Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Stepping Off Into the Past -- Where do I start my search?

I have been concentrating on one of my lines and writing about aspects of the research in this mini-series but I have decided to use that as a tag line for research related articles in general. Given the huge amount of information online, where do we want to start? I suggest a few strategies that I have found to be very useful getting started. But please keep in mind, I am talking about getting started, not about where to stop.

As I have said many times before, the three things you need, as a minimum, to know about any person to give a positive identification is a name, a place and a date. Put another way, you need to tie a name to a specific date and a specific place. Since most genealogical records are geographically related, you should always try to identify the place where your ancestor lived. Not just generally, such as in New York or Ohio or England, but specifically down to the house and street if that is possible. Being specific in places is one way to differentiate your ancestor from all of the others out there with the same name.

But what resources would I use first and second and so forth? I have found that I can save a lot of time and effort, if I will just take the time to check the FamilySearch Research Wiki for an initial overview of what sources might be available on any particular subject. Although not perfect in every jurisdiction, the Research Wiki has a greater depth of links to resources than almost any other website on the Internet. If you are still at a loss where to start your search, then go to Cyndi's List.

But if you already know something about an ancestor and want to start right in looking at sources for known ancestors, then you need to search all of the following four sources:

I know, these are the four largest websites. But in this case, large is good. Obviously, I could write a book about each one of these sources and have written one about, but they are big, in part, because they are successful. That success comes from providing useful online records helping people find their ancestors. Three of them are fee based subscription sites, the third is which is entirely free. Since it is free, I would obviously recommend starting with that website. If you are fortunate enough to live near a FamilySearch Center, you can use all four of these resources for free on their computers.

In the case of and, if you are inclined to subscribe, I would recommend using them both to store your family tree. In both cases, the programs will partially automate the process of locating source records pertinent to your family lines. I am convinced that both these programs do a marvelous job of finding things you never would have suspected exist. Right now, as I have written recently, I have over 2400 record matches waiting for me in Most of which I would never have found otherwise.

So, after I got an idea of the kinds of resources I needed to search from the Research Wiki and/or Cyndi's List, I would diligently search all four of these databases, three at least and if my ancestors came from the UK or Ireland or Australia or New Zealand.

When I help someone with finding and ancestor, I always start by checking these sources extensively.

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