Back up your work
It is so important to back up your research. All it takes is a power surge, a flood, a fire or a theft to lose all your valuable work. I back up my work most weeks to an external hard drive. I’ve also started to use Google Drive to back up some work to the Cloud.
Use Source Citations for all your Facts
When I started my genealogy quest, I didn’t give facts source citations. I was so keen on finding stuff out and seeing how far I could go back that I didn’t bother with doing things properly. But when I went back to check some of my work, I realized that, in some cases, I couldn’t remember where I’d got the information from.
I then had to go back through all my work checking and verifying everything. I now use a system for citing sources that is used in academic institutions. This is an example for a marriage record:
- Marriages (PR) England. High Easter, Essex. 05 October 1872. LODGE, Abraham and REEVE, Eliza. Page 100. Entry No. 200. http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk : accessed 28 March 2016.
I make sure that source citations contain this information in this order:
- Type of record
- Date of event
- Name/s of individual/s
- Where the record was accessed
- Date the record was accessed
With this method you, and future generations, can easily see where a fact came from.
Incidentally, I’m planning to write a future post just on source citations.
Don’t use other people’s trees as sources
When I started my research, I signed up with Ancestry, started a tree and made fast progress. Ancestry gives you other people’s trees as hints. Without checking, I just plugged this information into my tree and within a couple of days, I’d got one line of my family back to William the Conqueror! This is amazing, I thought.
However, when I started having a close look at the tree, I saw that there were some really obvious errors, like a child being born to a three year old mother! I had to go back and start again.
There are thousands of online trees out there. Many of them have huge inaccuracies and contain facts without source citations. It is not a good idea to use them as sources on your own trees. They are useful to look at to see what might be a fact, but nothing should be added to your own tree without a verifiable source.
Don’t just follow the direct lines
I made the mistake in the beginning of just tracing my direct lines. The problem with doing this is if you hit a brick wall, there is not a lot you can do. I soon realized that I could make greater progress if I also traced the families of siblings and spouses as this gives you a lot more information (see the next point) and also other options if you hit that brick wall. For more on getting over brick walls, see my earlier post here.
Extract every bit of information from records
Facts for Robert McGowan on Family Tree Maker
One thing I learnt fairly early on is that you can often get more information about a particular person from other peoples records than from their own. I’ll give you an example. When I started researching my tree, I could find very little information about my great grandfather, Robert McGowan. The only confirmed records I could find for him were his entry on the 1891 Scottish census and his death record in Glasgow in 1894.
However, by extracting every bit of genealogical data from the records of his children, I’ve been able to piece together a big chunk of his life. I’ve entered all this information into the software I use (Family Tree Maker) and have now been able to produce the following timeline:
Most of this information comes from the birth and marriage records of his children. This is a key reason why it is a really good idea to trace the lives of siblings and spouses as well as direct ancestors.
Don’t use an online tree as your only tree
As I mentioned earlier, like many people, I started my genealogy research with an online tree on Ancestry. This was great until I decided not to renew the subscription and then realized that although I could still look at the tree, I couldn’t access the records that were attached to it. I still have a (private) tree on Ancestry and find it useful for searching. A few weeks ago I couldn’t access it for a few days. Apparently there had been a software update that affected some trees.
So the lesson learned here is that it is much better to have a tree (and keep copies of records) on your own computer. I initially used a free, open source, family tree program for this called Gramps. I used this for a couple of years and it’s not bad, but sometimes a bit cumbersome. I now use Family Tree Maker which I really like.
Use physical archives if you can
Genealogy has become a massively popular online activity. More and more records are being added to databases every week. However, I read somewhere that less than 10% of genealogy records are actually online. You can usually get records like BMD information, census returns, military records, historic newspapers and trade directories online which can give you some key facts and an outline of a person’s life.
However, if you want to put a lot more “meat on the bones”, you probably need to access the 90% + of records that are only in archives. If it’s not possible to visit an archive that holds the records you need to access, then the LDS may be able to help at one of their Family History Centres.
Alternatively, for a small fee, the archives themselves or the local family history society may be able to do the look-up for you. If your ancestors were in Great Britain, the Resources section on this website has links to all the local English, Welsh and Scottish archives and family history societies.
For for further reading, please check out the Genealogy Books page in our Resources section.