This is part two of the series "The Beginning Genealogist". Glad to see you! If you haven't read part one, please do so now because the articles all pick up where the previous ones left off.
Let's dive right in!
[Genealogy Research Primer #1]
Analyze information gleaned from interviews.
Notice you haven’t even touched your shiny new genealogy program yet, except going in to poke and around and play. You’ll be able to play with it some more in a little bit, but we have some work to tend to first.
First, number your interview papers to make it easy to refer back to those. The order doesn't matter, you just want to make it easy for yourself to quickly refer back to them.
Grab a piece of scrap piece of paper (or use the interview date analysis form in the workbook).
From your original paper on what you knew and didn't know, write every name down on a new line. Make a column for birth dates and places, marriage dates and places, and death dates and places.
Write what you thought you knew first. If the information from the interviews differ, write those dates below those, with the number of the interview paper beside it.
If you learned about someone you hadn't originally wrote down, write that name down too the with number of the interview beside it.
I'm pretty sure you have a lot more information from the interviews than the basic birth, marriage, and death. If you have other dates, add those in as well, in different columns.
You may need to start a new sheet. Just make sure you continue sourcing the information to an interview using the number of the interview.
Compare everything you think you know with the interview results. Does it match? Does the information differ? If it differs, why do you think that is? It doesn't matter right now who is wrong or right. For now, you just want to analyze this information in order to draw questions from what you learned.
[Genealogy Research Primer #2]
Formulate questions from what you found.
Why did _______ say ______ died in 1960, when I thought she had died in 1963?
Why isn't _____ buried in the same cemetery as his wife?
______ is buried in ______ Cemetery, but when did they pass away?
I know that ______ had a first spouse, so who was it and are there other children?
One person said ____ was born in 1915, while another said he was born in 1922. When was he actually born?
Write these questions down, you'll need them for your next step. Make sure you save all of your papers!
Now, I know someone out there is saying “BUT IT'S ABOUT A LOT MORE THAN DATES!!!!!!!”. I agree completely. However, you have to remember that the dates are also of importance.
Your ancestors do not live in this time period. They probably never saw the first computer. Many didn't even have electricity, never mind indoor plumbing.
The dates that you are beginning to discover now are of grave importance. They will clue you in to the time period your ancestors lived in – their surroundings, living conditions, world events, wars, and even fashion statements.
Only by using dates are you able build a complete picture of someone's life.
Dates give you clues on where to look for more information. Dates help you figure out who is in that old family photograph. Dates help you distinguish between two people of the same name, and dates can even aid in determining relationships. So, dates are pretty important.
With that being said, you need to keep in mind, especially as a beginning genealogist, that while dates are very important, genealogy is not all about the dates.
Many beginners cease research on a particular person once they find all of the important dates relating to a person -- birth, marriage, death, and the birth dates of their children.
Little do they know, they are missing the entire point of genealogy – to learn about a person as an individual, and the life that they lived. Stories and information on a person's life is what makes your family unique, that person unique, and the story as a whole interesting.
Just keep in the back of your mind -- dates are incredibly important to uncovering the stories of your ancestors, but are not the end-all to genealogy.
[Genealogy Research Primer #3]
Inserting Your Information Into Your Genealogy Software
Now is where the fun really begins, if you weren't having fun already!
Take the form or scrap piece of paper where you have all of your dates listed, and enter everything into your genealogy program. If you get stuck, you can usually find tutorials using the program's help feature or by Googling the program's name, and adding the word tutorial after it.
If you have conflicting dates, most software will allow you to enter multiple events, such as two death dates. Most software will also allow you to add alternative names (e.g. Your grandmother said her grandmother's middle name was Elizabeth, you always heard that is was Eliza), and places as well.
When you have conflicting information, don't automatically assume one person is correct over the other, even if one is more closely related to a particular person than the other. Enter both pieces of information until you are able to prove that one is correct. You'll be able to do this later using sources, discussed below.
[Genealogy Research Primer #4]
Add your sources (they are incredibly important)!!
1) A source is a record of some sort that you drew your information from or used to draw a particular conclusion.
2) A repository is the holder of a particular record or where you obtained the record from.
One source can technically have multiple repositories, so make sure when making your source statements you use the correct repository, or when inserting the source into your genealogy program you select the correct repository to go with your source. For example, the 1850 census can be sourced from many repositories both physical and online)
Keep in mind, the entire point of sourcing your information is so that you know exactly where you got Fannie’s birth date or Uncle John’s legendary obituary and to be able to analyze the information you have collected as evidence in order to draw conclusions, painting a picture of a life story.
In order for you to use your sources, YOU HAVE TO BE ABLE TO READ AND UNDERSTAND THEM.
Yes, I was, in fact, yelling at you. It is a very important point.
Sources are somewhat looser in genealogy than in a research report. There’s no strict MLA style. Sure, there is a generally accepted style, but as long as you and other researchers can read and understand them, you are probably doing it right.
Your sources will become invaluable to you as you progress on your research journey. Make sure you add in your sources, now, instead of having to re-do everything later!
For more information on how to source different information, check out Genealogy.com's article here, or purchase the book Evidence Explained for a thorough discussion plus excellent examples on sourcing literally everything.
We are just skimming the surface of sources here as this is a quick-start guide. However, if there is anything that you take away today from this lesson, please let it be that you must source any and all information in your research.
As a teenager, my father handed me his research and I continued it. I researched up and down and every which way until I uncovered many, many more branches of our family tree. I couldn't find any more information on any of these people and I was frustrated.
I showed my research to a more experienced family historian who was not related to my research, hoping she could help me figure out where I could look for more information.
Her reply was simple. "Where are your sources?"
I gave her a funny look, because she was apparently speaking in tongue.
"Your sources. Where did you find this information?"
"I don't remember."
"Well, if you want to find any more information on your family, you need to re-do this research and record where you are getting each piece of information from. There is nothing here for me to be able to help you."
I was a little upset with her that she wouldn't even look through what I had -- I had spent over a year researching this stuff after all!
Eventually, I reluctantly took her advice.
A funny thing happened. So many of my longest standing research questions were easily answered.
Why? Because I was able to determine which source was more likely to be correct, where I had looked before, and go over records time and time again. I was able to analyze the information that I found.
[Genealogy Research Primer #5]
Specifying A Target
Most genealogists main goal is to find out as much about their particular family as humanly possible. But that is a goal, not a target!
You have to start somewhere. By deciding to research everyone all at the same time, you'll lose track of where you are, what you need to research more, and probably hit more brick walls then necessary.
Did anyone, or even a particular line, stick out to you as exceptionally interesting? That's where you should start. If not, pick out one line, and start there.
Maybe you're slightly more interested in your surname origins – start with your paternal line. Pick your Grandfather's side and work back.
Or maybe you'd like to know more information on your mother's mother. Perhaps she died before you were born and that line is of particular interest to you – pick your maternal side of the family, and your Grandmother's line.
As a side note, your target should at least somewhat align with the research questions you formulated above, or at least the majority of them. In further posts, we will use these questions to do some research. But...
Don't panic! Just because you are specifying a target now doesn't mean you can't switch it up later. In fact, I tend to bounce around on my lines within specified time frames, so that every line gets the same amount of love and attention as the others.
What you are doing now is simply saying that you are going to start with a particular line until further notice. Just make that pact with yourself. It will make your research easier and more directed.
At this point, you should have some questions for further research from the interviews as well as a research target. You should also have all of your interview information put into your genealogy program with proper SOURCES! Take a break, reflect, relax, and come back for the next part of this series!
Have questions? Comment below! As always, we are more than happy to help in any way that we can.
See you at the next step! Happy Researching!
We use this timeline to help us understand the events that may have affected or shaped a person's life. Here are some ideas as to how this timeline may help your further your own research: