Fortify your Genealogy Research Projects

  1. Choose a history of the area where your ancestors lived. Read the Introduction, Preface, Footnotes, and Bibliography first. If these are not present, choose a different history! You need these scholarly trappings to know the work you are about to study is authentic. And, to discover new indexes, newly recovered sources not used before on your lineage, little-known records whose evidence is applied directly to ancestors which might be yours.
  2. Start a timeline. Create a whole new record: go to and download, as a Word document, the timeline designed by Holly Hansen. You can write on it or, type your data as you go.
  3. Take note: you are creating a new genealogical record! Include the date the county was organized, the actual date when the county officials were appointed and when they showed up for work—this is the beginning of the records. Note the parent counties, and counties created from that county. Include call numbers for the sources you reference, so your timeline can serve as a research guide for others and for yourself if you have to re-trace your steps at any time.
  4. Find a map. Watch for detailed maps—showing local place names, rivers, and streams, where towns and cities are. After a bit, your files need to include maps for each major time period and each location where your ancestors resided, conducted their business, moved around, and so on. Watch for the spokes of the wheel, where the roads all lead to the same place. These towns and cities will have the courthouse, the cathedral, the post office, the university, the principal cemetery.
  5. Search for a periodical that covers the area, the county, the town where your ancestors resided. Most genealogical societies publish a quarterly and a newsletter or a bulletin that apply to local places. And these publications are now appearing online. If you don’t have a library nearby that subscribes, you can get your own subscription so you can access all of the issues that have been published. I prefer to begin with Volume 1, Number 1 and read them all. But, I read whatever issues I can get. Read the articles and documents that apply to the period of time you are looking for your ancestors, whether they mention your ancestors or not. You will learn, in a short time, about the people who settled that place, where they came from, who they came with, when they arrived, and where they went when they left. You will discover how they are inter-related to each other.

These items–copies and notes–become your locality background file. It is as important as the documents you collect along the way. When a clerk writes a document, he assumes that others will know the underlying premises of that document. And he may even abbreviate names and key words in the document. Your preliminary reading and study will enable you to understand what the record implies but does not state outright.

Most genealogists discover this strategy as a part of their work. You will be ahead of the game by doing it at the beginning of your project. Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS Step-by-step research strategies are not just for beginners. Genealogists of any level of skill benefit by adopting strategies that work. Be well. And please stay tuned!

PPS I returned from Oregon with another 30+ boxes of the Conner-Bishop Library in my van. The Northwest is a tinder-box just waiting to ignite–the years of continued drought are taking their toll. I drove head-on into a fire along the Columbia Gorge on both sides of the freeway. The firefighters let the cars through at a crawl. And it was scary.

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