For the first ten years of my working career I spent the majority troubleshooting computer problems. During the Windows 2000 and XP era, there were no shortage of Kernel, hardware, and software problems. A basic troubleshooting strategy for computer issues parallel’s that of genealogy research. I have outlines each step below:
- Identify the specific problem. This will involve eliminating as many options as possible. Most Genealogy website have a getting-started guide including Wikitree, Ancestry, and FamilySearch.
- Analyse what you know about the problem. Some researchers write down every known fact to date.
- Determine where the answer might be found. The best places to start are the census, city directory, county record, cemetery, church record, family history library.
- Place your problem into Social and Historical context. Every person is driven first by basic needs, then by social ones. A timeline of events will help with this step, both one for your ancestor and a historical one. For social context, consider political party affiliation, religion, occupation, and facts about the historical period such as slavery or abolition.
- Form your hypothesis based on your information. Writing up your family story to see how it looks on paper will help with this step.
- If necessary, conduct sideways research. Look up obituaries for siblings, aunts, cousins, neighbors with uncommon names, or families that migrated together.
- Share your successes with fellow researchers and friends! When you finally get a breakthrough, encourage others to keep trying. There are many groups on Facebook that support researchers and will be elated to hear about your discovery from the 1700s.
Now that you have a mental picture of the steps to follow, lets go through the actual motions of researching an ancestor.
- When researching genealogy, the Internet is the best place to start. is usually Cydi’s List for a complete listing of helpful web links by categories. I will also try a general search on Google using a first and last name in quotes. I will also check the American Memory Project, Rootsweb, and GEDmatch for a basic pedigree chart.
- Search for existing Books. Fortunately Google Books has made the searching process much easier. There are two large family history libraries in the US, one managed by the Family Search in Utah and the National Archives in DC. But there are countless additional libraries with large collections including the Allen County PL, The DAR patriot library, . A surname search in these databases is essential!
- Consult your available records, mainly census records and pension records. If you ancestor was alive from 1790-present there is a record of them every 10 years. If your ancestor was a veteran, you have several additional resources including fold3, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the national archives. Many places charge a fee so be sure to review them all before paying for records.
- Make contact with a living relative. This is harder than it sounds but important for several reasons. A living relative has countless stories that have never been put into print, as well as heirlooms, photos, and other indirect evidence. The Privacy act of 1974 provides guidelines to using the IRS, Military Locator Services, Social Security Administration, or Department of State when locating relatives. State records such as a driver’s license are rather easy to find, but state-by-state assessments are usually outlined in books written on the topic such as Open Source Intelligence by Michael Bazzel. County records such as voter registration or business names in a city directory can be helpful, but when in doubt turn to social media. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Instagram all have millions of active users with billions of Progenitors.