Handy Hints for Genealogical Research
The following hints are gleaned from the practices of experienced genealogists and are designed to help you get the most out of your genealogical search. Though some may seem obvious, it doesn’t hurt to develop simple research methods that assist you in conserving precious time and financial resources while conducting a family search. The following is a list of tips aimed at providing guidance in getting the most out of original documentation.
- Begin From a Known Date. Starting with a known date and working backwards is a key strategy when researching your family history. Rather than charging around blindly, it provides you with a fixed point from which to expand. Looking first for the death certificate of your ancestor, use this information to then find their birth certificate.
- Use a Variety of Sources. Don’t overlook less popular sources of genealogical data such as church records, passports, obituaries and estate records to trace local information, especially that which pre-dates 1875. This will allow for more straightforward searching of indexes.
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- Use Basic Mathematics. This may be an obvious necessity, but it’s sometimes overlooked simply because of its ease. Dates of births of siblings can be worked out just by bearing in mind that nine months is the minimum gap between births. A handy hint is that it is unlikely consecutive births would be listed in the index for the same year unless the first took place before or during March.
- Check for Variances in Name Spelling. Having difficulty locating an event relating to your relative may be because of an alternative or misspelt name. Check every possible spelling of their name, and if they had a nickname, such as Bill for William, don’t neglect to look for that.
- Find a Unique Personal Identifier. If you have a common surname such as Smith, it can be very difficult to locate documentation regarding your relative. In this case, nicknames can be an asset, if they had one. If they didn’t go by a nickname, check and double check middle names, and also the maiden name of the mother in the particular location that you’re scouting.
- Focus on One Region. If the surname of your ancestor is an unusual one, you can overcome this obstacle by compiling a list of all births, deaths, and marriages in one region. You can then proceed with connecting those individuals into an extended family, some of which may be relevant to your search, others who may not. A process of elimination via the consultation of census records, estate records and sources such as local newspapers and will registers will help you to separate your relatives from the rest.
- Be Name Savvy. Remember that first-born children usually bore a traditional family first name. The name could be that of the mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, even a favoured uncle or aunt. Knowing and utilizing this sort of information could save you lots of time and resources when doing genealogical research. Another tip is that unusual middle names sometimes mirror a mother’s maiden name or place of birth.
- Be Aware of Non-Events. Clerical errors are not the only reason your ancestor’s name might not appear in an index. Keep in mind that some people never married, yet recorded the same surname on their child’s birth certificate. Other’s married after the birth of their child, and he or she may be registered under the mother’s maiden name.
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Genealogical research can sometimes be tedious and barren, but keeping in mind the handy hints mentioned above can help your progress to remain constant. Don’t get discouraged when you hit a brick wall, retrace your steps to see if you can discover the information that will lead you to that elusive event or ancestor.