The 10 Steps to Successful Genealogical Research

Ten Steps to Genealogical
Research Success
September 17, 2013
Bryan L. Mulcahy
Reference Librarian
Fort Myers-Regional Library
2450 First Street
Fort Myers, FL 33901
Tel: 239-533-4626
Fax: 239-485-1160
E-Mail: [email protected]
Step One: 6 Questions To Consider
What do you currently know?
What would you like to find out?
How can I locate more information?
Are there living family members with first
hand knowledge?
5. Are there surviving children, relatives,
neighbors, or estranged family members?
6. What resources will I need to proceed with
further research?
Step Two: Read a Beginner’s Level Book
1. Describe sources of information, record
types with illustrations
a. Family Group Sheets
b. Ancestral/Pedigree Charts
c. Individual Summary Sheets
c. Courthouse Records
d. Vital Records
2. Tips/strategies for research plans
3. Describe how and where to locate
information in home/family sources,
primary, and secondary sources.
Step Two: Reading a Beginner’s Level
Book on Genealogical Research
4. How to interview people (Oral
5. Learn techniques to deal with
stonewallers, Alzheimer's cases, etc.
6. Deal with roadblocks/inconsistencies.
7. Citing sources.
8. Organize your data.
9. Pay multiple long-term timesaving
Family Group Sheet
Ancestral/Pedigree Chart
Individual Summary Sheet
Courthouse Record-Deed
Courthouse Record-Deed
Courthouse Record-Deed
Courthouse Record-Will
Courthouse Record-Probate PacketIndex
Step Three: Join a Local Genealogical
1. Provides networking opportunities.
2. Join societies in all locations of
3. Most provide members with a variety
of research-related services.
4. Often discover a lost/unknown
relatives doing research on the same
line or neighbors familiar with the
family or ancestor.
Step Four: Inform Family Members
1. Important for the following reasons:
a. Being polite.
b. Head off potential conflict.
c. More likely to obtain cooperation
from family, neighbors, and other
relevant parties.
d. Identify candidates for Oral History
interviews (in person or via
f. May lead to unexpected sources and
research opportunities.
Step Four: Inform Family Members
2. Identify family members, friends, and
neighbors who have kept family artifacts
and memorabilia:
a. Photo Albums
b. Family Bibles
c. Diaries/Personal Correspondence
d. Legal Documents and Certificates
3. Determine how to get access to making
4. Offer to share information in exchange for
Step Five: Compile a List of Living
Relatives or Neighbors
1. Include those who express interest.
2. Include current contact information.
3. Concentrate on those with direct knowledge of
individuals and/or major events.
4. List should be prioritized by:
a. Age and health of each individual.
b. Those in the poorest health and/or the most
advanced age should be first.
c. Those who have the reputation for telling the
best stories or tend to recall the most about
family traditions and events.
5. Keep a backup list of those who don’t express
interest, but qualify. Why?
Step Six: Planning Your Questioning
1. Oral Histories - Best Option
a. Getting names and dates are important
because they help you identify and
organize your ancestors.
b. Finding out about their personalities
makes the names come alive.
c. Often shows how their decisions have
impacted you and your family today!
d. Learn facts that were never previously
Step Six: Planning Your Questioning
2. Two most common methods:
a. Long distance by correspondence or e-mail.
b. In person meeting and interview at residence.
3. Regardless of method, advance planning is
a. Reading a history of the locality.
b. Many self help books have chapters on oral
histories including sample questions and
suggested strategies.
c. Printed histories ethnic groups may shed light
on events that impacted life decisions.
d. Compile clear/concise open ended questions.
Step Six: Planning Your Questioning
4. Open Ended Questions: Goal is to prevent
interviewee from simple yes or no answers.
5. Don’t discount someone because of
6. If you choose the correspondence route,
enclose a SASE.
7. If you ask for a photograph or document,
provide an adequate sized box or envelope
for transport.
8. Be prepared for the possibility of having
to pick up the item if the family member
Step Seven: Investigate Home Sources
1. Ancestors were issued copies of documents
and certificates:
a. Vital Records:
(1) Birth
(2) Marriage
(3) Death
b. Sacramental Records
(1) Baptism
(2) Confirmation
(3) First Communion.
c. Certificates of Naturalization.
d. Awards issued by employers, civil
groups, churches, etc.
e. School diplomas and report cards.
Birth Certificate-1919
Marriage Record-1866-Freed Slaves
Marriage Certificate-Sangamon
County, Illinois October 4, 1911
Death Certificate-1884
Baptismal Certificate-Indiana-1908
First Communion Certificate-Maryland 1885
Confirmation Certificate-1922-
Step Seven: Investigate Home
2. Other prominent examples:
1. Family Bibles
5. Albums
2. Correspondence 6. Newspapers
3. Journals/Diaries 7. Scrapbooks
4. Photographs
Step Eight: Recording and
Organizing Information
1. Most important step for long-term success.
2. Numerous print and software options that
assist researchers in organizing their
3. If you invest in the growing options for
software, DO NOT dispose of original
documents and other paperwork.
4. Completely cite all sources!!!
Step Eight: Recording and
Organizing Information
5. The more data gathered and sources used
for compilation purposes, the more
important this becomes.
6. The four most popular formats in
organizing information:
a. Pedigree/Ancestor Charts
b. Family Group Sheets
c. Research and Correspondence Logs
Step Eight: Recording and
Organizing Information
7. Important guidelines to follow:
a. Use pencil for preliminary work.
b. If you do not have exact dates, pencil in
approximate dates.
c. Always use letters to indicate month
(spell the entire month out).
d. Write surnames in ALL CAPITAL
e. Use full names of parents, children, and
f. Use the maiden name for female
Step Eight: Recording and
Organizing Information
g. Underline unusual spellings of names to
denote you copied the records correctly.
h. If sex of an ancestor is different than
normal usage of the name implies underline
the sex and name to show both are correct.
i. Recorded entries should be typed or
entered in a word processor.
j. If you must write, make sure your writing
is legible and use BLOCK LETTERS
k. Use separate sheets to write down family
tales, legends, and myths.
l. Cite your sources completely
Step Nine - Using Libraries
1. Most libraries have websites that allow patrons to:
a. Search library holdings.
b. Describe how library collections are organized.
c. Services provided and fees.
d. List hours of operation.
e. Describe specific collections within the library.
f. Provide contact information for departments or
2. All libraries have unique aspects to their
collections or facilities.
3. Visiting library websites in advance of your visit.
Step Nine - Using Libraries
4. Research Logs:
a. Avoid wasted duplication of research.
b. Keep track of your sources, regardless of where you
perform research or whether you do it in person or by
5. Include the following information:
a. Date of your search.
b. Name, address, telephone number, city, and state of the
institution where source was found.
c. Name of staff member who assisted you if applicable.
d. Author of book or periodical.
e. Title of book or periodical article.
f. Library call number of book or periodical.
g. Exact page number (and volume number if applicable).
Step Nine - Using Libraries
7. Correspondence Logs: Maintain a record of all
genealogical correspondence sent via mail, e-mail,
telephone, or fax.
8. Include the following information:
a. Date of telephone call and telephone number, fax
number, Internet website address, or date when letter
was mailed
b. Name of the institution contacted
c. Brief description of information requested
d. Format and date of reply
e. Name of person who answered letter
f. Note whether the reply answered the query
g. Reference to any follow-up needed
Step Ten: Utilization of Public and
Private Records
1. Public institutions on the city, county, state, and federal
2. Most public records located at courthouses or state vital
records archives (also known as primary sources)
3. Primary records were generally created at the actual time
the event occurred, or in close proximity to when the
event occurred. A family member or person with
direct knowledge of the event usually supplied the
4. Libraries with genealogy collections (often contain
collections of secondary materials)
5. Churches
6. Professional associations
7. Schools