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The Basic Process for
Conducting Genealogical Research
Look around your house for sources of information about your family that include information such as names, and vital statistics such as birth, death, and marriage dates and places. For a comprehensive list of 'around the house' sources to check, see the Family and Home Information Sources Checklist (mid-page) at http://www.pbs.org/kbyu/ancestors/charts/ . (Scroll down to find this checklist. This page is part of the the companion website to the PBS Television series called Ancestors.)
The Smithsonian Institutions Office of Folklife Programs has a great site called Family Folklore, How to Collect Your Own Family Folklore. It is a wonderful guide to gathering information about your own family. Check it out at: http://smithsonianeducation.org/migrations/seek2/family.html Especially don't miss "Some Possible Questions for Interviews".
This image represents one of my great mysteries. It features Mary Burke O'Malley, my great-great grandmother, and her oldest son, Thomas O'Malley. They lived in Louisiana, but after my g-grandfather, Charles O'Malley left Louisiana for New Mexico, we lost track of this family. We know that Thomas married and had at least one daughter, but then what? Are there relatives still in the New Orleans area? Who were Mary's parents?
- File folders
- Loose-leaf binders
- Index card files
- Ancestry.coms printable charts http://www.ancestry.com/save/charts/ancchart.htm
- Judith Hallers downloadable charts for use in common computer programs like Microsoft Word and Excel: http://www.io.com/~jhaller/forms/forms.html
- A bunch of very cool options from Family Tree Magazine: http://www.familytreemagazine.com/forms/download.html
- More of the ones we saw earlier at the PBS Ancestors site: http://www.pbs.org/kbyu/ancestors/charts/
Where are the gaps in the information you have collected? Are you missing your grandparents marriage date? Or perhaps you dont know who grandmas parents were or where your parents were born.
Do you want to trace all of your ancestors, or would you prefer to focus on a particular line?
Keep in mind that working backwards through a persons life is a more effective way of researching. Their death is more recent than their marriage or birth, for example, and often easier to establish than their birth.
Perhaps a census would fill in some gaps, or you might try the marriage records for a given county.
Tap into someone else's research for clues.
Maybe another interview with a relative will help. Keep asking, people remember stuff days after you've jogged their memories with facts you turned up after their help during the previous interview.
See the Record Selection Guide at http://www.pbs.org/kbyu/ancestors/charts/pdf/insert.pdf (This is a PDF file)
Add new information to what you already know.
Make corrections to existing data.
Always record as much information as you can about your source of information.
Follow the link above for more specific information about documentation and some examples of citations.
Repeat the preceding steps ad infinitum -- I have learned that you are never really finished with this kind of research. You either just get tired and quit, or you hand it off to a younger person when you get MUCH older and pass on.
To conduct really credible and thorough research, adhere to the Genealogical Proof Standards (or GPS). These standards are listed in detail at: http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html, and include the following:
- Reasonably exhaustive search
- Complete and accurate citation of sources
- Analysis and correlation of the collected information
- Resolution of conflicting evidence
- Soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion
- The Board for Genealogical Certification web site contains a great deal of information about how to conduct your research in the most proper way, and also about how to get certified, if you are so inclined. If you are not that motivated, these listings of standards will help you to verify the research of others, including any professionals you may hire to do searches for you.
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