5 Easy Steps for genealogy research – keeping your research on track
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If you are like me you can quite easily find yourself side-tracked when doing your research. For example you start looking for Army Records for an ancestor, you go onto Ancestry.co.uk or FindMyPast and you find a likely entry, start looking at those record only to find it isn’t your chap. BUT you see that this soldier served in India, you begin to wonder how he coped with all that heat after coming from the low lying Fens where his records tell you he was born and before you know it you have done searches on the British Army in India, the history of the Fens, Malaria and it’s effects on the Victorian Soldier and become what my friend Val calls a “5 minute expert” on the Raj and it’s consequences down to the present day!!
This is all very fascinating and great if you have all the time in the world, but you won’t have achieved your original goal of finding the army records of your ancestor. Here are some tips on staying focused on your genealogy research.
1. Focus on one ancestor and the research problem you want to solve.
I have found, over the years, that most genealogists love stationery ! Notebooks in particular are my “can’t resist buying” item. So it is handy that I always have a stash of them ready for when I want to focus on a particular piece of research. Clearly identify what you want to achieve and write it down. Note all the information you have so far proved so that you don’t double up on your research particularly if it has been a while since you look at that ancestor and their life. Include family hearsay, but mark it as unsubstantiated and that it may be incorrect. Family gossip may be totally wrong, but often has a grain of truth in there somewhere so it is always worth noting.
2. Identify what records will help you answer your questions.
Identify the records that might contain the details that you are looking for. For example if you want to find why an ancestor stated they were born in India on a census then you would want to look at army records for their father, newspaper birth announcements in the newspaper local to where the family were from in the UK, but also in Indian newspapers, you would want to check out the “The Families In British India Society (FIBIS) records, shipping lists and so on.
3. List priorities.
Look at your list of records and place them in order of priority. Make a new list starting with the records most likely to hold the information you seek and ending with those which you will only look at if time allows and if you are desperate! Then research where these records are held online or if they aren’t online which archives hold them.
4. Start Researching.
Starting with your no 1 record start your research. I suggest that you use a new page in your notebook, heading up the page with the full title of the record and where you have found it. Plus of course note the names that you are searching the record for. I have notebooks that go back many years and on occasion I have delved into them looking for a piece of research that I have undertaken years previously. If I haven’t noted down exactly what I searched and the names I was looking for then I may as well not have kept the notes. I also date when I was searching so that I can check if there have been any updates or additions to the records since my search. This is particularly important with online records.
5. Keeping copies.
Once you have found something of interest it is good practice to not just add it into your family tree, but to also keep a copy of the document. If you are researching in an archive ask if they allow photocopies to be made or if you can take a photograph of the document.
If the document is online and there is the option to download a copy then do so. If the download facility isn’t available you can grab a screen shot. Simply hold down the Alt key whilst taping the PrtScr key. You will then be able to put the image into an image programme such as Irfan View which is an excellent free programme available for download. You can then crop out areas that you don’t want to have on your saved image leaving an image of just the record.
I keep a folder on my computer labeled Genealogy then under that heading I have sub-folders for each Family/Surname and then under that a folder for each individual. I mark the family/surname first then first/christian name and year of birth and death – example Matkin, Joseph 1832 – 1871. The documents get a brief description of what they are when I save them to that persons folder – such as “Bombay newspaper birth 1857”.
This allows me to always go back to the record and look at it if another query comes up at a later date. I am a great believer in not only linking to records on website such as Ancestry or FindMyPast as they can change the place where the records are held and the link can then become invalid.
Of course you will note in your notebook what you found and where you found it and also that you have stored a copy in the folder on your computer. If your search brings up a negative search then of course note that down as this will save you duplicating the search in the future.
6. Rinse and Repeat.
Depending on whether you have been able to answer your research query you can then decide on your next step. If you have not been able to find the information you want, then rethink where that may be found and re-start at step 2. If you have been successful then you may well find that the answer has thrown up another group of questions and so you begin at step 1. However if you have successfully answered your query, updated your family tree, saved a copy of the record and have no more questions about that person then you can choose another ancestor and start at step 1.
Family History is really a giant puzzle with some of the pieces missing, I am sure most genealogists enjoy the hunt and solving the puzzle and the good thing is that there will always be plenty of puzzles to solve!
Having said all of the above I must say I rather like getting side-tracked sometimes and I have wandered down many historic avenues that have been fascinating. My head is full of miscellaneous genealogical and historic facts that I sure with come in handy ……… some day!