The Weekend Genealogist
9/27/2009

Even if you can squeeze in your family history search only on weekends, you can still make progress toward your past—if you know how to make the most of your time. Here is one of five helpful tips to ensure complete and fruitful research.

Leave no recorded "stone" unturned.
Most researchers don't fully utilize the records they acquire. Many types of records provide clues that are often overlooked. Take what I call the "Doberman" approach to your genealogy research: Latch on to a fact and don't let go until you've gotten everything out of it. Squeezing every single scrap of information from a record as a clue to other research will pay big dividends. "Ask" every document you examine these questions before you let go:

  • Why was the document created in the first place?
  • Are you looking at the original or a copy?
  • To whom does the document pertain?
  • How close to the original event was the document created?
  • Who are the witnesses, informants or other persons mentioned in the document?
  • Are any relationships stated or implied?
  • Did the person executing the document sign with a signature or mark?
  • Is the information reliable, usable or simply clues to further research?
  • What's the full citation for the document?

Here's where taking a few extra minutes upfront will save you time in the long run: Completely transcribe the document, don't just abstract it. By transcribing, you're less likely to miss an important detail. Human nature allows us to understand the basic document we're reading, whether or not we read every word. Some of those words, when we're forced to decipher them, turn out to be important facts.

Terminology has changed over the centuries, and you may not understand what a fairly common term means in an old document. For example, those of us over 30 or so are familiar with the expression, "you sound like a broken record." Teenagers today—never mind 100 years from now!—have little or no knowledge of record albums or understanding of that phrase. Having a good genealogical, general or law dictionary—or several of them—to refer to while you transcribe documents will also be a valuable time-saving tool.

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