The “Year without Genealogy”—Back to Genealogy Basics

 The month of December (now one-half gone) is just not the same without the Salt Lake Christmas Tour sponsored by Leland and Patty Meitzler. The Tour provided us all with a stimulating week of genealogy questions answered. And usually a pre-view of work assignments to take us through the New Year. And the “Year without genealogy” needs that shot in the arm the Tour provided us—how many of our group did very little with their ancestors during Covid-19?

Let me suggest that your genealogy work and studies could benefit from a careful review of what you know about your hard-to-find ancestors. I just did that with my Nathan Hall family from Virginia—review of all the research that has been done (I read every single sheet of paper—the letters, the questions  asked originally, the extracts of records, the documents already copied—and then, I asked new questions and identified problems still not solved).

What to do next? Here let me share my three-strategy outline for Back to the Basics in 2021:

  1. Strategy #1—Basic Sources for Research Success–
    Marriage Records—begin with the records that start the family
    Census Enumerations and Substitutes—the ancestors every 5 to 10 years
    Wills, Probate Documents, and other Court Records—who lived, who died
    Land and Tax Records—the ancestors every 6 months
    Vital Records—Births, Deaths, with Divorce and Adoption Records
    Tombstones and other Cemetery Sources, including Churchyards

These records are called Basic Records because each and every research project begins in these sources. Even though there are usually numerous historical materials that can supply documentation for your ancestry, these records have proven their genealogy value time out of mind.

So what is different with this approach to genealogy research? I recommend that you search the records 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 you use to prove family relationships on your pedigree. These are local records for the most part—some are found in the courthouse; some are created at other levels of jurisdiction and oriented to the county or town. They are close to the lives your ancestors lived.

  1. Strategy #2—Make a Surname Target. 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 on p. 127). I use it as a worksheet for tough problems–

Begin with the surnames appearing on your pedigree charts, where you are stuck. If you have an uncommon name, use this strategy near the beginning of your research. If your surnames are common, your results will be better and more productive if you know something about your family before checking library catalogs and online databases. You need certain basic details before you can recognize your Smith family from the many Smith entries you will find.

Draw an archery target with five rings. Align your surnames from your pedigree and family charts to coincide with the rings: family or primary surname in the center; maiden surname next ring; in-law surnames from uncles, nephews, brothers-in-law; middle names of children that are also surnames in the next ring; and namesakes in the fifth ring–political, military, religious persons whose names are famous and infamous.

Use the target as a worksheet—actually write your surnames on the page and systematically search for all the layers until you find the answers you need.

  1. Strategy #3—Log onto Leland Meitzler’s website and order a book or two for Christmas or New Year’s to re-jumpstart your work. Pick titles that have not yet been scanned on Google Books or other genealogy websites which target your hardest-to-crack ancestors.

Add genealogy back to 2020—these three strategies are guaranteed to provide the intense focus that the Christmas Tour usually gave you. And you will be off and running again—into 2021. What you’ll miss is us: Leland and Patty and their crew, me and all the consultants, and all your Christmas Tour friends. So be sure to plan for 2021’s Tour—which could very well be the best you have ever attended—the Family History Library has continued to index and digitize and order stuff! The vaccines are here! So——–God willing and the river don’t rise, see you in 2021. Arlene Eakle

PS I am available for questions if they arise before you see me again,

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