The Essential Steps to a Successful Genealogical Search

Genealogy has become an increasingly popular pursuit, and thousands of people worldwide are presently searching their ancestors and relatives, one of whom may be you! Hopefully this practical handbook will help you on your way to discovering your family history and building your family tree. Let’s just recap on the essential steps required for effective ancestor hunting.

  1. Begin at home. Start off by making a list of everything you know off hand. When you’re convinced you’ve exhausted your personal knowledge of your family, move on to other members. Ask them pointed questions to make your search more efficient, but enjoy your time spent with them as well. Remember to take a notepad with you and jot information down, or better still, take a recording device if you have one. Search through every bit of family memorabilia and documentation you can get your hands on, and then begin to record it in your Family Group Record. Use index cards for each member and file all of your official documentation neatly and securely.
  2. After you’ve finished within your immediate family, take a trip to your local library. Find out as much about the surnames and places that you’ll be researching, what records they have available, where to find them etc. Also check with your librarian to see what other records the library may have available to you. They may have published pedigrees and family histories that might be relevant to yours. Leave no stone unturned!

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  1. After you have added what you found in your local library to your family group record and armed yourself with information that will aid in your search, its time to hit the official records like birth, marriage and death registers. Make sure you search through them as far back as is possible, copying any certificates that might be useful to you. Remember to always try alternative spellings to names and places, as record keeping was mostly done by hand before the twentieth century. Hopefully the info you obtain from official records will be of help in searching other sources like obituaries and military records.
  2. When you have established where your ancestors were living at the turn of the century, search any census records that would be relevant to that time period.
  3. You should be able to establish the nineteenth century addresses of some ancestors through your search of birth, death and marriage certificates. Don’t overlook the value of estate and workhouse records, and search other property survey or evaluation records that might exist from that time and area.
  4. Once you have established the religion of your ancestor and their address up till the time civil registration began, the search of parish and other church records should commence. Baptismal, marriage and burial records may all provide valuable information.
  5. The data you have collected up to this point can be supplemented through searches of school records, gravestone inscriptions and wills.
  6. The eighteenth century will produce the most resistance in finding facts about your family, but progress can still be made. Check immigration and military records. Newspapers may be of some help, especially those towards the end of the 1700,s that might reveal reports on emigrants and criminal activity.

Each family history is an entity unto itself. No two searches will be alike and you never know where the trail might lead you. There is no formula that guarantees success, and no one pattern to follow. What works for one family might not for another. The key to success is utilizing as wide a range of sources as possible, and to be thorough in your research and accurate in your record keeping. Always remember to write down and record everything that you can. Begin at the beginning, and work back systematically generation by generation.

Remember the little tricks like trying variations in spellings, and if you reach a road block, don’t give up. If you get stuck, change direction for awhile and work on a different ancestor or branch. If all else fails, ask for help.

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There are plenty of genealogical societies and newsgroups around where you can post information or ask a question that you need help with. Perseverance, passion and patience are required in abundance when researching a family history, applying those three qualities will enhance your chances of genealogical success.

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