How to Search Original Genealogy Records

How do I search original genealogy records? My big genealogy research secret–I start with the printed materials first. Why would I do that? Every genealogist knows that the original record is where the proof is found. Right? While this may be a true statement, the question is: which original record holds the proof you need?

The answer: I use the printed information first. Printed books have indexes–at least most of them do. And tables of content. And appendixes with alphabetical lists. And if I’m lucky, maps. And introductions describing the records, what years are missing, what records are included, what sources are omitted, what portion of the population is being indexed, where the original records are located, and how best to access them.

Some introductions even evaluate the records: how complete are they, how accurate are they, what problems were encountered as the compiler worked on the project, if the compiler used other sources to fill gaps, check spellings of names and places, add missing dates. Footnotes and marginal notes written by the original clerk are included, and often indexed.

You can do the same thing by searching the original record yourself, providing you have access to the original. And there are even times when you will want to do just that. I recommend, however, that you take advantage of the leg work already done for you by compilers working with the records–to eliminate non-ancestors, identify your ancestor’s potential kinship networks, determine how often your ancestor and his kinfolks appear in the record, and which spelling variations your ancestor’s surname has in that record. These research aids will save you a ton of time and ensure that you don’t miss something significant because you overlooked a variant.

Every library and archive that I have visited offers and preserves different stuff. Family histories and family files peculiar to that specific local area and the families that lived there, passed through there, or are still living there. Some overlap always occurs. And there is always sufficient new stuff that it is worthwhile visiting adjoining library districts just to see what they have that is different.

As you check all the printed volumes for a specific county or town, you can spot those sources where your ancestor is listed as a member of someone else’s family unit–providing you with maiden surnames and spouses for children and siblings. Armed with this knowledge, you can search the original records expertly and with great success.
Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle.

PS If you find these records and sources you need posted online, be sure to look for images of the original documents—also online. Daily new resources are posted for your use.

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