Seeing results can motivate you to work harder at everything from getting in shape to learning a new skill. Maybe that’s why my genealogy efforts tend to flag when I haven’t made any new discoveries recently.
So a I was browsing my Family Tree Magazines for our “Best of 2008” installment, Sharon DeBartolo Carmack’s “Recharge Your Research” article from the July 2008 edition jumped out at me.
Here are three of her 12 techniques for injecting new energy into your genealogy search:
Write a report. After writing dozens of family histories and a zillion research reports, I firmly believe there’s no better way to see the holes and faulty logic in your research than by stringing together those facts into sentences. As you start writing—both to tell the ancestor’s life story and explain why you think your Miles Johnson in Allamakee County, Iowa, is the same Miles Johnson in Whiteside County, Ill.—you’ll surprise yourself by how much you know (or how much you don’t).
Think of it as writing yourself a report on your research. This is often why professional genealogists can solve some sticky research problems. As they explain their thought processes and theories to a client, they’re also analyzing their research. When you start writing a report, you’ll realize, “Gee, I missed checking the such-and-such record” or “That Wallace surname is cropping up a lot in the ancestor’s records.” Savvy professionals write reports as they’re researching, because it helps them sort what they’re gathering and keeps them on the right track.
Consult county and local histories. You’ve looked at county and local histories for places your ancestor lived, but have you gone back for a second look after doing more-extensive ancestor research? On your first pass through these histories, you might’ve been skimming for a mention of your forebear. This time, look at what was happening when your family lived in the area.
Sarah Collins’ son Rodalphus, died in Tyringham, Mass., March 2, 1783, at age 13. His death record didn’t reveal the cause. When I looked at a local history, I discovered the town suffered several smallpox epidemics after infected soldiers brought the disease there in 1777. The community was still battling the disease in 1785. Even though the book didn’t mention Rodalphus Collins, it helped me understand what might’ve taken his life. This made me take a closer look at other family members in the area who died during that time.
Read a state or county guide. Maybe ancestral answers lie in some place-specific record you didn’t know to check. How to learn the secrets of your kin’s locale? Family Tree Magazine published State Research Guides for each state from 2005 to 2009. You can buy a compilation CD or download individual state guides from Family Tree Shop. Another helpful reference is The Family Tree Resource Book for Genealogists (Family Tree Books), which provides county-by-county records information for the United States.
Look for locality-specific guidebooks, too, such as Virginia Genealogy: Sources & Resources by Carol McGinnis (Genealogical Publishing Co.) and Chicago and Cook County: A Guide to Research by Loretto Denis Szucs (Ancestry).
- Related resources from Family Tree Shop: