By Ancestry Monthly Update 05 January 2011
Every search has to start somewhere. Even experience and know-how won’t change that, says Joseph B. Shumway, AG, professional genealogist with ProGenealogists.
“You want to find good documentation for each generation,” he says. “You don’t want to connect to the wrong line.” For Shumway, that means starting your search in the present … or at least as close as you can get. “All the background knowledge you acquire for the more contemporary generations can help you see further into the past.”
That’s just one of Shumway’s tips for tackling a family history problem. What else does Shumway suggest?
SLOW DOWN. “Sometimes you can get too far ahead of yourself. It’s better to slow down, find as much documentation as you can for each generation. The more info you have about each ancestor, the fuller your understanding is going to be.”
SEE WHAT OTHER PEOPLE KNOW. “Your first step is always to browse around and find out what’s already been done. Look for compiled family trees, books, items like that. The information you find may not be reliable, but you can use it as a guide to help you decide what to look for. From there, it’s a matter of looking for additional records to supplement – even prove or disprove – what you’re finding.”
KNOW WHEN YOU GET THERE. “How do you know when you’ve found enough information about an ancestor? When you get to a place where you feel beyond a reasonable doubt that you’ve connected the right people to each other and when you feel pretty certain that it’s unlikely that there’s another contender whom you might have missed.”
PICK YOUR GO-TO SOURCES: “If you’re a beginner, your key record sources are always going to be census records and vital records, at least for most parts of the western world. I have a lot of tricks that I’ll use to find people: wildcard searches, searching for everyone with the same first name or last name in a geographical area, for example. And if the problem I’m facing is that I don’t have enough evidence to prove a connection, I’ll look at siblings, neighbors and other associated people that I find mentioned in records with the person I’m interested in. Focus on these people for a while and you might find clues to the person you’re looking for and piggyback on the sibling or neighbor.