Several people have asked the Society for tips on how to do genealogy
This is our standard reply to persons new to genealogical research.
Read and remember this.
The rule that professional historians and
genealogists use is:
If a "fact' does not have a listed source for where
you got the fact, the fact is not true and the supposed "fact" did not, and does
not, exist! List at least that "Aunt Tillie told me this before she died."
Therefore, you should always: "Document
It is important - right from the start - to adopt habits of collecting the
information on sources along with your collection of the facts. I repeat: To a
historian or genealogist, if a source is not listed for a fact, the fact does not
Document your sources.
It is necessary to document the sources that underpin
your findings about your ancestor. The documentation should be by a
citation to the actual place you found the information. The source for the
fact can be as simple as "my grandmother, Mabel Jones, told me", or "gravestone
at burial site in North Burial Grounds, Providence," but there should always be
a source listed. State the title of the book or record that has the facts.
If it is a family story your grandmother told you, say so. The best way to
do that is to say: "Interview by [your name] of [aunt Martha's name] on [the date you
talked to aunt Martha]" . If you
So if you saw a family Bible, at least say "Family Bible in
the possession of [ who has it] on [the date you know that had the Bible.]"
Source citations serve a number of
Source citations provide evidence that the position is true. Scholarly writing is grounded in research that can be repeated by other
persons. Citations allow you to
demonstrate that your position or argument is thoroughly researched and that
it is not just something "made up". It allows other persons to
trace how you got the information, so they know it was not just "made up."
Source citations give credit to the original researcher or author.
Giving proper attribution to those whose words and research and memories you use
is morally (and often legally) the right thing to do.
Source citations help future readers and historians identify and relocate the source work. Readers will want to relocate a work you have cited, either to verify the
information, or to learn more about issues and topics you have worked on. It is important
to increase historical preservation and research that future readers should be able to relocate your source works from the information
you have included by citations.
Take a look at our page at
How to Find Ancestors
Read the following genealogy
basics about identifying your ancestors, by Emily Croom. Emily Croom is the author of Unpuzzling Your Past: A Basic Guide to Genealogy,
The Unpuzzling Your Past Workbook, The Genealogist's Companion & Sourcebook,
and The Sleuth Book for Genealogists.
She has this to say.
"Have you ever known someone whose life would make an intriguing novel or
mystery? What about your ancestors? Their lives could read like well-crafted
Whether your forebears were farmers, craftsmen, or laborers, they deserve
your attention. After all, there's something of them in you. In fact, you may be
named after an ancestor. Quick -- can you name your four grandparents?
Genealogy begins at home
During the holidays, do you plan to be around or in touch with relatives?
What better time to talk and tape record? Question Grandma about her experiences
during the Great Depression or Dad about World War II. Ask for their memories of
their parents and grandparents. Also, be sure to take time to remember and
record your memories of the ancestors you have known.
As you interact with family members, inquire about photos, family Bibles,
miscellaneous papers, letters, or scrapbooks. Such items often contain ancestral
names, birth and death dates, and other details that help link one generation to
the previous one. From relatives and their mementos, gather the names, dates,
places, and relationships that link you to your parents, them to their parents,
and so forth.
Tips for success
The goal of genealogy is accurate lineages. Be sure to:
Focus on specific individuals rather than surname origins
Study ancestors in their time and place
Learn about siblings and cousins in each generation
Recognize that family tradition may or may not be accurate
Work backward one generation at a time; don't skip one
Write down -- document -- where you get your information
Read a comprehensive genealogy book to sharpen you investigative and
Remember: genealogy software is a convenience, not a requirement.
As you gather information, you will find ancestral names spelled in various
ways. Records of the past may spell one person's name five different ways. Also
be alert to the possibility of more than one person with the same name.
When you identify immigrant ancestors, learn everything you can about them in
their adopted country before attempting to find them in their native land. Doing
this increases your chance of success.