7 Principles to Follow While Doing Genealogy Research

reading a book for genealogy research

As you research your ancestor, what are some basic guidelines to keep in mind as you connect your family tree branches?

Here are a few things I follow as I do genealogy research:

1. Can You Briefly State Your Problem?

A research objective is based on a question or problem. State your genealogical problem in one sentence.

By stating your problem in one sentence, you are creating a quality research question. One that looks similar to, “Are the Townsends of Franklin County, Ohio in the 1880 US Census relatives to my William James Townsend?”

2. Avoid Jumping to Conclusions

One way to avoid jumping to conclusions while researching your family tree is to ask yourself, “why?”

Yep! I did it. I jumped to conclusions and mixed up two Caroline Pueseckers as one.

3. Question Why You Didn't Find an Answer

When you can't find an answer, what needs to change? Do you need to explore the FamilySearch Wiki to find out if a record ever existed? Do you need to change your search terms?

Whenever I have difficulty finding something, I try and ask myself, “why was this hard to find?

4. Do I Have More Than One Source?

How many sources do you need to prove a genealogy fact?

It depends.

While one document provides information. A “proof” depends on an analysis of that document and what it says

5. Critically Read All Evidence

Beyond a reasonable doubt is usually too high a bar for genealogical researchers to cross. The preponderance of the evidence and reasonable suspicion are usually a little too low.

This tip was a bit longer than usual but well worth the read. I have recently taught an intro to FamilySearch.org class and discussed the need to add sources to the family trees. I often say without sources, you might as well say you’re related to Mickey Mouse. There was a lawyer in my class, and we discussed these very terms and how they relate to genealogy. So glad I can now send a link to a great tip.

6. What Else Was Happening?

No event happens in a vacuum.

Why did Evaline Townley marry at 32 years of age? Could it be that she had other obligations?

Evaline appeared in a city directory at the age of 22 and then disappeared from records until she married at the age of 32.

Her mother passed away after the City Directory was created and left three younger brothers without a woman to care for the home.

By looking at events in context, what do was Evaline doing for ten years?

7. Write a Better Research Query

Sometimes your efforts could use a little help. Before you post a genealogy query online, think about how easy you are making it for someone else to help you.

I don’t often leave genealogy queries online, but I have seen a lot of bad queries. In my post How not to ask for help, I offered advice on avoiding these mistakes.

You Might Also Like These Articles

Note: To leave a comment, you will be asked to sign in with your Facebook or Google Account. This action will help reduce spam comments on our site. I hope you'll understand.