Previously I wrote a blog about the top 10 sins of a genealogist, which proved to be an extremely popular blog, if you want a quick read it can be found here:
In the interests of addressing the balance, I thought it was about time that I shared with you my top 10 genealogy tips! These have been gained from over 20 years of research, or as I like to put it, 20 years of blood, sweat and tears. Hopefully if you find some of these tips helpful you will experience far less of the tears than I have over the years and far more of those eureka moments we all long for.
I am sure you will already know a lot of these tips, in theory, we should all know these of course, but it doesn’t hurt to have a bit of a refresher and I have included some useful explanations and examples, so you will know exactly what I mean!
We had the top ten sins now it’s time for my top ten tips!
1) Everyone tells you “start at the very beginning, start with what you know”, but what exactly does that mean? For example, have you documented and written up your own life story? Many Family Historians forget to tell THEIR story in the rush to get back as far as possible on their family tree. So why not consider writing your story first, before attempting to write the stories of others. As an example of this I recently asked both my children (they are 31 and 28 by the way) what was my first job when I left school? Neither of them knew the answer! So why not test your children at the next family gathering you might be surprised at how little they know about you!
You can read the first instalment of ‘My Story’ here:
2) The records will always be there, but sadly your living relatives will not! Why not make it one fo your ‘Genealogy Goals’ for 2023 to speak to your older relatives before it’s too late. It doesn’t have to be anything too formal, for example don’t sit there armed with pen and pad firing question after question, take your time. Be prepared to do the interviews over several visits in informal surroundings. Maybe take them to visit a favourite or memorable place, to prompt stories and memories. Why not bring prompts such as photos or family heirlooms to give them something to focus on and talk about. Try not to interrupt them or correct them if you feel they have got a fact or detail wrong. Better to let them speak freely and check the answers at home after, rather than interrupt and stop the flow of thought. Interviewing relatives, especially older ones, is not always an easy task, but if you take your time, with practise, you will soon become more comfortable with it. Think of it more of a conversation rather than an interview, that way you will relax and enjoy the shared moments with a loved one rather than thinking of it as a “task”.
3) Get organised! It has taken me over 20 years to get there myself and I am still making the odd tweaks here and there to my system, so don’t delay start today! Whether you still use a paper system, or you have a fully digitalised system or a hybrid system that incorporates both, the earlier you get yourself an organised system the better. It saves time, money and stress in the long run! It’s far too easy to dive onto ancestry and just ‘hoover up’ a few more ancestors, but trust me invest that time in getting yourself organised. No two systems are identical, how you decide to organise your work is entirely personal to you and as long as it works for you, that’s the most important part. Ask yourself, can I quickly put my hand on a specific document or photo, if the answer is no then you need to get more organised. After ordering the same certificate twice, I decided I needed to change! Like all things, do your research and have a look at the various ways in which others have organised their work and pick the best of what you find, thats what I did. See my previous blog on getting organised here:
4) They say you never stop learning no matter how old you are, so why not consider some additional training or learning? There are a wealth of full time and part time courses available, as well as YouTube tutorials, Family History Society Talks and presentations. What you choose can be as simple as a one hour genealogy show talk or a full blown course. I can fully recommend the organisations listed below who run a variety of courses, both full time to part time as well as individual classes. There has never been a better time to take a part time study course on your favourite hobby and learn new skills. You can also join the Family Tree Magazine Family Tree Plus Membership, full details can be found here:
The following organisations also run a whole variety of courses to suit everyones needs, why not make 2023 the year to enrol in a new study course!
Plus The National Institute for Genealogical Studies, who were the first to offer online genealogy education in 1999 and presently offers over 220 courses. The organisation currently offers certificate programs in American, Australian, Canadian, Eastern European, English, German, Irish, Italian and Scottish Genealogy as well as DNA & Genetic, Librarianship, Methodology, and Professional Development.
Their Website can be found here:
I can also highly recommend two particular talks, which are both entertaining and educational at the same time.
My Ancestor Was A Liar by David Annal – You can find David’s list of talks on his website which can be found here:
Remember not everything you read online is true!
If you thought you knew all about Civil Registration then think again! I have watched Antony Marr’s talk on this subject twice now and I would still listen to it again, it’s that informative. You can find out more about Antony’s talks on his website which can be found here:
Think of it that you are investing in your own future by undertaking a study course.
5) Cite your sources, something that I struggled with and if I am being completely honest, I still struggle with. Again there are lot of great blogs, webinars, YouTube videos and of course online genealogy talks explaining how and why it’s so important to cite your sources. If you wish to take your amateur hobby and turn it into a professional career, then citing your sources and following the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) are key elements that you will need to learn and understand. Shows like Rootstech normally feature lots of great presentations on the subject, so look out for those in the 2023 Rootstech show. Again I wish I had started this when I started my research, I have had to go back time and time again to my tree to ‘add a source’ which is both time consuming and frustrating because I should have done it at the time. I lost count of how many records I had that I had no idea where I found them, again you will have to trust me on this, taking the time to properly cite your sources is worth it in the long run. I am going to cheekily add another part to this tip about always trying to source the original document, if possible. It’s always advisable to see the original document, if you can, rather than relying on a transcription. We have all seen examples of some horrendous transcription errors, so if you can, try and source the original document. The explosion of online Genealogy and the massive digitisation projects undertaken by the big subscriptions sites has brought the hobby of Family History into the homes of millions of armchair researchers. Don’t get me wrong, for convenience and ease, having all these records just a mouse click away is a truly wonderful, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can do everything from the comfort of your home. If you can, and I accept that some of us are unable to access record offices or archives for a number of different reasons, try to get out and about, there is so much more to find that has not currently been digitised.
6) Keep a research log! If there was one thing the older more experienced ‘Me’ would tell the youthful inexperienced ‘Me’ is to keep a research log! If I stopped to think about all the wasted hours and time spent on duplicated and triplicated wasted searches I would probably cry. Again it doesn’t have to be anything fancy but just something that you can return to six months later and understand what you have previously looked at and where. The key bit in all of this of course is to record your negative searches as well as the Eureka moments! You will thank me after.
7) Ask realistic research questions, not “I am looking for the Chiddicks family”, this is a truly unrealistic question and is not helpful in focusing your research. Try ” I am looking for the Baptism for James Chiddicks born in South Ockendon around 1806?” That way you maintain focus, which is key and you can take a systematic approach to your research and rule out each possible answer before reaching a hopefully successful conclusion. Focus is key when researching and asking a good research question helps you maintain that focus and also helps you when you only have a limited amount of time in which to work. Used in conjunction with a good research log, these are key skills that will take your family history research onto the next level.
8) Timelines are something that I have discovered quite late in my family history journey and I only really started using them when I started writing my family history biographies. Timelines are excellent tools for organising all the data you already have and looking at where your ancestor was at a specific time. They also highlight any holes in your research. They show you what is missing rather than what you know. A well documented timeline will clearly show the holes you need to fill in your research and will help you to focus your research in the right areas. A well written timeline can help answer those questions. Timelines don’t have to be anything fancy, you can handwrite your own or you can use a spreadsheet such as Excel, or create a bulleted timeline in a word processing program, which is exactly what I do. I can highly recommend Dr. Sophie Kay’s excellent blog on ‘Negative Space’, which goes into far more detail about how to spot what’s not there. You can find Sophie’s blog here:
9) Label those photos today don’t delay! I have to confess that this task is still firmly on my “to do list” so don’t be like me, take some advice from my good friend and Photo Genealogist Ann Larkham and get your photos organised, digitised and saved! There is lots of great advice on Ann’s website here:
Plus you can catch one of Ann’s talks on the subject in 2023, a list of which can also be found on her website..
10) Hit a brick wall and ended up stuck in your research? Then why not consider asking a Genie friend to take a look at your research, this can be so helpful. A fresh set of eyes can always help, they can often see gaps in your research or can possibly think outside the box and offer some really useful suggestions. Plus family history is far more enjoyable when researching with a friend or relative. You can also reciprocate and offer to check or help them with their research. One of the most enjoyable aspects of family history is collaborating with others, whether it’s an entire family tree or just a small piece of research, it’s far more fun if you have a research buddy.
Can I squeeze in one more shout out before I go? Go on then, can I make a case for all the amazing family history societies out there! I can’t emphasise enough how extremely useful the local Family History Societies are. From lots of wonderful and educational talks, to a local team of amazing volunteers who are extremely knowledgeable, with plenty of local expertise, as well as fantastic family history knowledge. Again it’s a great way to meet new friends and share this wonderful hobby with others. if you need anymore convincing then why not take a look at my great genealogy pal, Jude’s excellent blog on the subject.
Over the years I have joined numerous different societies and have benefited from so much help and advice from seasoned researchers, so why not make 2023 the year that you join your local FHS.
These are just my top 10, realistically I could have given you 50 examples and I am sure that many of you reading this will have a list of your own. So why not share your own tips with me and I can add this to a new blog with a list of guest tips! It’s only by sharing and collaborating that we can truly learn and reach our full potential. I have benefited from so much help, expertise and advice over the years, from others who have been only to willing to share their knowledge and experience with me, so now it’s my turn to pay a little bit back and I hope that you find these helpful.
Why not visit my new website:
Copyright © 2023 Paul Chiddicks | All rights reserved