Back to the Genealogy Basics…

…Fall (usually considered to be September, October, and November) reminds us to return back to the basics. School is in session with both old students and new students. And genealogy studies, like gong back to school, can benefit from a review of what you’re doing and how to do it better, more effectively, and with less failure.

So, Back to the Genealogy Basics…
Basic Sources for Research Success

1.  Marriage Records
2. Census
3. Wills, Probate Documents, and other Court Records
4. Land and Tax Records
5. Vital Records
6. Tombstones and other Cemetery Sources

These records are considered Basic because you begin your research efforts each and every time in these records and sources. Even though there are numerous historical materials that supply data and documentation for your ancestry, these records have proven their genealogy value time after time.

So what is different with this approach to genealogy research? I recommend that you search them in this order—for efficiency in building your family tree, for accuracy in the persons you assign places on that tree, and for thoroughness in the documentation that you use to prove family relationships on your pedigree.

These Basic Sources are local sources; some are found in the courthouse. Some are created at other levels of jurisdiction, and oriented to the county or town. These sources are close to home—close to the local residences where your ancestors lived their lives, among their relatives and friends. And because they are close to home, you search them first.

Surname Target Strategy: This is a very old research strategy taught and demonstrated by Derek Harland, A Basic Course in Genealogy, Volume 2: Research Procedure and Evaluation of Evidence. Salt Lake City UT: Bookcraft, Inc. 1958. Reprinted as Genealogical Research Standards (target is pictured on page 127). I use it as a worksheet for tough genealogy research problems:

  1. Begin with the surnames appearing on your pedigree charts, where you are stuck. If you have an uncommon surname, use this strategy at or near the beginning of your research. If you have a common surname, your results will be better and more productive if you know something about your family before you begin checking library catalogs and indexes on internet websites. You need certain basic details before you can recognize your Smith family from the many Smith entries you will find.
  2. Draw an archery target with at least 5 rings. Align the names from your pedigree and family charts to coincide with the rings–family or primary surname, maiden surname of wife or mother, in-law surnames of uncles, nephews, brothers-in law, middle names of children that are also surnames–like Ambrose Smallwood Curtis, and namesakes within the family which appear in every generation like Swinfield Hill Curtis: namesake surnames for children named for military or political figures, or well-known religious leaders.
  3. Use the Surname Target as a worksheet and systematically search for all layers of the target until you find the answers you need.

Break your losing streak! A combination of these two working strategies, will give you success. Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS Check my website Home Page (left-hand menu) for my speaking and research trip schedule for an event near you–where you can talk to me direct and ask your questions. And remember that I am one of the few professional researchers who still does field research. I go where the answers are most likely to be found.

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