Fourteen of the best genealogy tips to move your genealogy research forward and find your ancestors. Which is your favorite tip?
Long time readers know I have a second passion in addition to genealogy. I’m an avid runner! 🏃♀️ I started running when I turned 50 as a way to get more exercise and discovered I absolutely love running.
Seriously, I love running! Besides feeling good, I come up with some of my best ideas for you.
On one run in the very cold weather (!), I came up with the idea of presenting 2 weeks – 14 days – of genealogy tips on the Are You My Cousin? Facebook page.
This was waaaay back in 2020 and seems like a lifetime ago. Watch the series on the Are You My Cousin? Facebook page.
If you prefer to read about the tips, find all 14 genealogy tips below!
14 of My Best Genealogy Tips
Here are 14 of my favorite genealogy tips. Let me know in the comments below which one is your favorite?
1.Start Your Genealogy Research Over
That’s right – start your research over.
Go back to the beginning and review your earlier research. Chances are you will find new clues or clues to your ancestor you did not previously recognize. Subsequent research can shed light on previously found information.
2. Understand the Genealogy Terminology
Make sure you understand the definition and meaning of all of the terms in a document you find.
Legal terms especially can be tricky and you want to ensure you are interpreting the document’s meaning correctly. Not fully understanding a record and its impact on your ancestor can lead to incorrect family relationships.
3. Read the Description of the Genealogy Record Collection
Often genealogy researchers jump into a search of a particular record collection only to come up empty in the search for their ancestors.
Take a few minutes to evaluate what the record collection reveals about the time or location you are interested in. Learn what is and is not covered in that particular collection. Perhaps the historical record collection is a broken series where portions of the records did not survive.
Knowing exactly what is covered in a record collection and what is not will save you time and effort in your research. So, take that extra minute or two at the beginning to read the description of the record collection.
4. Take Advantage of Genealogy Databases FREE Offerings Around Holidays.
This is a favorite frugal genealogy tip! The Big 3 [Ancestry.com, MyHeritage, FindMyPast] and other subscription databases will sometimes open a particular record collection for a limited time to the public for free around holidays. For example, around the 4th of July Fold3 will often open up their Revolutionary War records to the public for a limited time.
This is a great way to save money while researching, and also try out a subscription site you may be interested in. You’ll get a chance to research and evaluate whether or not you want a full subscription.
Keep those research plans handy, so when a free record set opens up you are ready to start your research!
5. Be Open to Name Variations for Your Ancestors
Always keep a lookout for an ancestor’s name variation. Spelling was not standardized until well into the 1900’s, and names can be found with both common and uncommon variations. Keep a eye out for anglicized names possibly adopted by an immigrant ancestor.
Be aware transcription errors may result various spellings in search results. I like to keep a running list of name variations to make sure I am not missing my ancestors in the records. Even common names can have many variations.
6. Check Genealogy Databases for NEW Records
Genealogy databases are actively digitizing and adding new records to their collections. So are state and local archives. Periodically, go back and check what new records have been added to any of the databases you use on a regular basis.
Here is where you will find new and updated record collections at Ancestry.com.
7. Try a Wildcard Search
Not sure what an ancestor’s surname actually is? Or do you know part of the name? Lots of spelling variations on your ancestor’s name?
Try a wildcard search!
Your results will be broader and more numerous, but you may find your ancestor with a previously unknown “spelling”.
8. Check the Vertical Files
Vertical files can be found at the archives and local libraries. These vertical file cabinets [hence the name “vertical files”] contain files of various items of interest to the state or local community. The items are typically not archival type material, but still of interest. Examples include a previous genealogist’s notes, copies of family Bibles, church histories, local directories and so much more.
9. Create Time Lines for Your Ancestors
Time lines are a genealogist’s best friend. Create a time line for you ancestors, particularly those troublesome ancestors. Timelines allow you to “see” your ancestor. You can discover gaps in your research as well as data that may be inconsistent for that ancestor.
10. Perform a No Surname Search
Having trouble finding your ancestor because you are unsure of the surname? Try searching for your ancestor without using the surname.
Put in other information you know such as the first name, a spouse’s name, or a child’s name. Include any dates and/or locations you may know.
Not sure how to search without that surname? Find out more in How To Research Your Ancestor With a No Surname Search.
11. Explore Google Books.
Google books is a great place to find many FREE books on local history, church histories and even written family histories. I routinely include Google Books in my genealogy research plans.
12. Explore Special Collections at the Archives and Libraries.
Genealogy researchers often overlook searching the special collections at the archives or libraries. We might not be sure what they contain and well, searching them can be time consuming!
Check with the repository’s staff for how to search their collections. Additionally, check for special collections online in an archive’s digital collections.
13. Read Local History
I encourage you when researching those brick wall ancestors to step away from your research for a bit. During that time read about the local history and learn what social history was impacting your ancestors’ lives.
What was happening in the county/state/region/nation at the time your ancestors lived there? What issues were impacting their lives and the community?
Did economics or a natural disaster cause people to leave the area?
How was the community settled? From where did many of its residents come from?
You can pick up clues to add to your research plan for your ancestors!
Learn more about using social history in your research in this video:
14. Get Another Set of Eyes on Your Research
When you are stuck in your research, having another person look at your research can be so helpful. They can often see gaps in the research we just can no longer see.
Having another genealogy research to do this with is incredibly helpful, but proving your research to a non-genealogy person is quite helpful as well. My dad is my person for this. A retired engineer, he makes me prove everything when we talk genealogy. He also asks very insightful questions I haven’t always thought of.
At some point you may find yourself benefitting from a consult with a professional genealogist. When that happens to me, I recommend the researchers at Legacy Tree Genealogists. I love their Genealogist-on-Demand one-time consults. They know their stuff!
So….do not underestimate the benefit of getting another set of eyeballs on your research can do!
Fourteen of my best genealogy tips just for you! Try one, two or all of them!
Have a favorite tip? Let me know in the comments below.
Find the videos from the 14 Days of Genealogy Tips series over on the Are You My Cousin Facebook page. [Tips 5 and 6 are in the same video.]