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Learn How to do Genealogy Research to Confirm your Family History

Sources are found through the research process. They are the documents that verify the details in your family trees and provide the proof to relationships and events. This is accomplished through sound research practices which include:collecting, transcribing, analyzing, extracting, and rating multiple sources for each ancestor in your family tree.

How to Do Genealogy Research

If you are not sure where to begin, or what you should do next, read our article Family Ancestry Search that outlines a twenty eight (28) step research process that will walk you through each stage. It will also help keep you focused and organized with your task at hand

Transcribe your Genealogical Sources

If you find a document that is hand written, take the time to transcribe it. This entails writing the details found letter for letter, and line by line. By transcribing and analyzing the data, you may discover a newly found piece of history.

It is easier to refer back to something you wrote or typed, rather than trying to re-learn old handwriting that can be hard to read due to it being faded, torn, or handwriting that may be going in various directions, etc. This is especially true when you refer to a document for a short amount of time and have to refer back to it later.

Methodology to Transcribing your Family Records:

  1. Read the document several times to get familiar with the hand writing. This will help when you are ready to copy the information.
  2. Start with the source citation, which includes the repository (where it was found). Then add enough details so if you needed to find it again, you could. Don’t forget the author, the publisher, the date, the title, the page numbers, etc.
  3. Then copy the words verbatim, line by line word by word. Include all the misspellings and abbreviations.
  4. If you want to correct information, be sure to put the text in [square brackets] to signify that you have corrected something.
  5. If you cannot figure out what is being written put the letters in square brackets with question mark [?] to substitute for the unknown letters.
  6. After you are done, check your work, line by line and word by word. It is easy enough to make a mistake. You might even ask someone else to check your work.
  7. Analyze, abstract, and summarize all your documents to help with your genealogy research.
  8. Create a to-do list from your findings. Be specific on what you want to accomplish. This will lead to a more focused research approach and better chances of a positive outcome.
  9. Start your genealogy research process and create a research log. Creating a log is more important than your task list. Why is it so important? Because it can save you from doing the same detective work over and over again. At some point you will get stuck with a task that you can’t solve, so you move on to another one. At a certain point you will come back to that previous task again hoping to find the family records that will answer your question. If you keep track of what you have already delved into, it will keep you from doing the same search a second or third time.

Analyze your Research for Truth and Accuracy

  1. Having sources does not mean a family tree is accurate. An index entry accompanied by an associated image does not necessarily relate to an ancestor, even if the person's name and age and origin are matching the information you have. Indexed documents rarely contain enough details to verify kinship.
  2. It is important to learn how to do genealogy research because names are common, so are dates and places. Even if a person does have sources for an ancestor, it does not mean it is providing the correct evidence for them to belong in the tree. Just because we can "see an image" does not mean we should stop looking for corroborating evidence or for alternatives. If we don't we will create genealogies (based on original images) that may not be entirely accurate.
  3. Even primary sources in their original form or copies of them (not extracted or indexed versions) such as marriage, and military enlistment papers can contain errors, either on purpose so they would appear old enough to get married or enlist in the military, or were recorded with errors on accident.
  4. Inevitable during your genealogy search, you will find sources that contain contradicting family knowledge; or at least what was thought to be true. This is due to not knowing who actually gave the information as well as the person who recorded the data in the first place. For example a census could have been filled out by someone who didn't bother to ask the spelling of the person's name; the info could have been given by a neighbor or the eldest child in the house, who may not have stated the facts correctly.
  5. Deconstruct your sources for what they say and do not say. You may not find consistent information, so you need to find the clues that help prove or disprove family relationships and information by analyzing your sources

Collecting Evidence from Sources

Single sources do not easily prove a genealogical relationship that would substantiate that the individual belongs in the tree. Solving kinship and family facts with accumulated (both direct and indirect) evidence may conflict with each other. It is important that you collect enough genealogical evidence from sources to solve your family history questions.

Example of Indirect Evidence:a census record states how old a person is and lists the state they were born. The birth information is indirectly stated.

Example of Direct Evidence:A birth certificate that gives the day, month, year, city, county, and state is an example of directly stated evidence.

How to Rate your Sources

All records are subject to interpretation and can contain errors during the recording of the facts. Also, a person may have supplied incorrect data on purpose, such as a date of birth on a military or marriage record, so they would appear to be old enough to enlist in the military or get married.

It is through the genealogical proof standard (GPS) that sources are rated for the documents reliability, information, quality, and for the facts that can be extracted. Each source provides different information and should be rated as such. Not every source is easy enough to figure out how to rate, sometimes it is personal opinion. The most important question to ask, is this direct evidence? Can the item adequately answer the question by itself? Or is it indirect evidence that is drawn from circumstantial data or fails to answer the whole question?

Genealogy Research

SS-5 Form Source Rating Example: Facts to be extracted:First & last name, birth date, birth place, links to parents. Reliability:First-hand knowledge (because it is filled out by the person). Quality:Copy of the original Source. Information:Primary because it is filled out by the person with first-hand knowledge.

Five (5) Steps to the Genealogical Proof Standard

  • Conduct a reasonably exhaustive search with reliable sources for all information that is or may be pertinent to the identity, relationship, event, or situation in question;
  • Collect and include in a compilation a complete, accurate citation to the sources of each item used;
  • Analyze and correlate the collected details to assess its quality as evidence;
  • Resolve any conflicts caused by items of evidence that contradict each other or are contrary to a proposed (hypothetical) solution to the question;
  • Arrive at a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.

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Creating Better Family Trees

This document explores what genealogy sources are and how they affect the credibility of a person's family tree.