What If Someone Asked for Your Best Genealogy Advice? (My Top Tips)

By Diane Haddad

If someone asked you for your best genealogy advice, what tips would you give?

Having worked on a lot of genealogy articles and guides over the years—many of which are gathered in our Ultimate Genealogy Toolkit—I might have a few tips to offer up.

Here’s what I would say (of course after first asking the inquisitive person all about his or her research):

  • Use all the family information you’ve heard as clues to start your research, but know that it could be wrong. You might waste a lot of time trying to find an immigrant who Grandma said arrived at Ellis Island in 1898, when instead the person came through Baltimore in 1897.

  • Go back one generation at a time; don’t leap back. It’s tempting to start with that immigrant, or with the great-great-grandfather rumored to be American Indian, or whomever you’ve heard some interesting tidbit about. But it’ll be a lot easier to research someone if you’ve gotten to know about his children, spouse and later life.
  • If you can’t find a particular record for someone, keep researching him or her in whatever other records you can find. You might learn that you’ve already located the record you want—you just didn’t know enough about the person to identify the record as his. Or you might never find the missing record, but you’ll discover the information you want in some other document.
  • You might make a bunch of exciting discoveries about your family all at once, or you might find nothing much for awhile despite your efforts. Stay patient and keep trying.
  • Don’t automatically believe all the online trees you find with your ancestors’ names. The trees could be wrong, or it could be someone else of the same name and age. We tend to think people were few and far between back then, so it can be surprising how many folks in the same place had the same names.
  • There’s nothing like looking at an old record with your ancestor’s name, or standing in front of the old house where she lived, to help you imagine life when those papers and buildings weren’t so old.

  • If you think you’re going to stick with genealogy, find a way to organize your family information that works for you. It’ll pay off later when you can keep track of records you’ve found and those you still need to look for, and you can retrieve the source for each detail about your ancestors’ lives. Use magazines (such as Family Tree Magazine), books and webinars (find some in Family Tree Shop), and other genealogists you know to learn about software, online tools, family tree sites and other options.
  • Make sure you spell it genealogy (not geneology).

I could go on, but I’ll stop here and ask you: What would you say if someone asked you for your best genealogy advice?

Tools in the Ultimate Genealogy Toolkit include

  • our 10 Years of Family Tree Magazine back issues DVD
  • the Essential Family Tree Forms CD of 75 forms you can type into and save on your computer
  • our Genealogy Source Citation Cheat Sheet
  • and more

Check it out today in Family Tree Shop.