1. START WITH YOURSELF AND WORK BACKWARD
That’s where you will find the most documentation so you will make progress and not get discouraged. The farther back you go the more difficult it can become to find well-kept records. Research skills develop over time by learning from the easier to study recent ancestor with more available sources.
2. HAVE A RESEARCH STRATEGY
Information can easily snowball and many of us burn out due to lack of focus early in the process. Decide which line of your family you wish to research and focus on that first rather than trying to do two, three or four simultaneously. You have to decide if you are listing direct ancestors or including collateral relatives. If you find information on one of the other branches of your family that you plan to do later, source the information and put it aside in a folder, binder, etc. for later use.
3. USE ALL AVAILABLE RESOURCES
There are many resources we can utilize to obtain information – some obvious – others perhaps not so much so:
Family sources: personal interviews with family members; family bibles; birth, marriage, death or other certificates; wedding invitations and birth announcements; newspaper articles; wills, deeds or land grants; diaries; letters/cards; scrapbooks; photos; work/hobby memorabilia.
General sources – census records, church records, cemetery records, obituaries, newspapers, court records, school records, ships and passenger lists; military information, occupation (government positions such as post offices, etc.).
4. IDENTIFY SOURCES
Whether you are taking information from official records at the Provincial Archives of NB or other province or state, from microfilm or local newspapers, Facebook, or through personal communication with a family member – ALWAYS, ALWAYS record in detail where you get the information. This tells you where to go if later there is a question with the information and you need to return to the original source for verification. All of us at one time or another have written something on a piece of paper – sometimes forgetting what it means and where we got it. Invest in a notebook that you carry with you – write down the information and where you obtained it. This will save time (and frustration) down the road.
5. KEEP A RESEARCH LOG
We all think we’ll remember what sources we’ve gone through – we won’t. When you do find information, document the source. Keep a log of sources you have searched, when searched, note what, if anything, is found. If nothing is found, note that as well. Some sources, like old newspapers on microfilm, add no new material; however, other sources are constantly adding information so it is worthwhile revisiting those after a period of time. Example; PANB and NBGS.
6. LIMIT TIME/TAKE BREAKS WHEN RESEARCHING MICROFILMS/OLD RECORDS
Viewing these can be difficult on the eyes and it is easy to miss information if you are overtired. If you travel a distance, to the Archives for example, to do research, you may want to spend the full day and do as much as you can. Know your limit – and take breaks so that you don’t get overtired.
7. ANALYZE ALL MATERIAL ON A DOCUMENT
Don’t just look at just the primary information – look at everything on the document. Sometimes there is information that is not so obvious – but essential to your research. Example: There can be more than one person with the same name and with very similar birth dates – so look for additional information before accepting that this is the person you are looking for. (Do parents’ names appear on the form; is the person single or widowed; where were they born or where do they reside – this additional information can tell you if this is the person you are looking for.)
8. BEFORE PURCHASING A COMPUTER PROGRAM, DO YOUR RESEARCH
Today most people use a computerized program in doing their family tree. It can certainly be a valuable resource in doing research. However, if you decide to purchase a program, be sure you purchase one which will suit your needs. There are several reliable ones on the market, so some research is needed to pick the right one for you. The program that a friend has and raves about may not be the best one for you. Ask other researchers what they use and establish a list of the pros and cons. Each program has its own unique design. Some are more user friendly than others, some display better photos and others display unique charts.
9. INTERVIEW YOUR OLDEST LIVING RELATIVES
These relatives have a wealth of knowledge. Some they may share – some they may be reluctant to share (such as a child born out of wedlock, etc.). Talk to them before it is too late – before they fall victim to memory loss or pass away. Once this valuable first-hand information is lost, it is gone forever.
10. NEVER ASSUME AN ANCESTOR’S NAME HAS ONLY ONE SPELLING
Some researchers insist on only searching for surnames with one particular spelling. Be open to spelling errors. Keep a list of all possible spellings, especially those based on sound.Example, the surname HAYDEN. In old records was spelled Haden, Haydn, Haiden. The surname FORAN – was recorded as: Foran, Foren, Forcin, Forran, Fornon, Fornen and Foreign.
11. EXPECT VARIATIONS IN DATES
Baptism dates can be confused with birth dates. Research may reveal different birth dates from different sources. Always try to validate the accuracy of a date using three different sources. If this does not resolve the discrepancy, make note of the information and sources and possible explanations for the variation. If accepting one date as “correct” for your research, indicate the reason for doing so.
12. DON’T ACCEPT SOMEONE ELSE’S RESEARCH AS 100% ACCURATE
If you come across a family tree compiled by another family historian online, you may want to use it as a “road map,” but don’t just take what you find in a tree and put it in your tree. Do your own research to verify the information. Somebody else’s tree could be right – or completely wrong – and you can spend a lot of time going in the wrong direction.
13. DON’T ACCEPT ALL PUBLISHED INFORMATION AS CORRECT
This is especially true today with information found on the internet. If you find information that looks like it could be your family, take note of each piece of information and check its source. Your best bet is to forget about this find and look for your own sources. If information is not well sourced so that you can go back and check it out yourself, it cannot be accepted as accurate. Many times it isn’t. Information in published material (i.e. books) may also contain errors. Such an error may be on the part of the author/researcher or the editor/printer. If you have conflicting information between your research and a published source, note the discrepancy and include sources to substantiate your conclusion.
14. DON’T OVERLOOK CLUES
When checking death records, etc. read the entire document and review it more than once. You could be missing very important clues. Look for marriages in both the groom’s and bride’s home town/county. Often if you are researching your paternal line, you concentrate your research in his locale. Marriages, more often than not, are in the bride’s home town – so if you know your Miramichi ancestor married someone from Nova Scotia – concentrate your research there and you may locate that elusive marriage registration.
15. FAMILY INFORMATION IS NOT ALWAYS CORRECT
When setting up an interview, prepare a list of questions which are important in your research. Remember, like in the census, sometimes the person will hide the truth and there may be many reasons for doing so: they may deliberately leave out a child, perhaps born out of wedlock, faulty memory, word of mouth may be stretched a bit or moulded a bit over the years, family feuds, etc.
16. DON’T JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS NOT SUPPORTED BY EVIDENCE
Solid evidence is needed from multiple sources before valid conclusions can be reached. If the information is not available, draw a tentative conclusion – note that it is such – and provide the documentation to support that conclusion.
17. KEEP COPIES/BACKUP OF ALL MATERIAL
Keep copies of digital and paper copy files and photographs. Never travel with original documents – only copies. It takes a long time to assemble your research material and some original documents cannot be replaced – so don’t risk losing them.
18. PRACTICE GOOD ETIQUETTE
Certain rules of genealogical etiquette exist that beginners should follow:
When requesting information by mail, always include a self-addressed stamped envelope for the reply.
When interviewing relatives who won’t talk about family history, remember they may be trying to erase memories of a troublesome situation or hide a secret. Respect their decision to do so and move on.
Not everyone is as interested in the family history as you are and not everyone may want to participate. Have patience and keep your interview session within a reasonable time frame.
Follow up your interview with a thank you note.
19. DON’T BE DISCOURAGED BY BRICK WALLS
We’ve all experienced these – probably many times in the course of our research. Don’t let this deter you. Hang in there – never give up! Ask others who have been doing research for a number of years for help; join a research group such as NBGS. There you will learn from others, have access to all their research materials and publications. You could also take a genealogy course on-line; attend workshops and seminars put on my various genealogy and historical groups. Many of these workshops/seminars are free so take advantage of them.
20. WRITE YOUR OWN STORY
There is an expression “life consists of two dates separated by a dash – so make the most of the dash.” Does your family know everything about you? In the future, they will know when and where you were born and died – but will they know all the interesting “stuff” in your life that made up that dash. Where you went to school, favourite subjects/teachers, adventures, travels, that you were a star hockey player or your quilts won ribbons at the exhibition; how you and your spouse met. How many times have we wished we had some of that information about our ancestors? Leave a record of your life for your family. Keep a journal – you may think you have nothing that interesting to include – but it will be a treasure for those future genealogists!
Genealogy research is a continuous learning process and an addiction as well as a hobby and that’s the fun of it!