access, reservations, etc.) However, I understand that the Scarborough Public Library’s WIFI is accessible from the parking lot. When you are researching and encounter a record that the image is “only available at an affiliated library,” save it to your Source Box. (I’d make a folder for “Get image a Library.) That way, you can easily find it and download the image when you are at Family History Center or an Affiliated Library. See the Ancestor Hunt Divorce Records page for other states. See the Introduction to Family History Centers and the FamilySearch Affiliate Libraries page. There are six Affiliate Libraries in Maine located in:

        • Augusta
        • Camden
        • Fort Fairfield
        • Kennebunk
        • Scarborough
        • Springvale

The Genealogy Collection at the Internet Archive

Tuesday’s Tips

Internet Archive LogoI know I’ve mentioned the Internet Archive many times. I think they are amazing, and I thank them so much for their efforts and work. Besides the 125+ Scarborough Historical Society books that I’ve uploaded, the Internet Archive and their Wayback Machine provide a historical archive of the Internet, they have many additional resources.

One feature I knew about, but I had never used, is their Genealogy Collection. It provides a shortcut to many collections such as those from the Allen County Public Library and “Reclaim the Records.”  A search of the Genealogy Collection for “Scarborough, Maine” yielded three items. I knew about the two Scarborough Town Reports posted by the Allen County Public Library. However, the third was The ancestry of Charity Haley, 1775-1800 : wife of Major Nicholas Davis of Limington, Maine. In it, there was a chapter, “Edgecomb, of Scarborough and Biddeford.” The chapter begins with Nicholas Edgecomb arriving at Richmond’s Island about 1638. If you have Edgecomb ancestors, you definitely will want to read the 16 pages of information.

Besides my SHS uploads, I donate financially occasionally to help fund this extraordinary resource.  I hope you will consider donating here.

By the way, my thanks to Roberta Estes for her blog, DNAeXplained. Her post reminded me about the Genealogy Collection. I highly recommend following her blog-It’s a good one.

Family Search’s “Family History Activities”

Tuesday Tips
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.I was reading Randy Seaver’s blog, Genea-Musings, where he used FamilySearch’s Famous Relatives and found he was related to Lucille Ball. I thought that is kind of cool. I wonder if I am related also. Sure enough, according to Famous Relatives, I am. Lucy is my 9th cousin once removed. Interestingly, I’m related through Lucy’s mother’s line while Randy is related through Lucy’s father’s line.  On my side, Lucy is related through my father’s line – Roberts-Barnes-Taft line.  It is fun and interesting, but is it accurate?  Maybe.

My research has tentatively found John Whitney s my 5th great-grandfather. I need to research more to discover his mother and three more generations to get to Lucy and my common ancestors Anthony Day (1624-1707) and Susannah Matchett (1623-1717). I might get there someday.

I hadn’t tried Famous Relatives before, so I looked at its capabilities a little more. They have a category of relatives called “Trailblazers.” It showed that I am descended from 15 of the Mayflower passengers. Joan Hurst, a Mayflower passenger, is my 12th great-grandmother on my mother’s father’s (Richard Earl Brown) line. Richard Warren, another Mayflower passenger) is my 10th great-grandfather on my Roberts-Barnes side.

Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall (1882) – Public Domain

My research had never found a Mayflower passenger in my direct lineage, but now, thanks to Famous Relatives, I have 15 lines to follow to potential Mayflower passengers. I’ll bet at least one of them is right. I can see I have lots more research to do on my Roberts and Brown lines. I just wish I could figure out how to do it so my wife’s famous relatives would be identified.

“Famous Relatives” is one of 18 new “Family History Activities” presented by Family Search. Another of the activities is “Where am I from.” A quick look at it shows I have two ancestors from Maine (and 19 in England). One of my ancestors is again John Whitney’s mother, Phebe Day. She apparently was born in Wells, Maine in 1721. She is a second reason to research my Whitney-Day ancestors in depth. Another of my “Maine Ancestors” is wrong. It shows a relationship through Henry Mack Brown’s (1845-1906) wife, Chloey Lavinia Andrews (1846-1885). However, I am confident Henry and Chloey are not the parents of Arthur D. Brown. I’ve written about that error before.[i] I just don’t know how to change it in Family Search, or if I should.

In any event, having a Maine ancestor gives me hope for a reason for in-person Maine research. Wells is only a quick half-hour drive away.

Regardless of rights and wrongs, the various “Family History Activities” at FamilySearch can give hints for further research and might even motivate you to research a particular line in greater depth.


Bump research for
41. Lucy Wilson Taft (___-___),
82. Asa Taft (1774-1839), and
83. Sarah Whitney (1773-1811) up and continue researching various potential Mayflower lineages.


[i] William Henry  Brown (1843-1888) and Marion Sanford (1846-1895) are Arthur’s parents.