Key to Being a Genealogy Detective
Typical Genealogy Research Process
Document what you know
Define what you don’t know
List what you want to find
Create a resource list to search
Collaborate with others
Keep a research log
Genealogy Detective Process
Build a timeline
Define the specific problem
Develop list of potential resources
Envision a list of alternative resources
Incorporate FAN research strategies
Keep a research log
USE A PROCESS
STEP 1: Build a Timeline
Understand your ancestor in context of time and
Create a timeline
Tabulate all information gathered
Chronological order of life events
Include column for date, age of ancestor, event and location
Add local, regional, national and international
historical events into the timeline
STEP 2: Define the Specific Problem
Are their gaps in your ancestor’s timeline?
Example Question: When/where did ancestor
Children born: 1853-1866
Where did ancestor live from 1841-1853?
What religion was my ancestor? His wife?
Were children baptized? Where?
STEP 3: Develop List of Potential Resources
List records already checked
Revisit each record – how does it support the timeline facts?
Seek original documents for review to validate and collect all
New potential records to locate
US Census 1790-1930 Information Table
Census records variables – surname spelling, all listed with family
name (step children can be “lost” this way), clues may have not
been tabulated for indexing
Vital records – Determine when vital records were established
in your ancestor’s specific location
Research Plan Records List
STEP 4: Envision List of Alternative Resources
Ancestor Clues from before 1850
Seek out religious records
Occupational clues may be in inventory of property taken at
Map family’s migration path and paths of others who lived in
same area – understand economic causes. Waterways were
method of travel – follow rivers/waterways.
Recognize that geographic boundaries changed
Visit or contact private university of library in the location
where ancestor lived. Special collections might hold clues
Fraternal and Lineage society records
Reach out to other living descendants for records, files or
Expand search for passenger records for ports outside of US –
Canadian ports (Halifax, North Sydney, Quebec, Saint John,
Vancouver or Victoria)
Not all families traveled together. Keep looking.
Maiden names of women ancestors
Caution: Women’s name could be listed on marriage records as her
first husband’s surname, not maiden name
Have a wedding photo? Research the photographer – may have lived
in the community
Rural area? Look at census records for neighbors – may be relations
Search local school records or mortuary records
Age when stopped having children may be clue to when she was
born…children born to women after age 45 unusual.
May have moved to live with children when widowed
If woman widowed at young age, a close male relative may have been
estate administrator. Newspaper legal notices may be a source.
Unusual middle names may be worth research – could be family
Study naming conventions during ancestor’s time.
STEP 5: Incorporate FAN Research
Friends, Associates and Neighbors (Peripheral People)
Who are the people who appear in source documents with ancestors?
Who were people who worked in the same occupations?
Who were people mentioned in same wills with ancestor?
Immigrants tended to settle in groups with common origin and/or
religion. Neighbors can be a clue to determining ancestor’s origin.
Search for the name of other neighbors who were on another census’
page with your ancestor
Was your ancestor “underage” at time of military conflict and did
they register using fake name? Search all military enlistments for
specific geographic area.
Who was the community doctor? Did he keep records or a
Search who was religious leader and determine all the people
he christened, married or buried…they may be relatives.
Visit ancestor’s cemetery and note names of people buried
STEP 6: Keep a Research Log
List source citations
Helps to develop more relevant conclusions from data
Keep track of date sources were viewed.
Include successful and not successful attempts.
Eliminating data is valuable and may save going down
the wrong path.
New data is being indexed, categorized and digitalized
every day – appropriate to revisit.
Tips for Detectives
Make a plan
“It’s not the plan itself that is important, it’s the act of creating
the plan that has value.”
Location, location, location
Don’t overlook LOCAL history for timeline
Validate that data makes sense
Age at marriage, birth of child, etc.
Take baby steps – break big questions into smaller
Double check initial source data
Evaluate facts based upon type of evidence
Tips for Detectives
Place ancestors in context of time and place
Understand difference between “search” and
Seeking out data vs. diligent and systematic inquiry into a
Know how to best use search engines at each
Think of ancestor as member of community – not
just of a family.
Building Genealogy Detective Skills