Friday, April 19, 2013

Quintessential Genealogy Tips

Click for more posts

During the A-Z April blogging challenge, I have been listing tips and websites for researching your family history, primarily in Australia.

Today, I would like to list my five quintessential tips for anyone beginning with family history research:

1.  Good record keeping
I believe that it is very important to have an organised system of storing all the important information, documents, stories and photos that you obtain while researching.

The system will vary depending upon personal preference but I feel that if it takes you longer than a minute to retrieve or locate an item then you need a better system!

My cousin has a separate folder for each surname (based on maiden name for females), with dividers and plastic pockets so that information is sorted and easily visible.  This works for her but I prefer to use the computer.   I also have folders sorted by family for original certificates and photos but I prefer to scan everything and have it on the computer with all photos and information linked to the relevant person on family history software.

2.  Verify information and record sources
If you are serious about researching your family history then you want to make sure that the information that you have is correct.  Therefore verifying information (through certificates or other records) is very important. Sometimes our relatives did not tell the truth!

When I started researching I didn't realise the importance of recording sources.  I would look at information previously obtained and think "Is that correct or where did I get that from?".  Therefore there was a lot of time wasted going back and researching family members again to verify the information.  Now I create and record sources for all information that I obtain, which prevents duplicate research and I know immediately that recorded information is correct.

Additionally, should a relative want to continue your research at a later stage, they shall immediately know the information that has been verified.

3.  Talk to family now, before it is too late
Records can tell us a lot about our ancestors but the memories of family members add a whole new personal dimension to your research.  Additionally, the names and place names remembered by our older relatives can be a good starting point if your are beginning your research.

Commence a visitation schedule, starting with the oldest family members.  My "Memories" post has further tips.

4.  Try variations in spelling
In times gone past, many of our ancestors could not write or spell and often their name was written how it sounded.  Sometimes the writing was not very legible either. Additionally, indexers can make mistakes with typing or reading records.

If you are unable to locate records about your ancestors, try all different variations.  For example some of the variations that I have come across:
Joy instead of Foy
Fox instead of Foy
Sully instead of Gully
Mottrim instead of Mottram
Raiton instead of Drayton
Pilgram instead of Pilgrim

5.  Don't believe assumptions
Assumptions can be useful to provide an alternative direction for research but always verify the information before relying upon it and including it in your family history records.

It amazes me that so many trees on are incorrect.  An assumption has been made by one person and then it is copied by numerous other users without verifying information.


  1. Great tips Sharon! I'm sure I was better organised when I used "only" folders but I love that my laptop has "everything". As to those Ancestry trees... don't even go there! It's all about the rigorous thinking, verification and avoidance of assumptions. Wildcards too...but maybe that's W?

  2. I should have added another tip - Have an external back up for your research.

    I was always worried about my computer crashing and losing everything but now I back up regularly.

  3. Definitelt, and also keeping it up to date daily... I lost a lot last year when my hard drive failed:-( Live and learn!

    1. Afraid that I don't back up daily but should.

  4. Excellent universal tips. Your examples of spelling and transcription errors are spot on!