In recent articles we’ve devoted our time to getting started with genealogy and how to stay organized. These articles represent simple, but important steps for moving forward with your genealogy research.
In our last article on Genealogy Charts, Forms and Outlines we discussed how genealogy is similar to putting together a big jigsaw puzzle. You start out with a few pieces of the puzzle (names, dates and locations) with the goal being to piece all of this information together in order to complete your family history.
As mentioned though, unlike a jigsaw puzzle, you’ll find that you don’t have the luxury to see the completed picture of the puzzle before you begin. You basically will work on this picture at same time that you are doing your research. In our last article we mentioned that one way to a working picture of your research is to make use of pedigree charts or other types of forms or outlines.
Hopefully you’ve downloaded our free charts and forms (click here to view this article) and have had a chance to start filling in some of the family information that you’ve already gathered. If you’ve completed all of these steps, you’re well on the way to uncovering your family history.
But, the journey is just beginning and it might be filled with some surprises and interesting details about your family.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that you’re working with a pedigree chart (like the one shown here). After you’ve filled in some detail, you’ve probably noticed a few areas that are missing a name, date or location. You may be asking yourself, “where do I go from here and what are my next steps?”.
Now that you’ve reached this point, one of the most important steps that you can take is to establish some priorities for your research. Without priorities you’ll soon discover that your time and energies are being pulled in several different directions at the same time. Establishing genealogy research priorities will save you a lot of time, energy and much frustration.
How do you establish these priorities? First, look at what’s of most interest to you with your research. For example, are you more interested in exploring your father’s side or your mother’s side? Long term, the answer to this won’t matter much, but if you’re just starting your genealogy research, we suggest that you take the easiest path possible.
What do we mean by this? First, look at the amount of information about your family that you have on hand. Do you have more to go on with the Mother’s side (“maternal”) or the father’s side (“paternal”). The paternal side is usually a bit easier to begin with because last names are usually passed down from generation to generation though the father. (There are exceptions to this practice based on the country or date that an individual was named).
Secondly, you’ll need to take into consideration the surname that you are interested in researching. Is it “Jones” or “Thompkins”? Obviously the surname “Thompkins” will be much easier to search for than “Jones” just because there are a lot fewer people with the surname “Thompkins”.
You’ll just find it much easier to spot less common surnames in the research materials that you’ll be going through, especially when it comes to records like the census or online name searches.
For now, let’s take a quick peek at the information that is missing from your pedigree chart or outline. Are you missing a location, a father’s or mother’s first name, a last name? Look at the information for your most recent relatives first and work back in time.
We’re basically looking for gaps in your information that prevent you from finding the name or location of an earlier relative. When you spot a gap that needs to be filled in, first review the following list of steps:
- Have you reviewed all of the information that you have on hand in order to make sure that you haven’t missed filling in something?
- Do any family members have additional information regarding this individual or family?
- Is there maybe an old family bible or a “Who’s Who” book sitting up in the attic that might contain some of this information?
- Do you know the location of that person or family at a specific time.
Once you have uncovered and documented all of the information that your friends or family have about an individual or family, your next step is to start looking in public records, biographies and church records to fill in some of the gaps you’ve uncovered.
We’ll begin to explore those other sources of information in the article titled Using Public Records.