9 Keys to Stay on Track

By Lisa A. Alzo Premium

Follow this research advice to help head off mistakes before you make them.

Get organized. It’s easier to avoid mistakes if you’re organized from the start. Invest in genealogy software to store your information (see reviews in our Products Forum <>), and find a filing system that works for you (the March 2008 Family Tree Magazine can help with this).

Make a to-do list. Note sources to check and records to request on a genealogy to-do list. Use a research log to keep track of resources you’ve consulted and a correspondence log to record people you’ve contacted.

Be surname savvy. List all possible spellings of first and last names before searching online databases. Keep the master list on your computer and print a copy for research trips.

Use a timeline. A timeline puts your ancestors in historical context. Some genealogy software programs create them, or you can buy a utility such as Genelines <>.

Make a census record. Record your ancestors’ census appearances on worksheets designed for that purpose so it’s easier to track their relocations. Find free downloadable forms at <>.

Get good at Googling. Try a Google <> search on spelling variations of your ancestor’s names, and experiment with adding quotation marks or a place name. Get more tips at < names.aspx>.

Escape from Ellis Island. New York Harbor wasn’t the only place immigrants landed, so check passenger lists of other ports. Various ports are on microfilm at major genealogy libraries, and online at < > and Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild <>.

Learn from your mistakes. Write down past errors, note potential ways to solve your most perplexing problems and define your research goals. Keep an open mind.

Take a break. Don’t get genealogical burnout. If your brain is on overdrive processing all your family history data, put your research aside and do something unrelated. Schedule a vacation. Watch a movie. Read a novel. You’ll return with a fresh perspective.

From the November 2008 Family Tree Magazine