Part of the enjoyment I get out of family history research is helping beginners and starting them on their journey of discovery. Often as these beginners are leaving the Family History Library, they ask the question “What can I do to continue my research at home?” When I was first asked this question, my inexperience caused me to overcompensate by naming off every single resource, skill, and strategy that a researcher might need.
It became obvious that the “fire hydrant” approach was a tad overwhelming to most beginners who quickly forgot their research enthusiasm and fled for their lives. I discovered that giving them a deluge of information gave them a tendency to flight and the decision to leave genealogy to the “professionals.”
In this vein, it is important to remember that the biggest danger to budding family historians is lack of confidence fueled by perceived research failure and not knowing where to go to increase their research knowledge. In reviewing this question, I created a quick checklist of valuable steps to give beginners the confidence and groundwork for independent research.
The two following principals are necessary to give a sure foundation to those who want to proceed with research on their own:
After asking family members for information, scouring the attic, closets, and underneath beds for old records and photographs, a serious exploration should be undertaken to discover what is on the Internet. Check compiled databases and use search engines, such as Google, to look for family names and pedigrees online, all the while sourcing any significant discoveries.
It can be helpful to find what others have done, but only if you use discretion. On one of my own lines, someone was so concerned about leaping across the pond that he tied my great-grandmother to a lovely man who never had any daughters.
Verifying the information found on pedigrees on the Internet can also give those who feel they’re still on shaky ground valuable research experience in using this research “safety net.”
A pedigree file is only as powerful as the sources that back it. Sourcing in its simplest form should list:
- The name of the source
- Where the record itself is located in the source
- Where the source for the record can be found
For example, “Chelmsford Parish Registers, 1832 Christenings - page 34, Family History Library film #1472064.”
Focusing on the basics of research will help teachers who feel inexperienced provide a foundation useful to any beginner, applicable to any area of research. The next installment will deal with how to focus what is known about an area of research and be able to provide it in manageable portions.