The beauty of being an experienced genealogist, comes from hindsight–knowing what research steps to take and in what order those steps bring the best results. So let’s examine these steps, as if you were a genealogy beginner:
- Careful analysis of the information you already have, or what you already know. These data are called your FAMILY KNOWNS. Especially valuable are notes made in the family Bible, old letters, journals or diaries, memo books, and other jottings by older family members–these are usually closer to hard-find-ancestors by 3-4 generations. And these data apply to your own family.
- Thorough study of research efforts made by others. Family members have often made searches themselves in libraries at home or abroad. Review what they found and where they got their stuff. Use some caution–some information may be “surname” data collected because the name was similar. And source documentation may be missing.
- You may also have professional research reports prepared for someone in your family or shared by newly discovered genealogy cousins found on the internet. These reports should include documentation and analysis of the information supplied. Errors creep in where small amounts of data are used to build a complicated lineage. So review the conclusions carefully in light of YOUR FAMILY KNOWNS.
- New research in selected sources which you make in preparation for in-depth research–to fill in missing vital information like marriages and deaths. You also want to ensure that the work previously done is correct before you invest extensive time and effort to extend the lineage. And it is a good idea to gather some details on descendants–so you can locate family documents and heritage items in possession of other family members.
Since each pedigree begins with family sources–FAMILY KNOWNS–and extensions of your lineage build on family information documented and proven to be correct, your KNOWNS are identified and recorded first. For this reason, I recommend that you contact other persons who are searching for your family name. They may already know the information you lack and their help is all you need to jump-start your own work.
The primary difficulty in drafting a family tree, and the place where error is most apt to occur is assigning children to the right set of parents. Second most difficult, is identifying correctly additional marriages for husband or wife (father or mother) and marriages for each child in the family. So these items require special scrutiny. A man with small children whose wife dies in child birth will remarry quickly. A mother left to rear her children alone, will usually remarry quickly. Identity is also difficult if the new spouse shares the same given name or the same surname.
If you are working with the emigrant/immigrant generation, ensuring that you have the same, exact person on both ends of the trail or both sides of the ocean will take extra effort. Seeking proof in documents that mention both ends or tie both sides together.
Stay tuned for some key examples of research pitfalls–pitfalls that you can avoid with careful preparation for your searches. Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://arleneeakle.com
PS I’m speaking at the St George Family History Expo, 22-23 Feb 2013, at the Dixie Center, 1835 Convention Center Drive, St George UT. I have a two-part presentation on Virginia genealogy research–for advanced/experienced attendees. And Why Revolutionary War Records are Important for your Genealogy. And I will be at my booth in the Exhibit Hall when I am not speaking–SO bring your lineage and family charts for expert help on your hardest-to-find ancestors. I’d love to help you break your losing streak!