Doing Your Own Research – Here’s a little help

Genealogical research can be tough, very tough…but it can also be extremely rewarding and fun!  If you know where to look, how to look…and even what to look for, you will be rewarded for your efforts.  But before any of this, know that there are huge pitfalls in this area of research…and many of them are like wolves in sheep’s clothing!  Be wary of the following:

  • The hundreds of thousands, maybe now millions, of family trees on sites such as Ancestry, My Heritage, Genes Reunited, etc.  I can tell you from over 12 years of experience that a huge percentage (maybe even 90%) of these trees are either flawed, inaccurate, or completely unsourced!  I’m not sure how these websites allow you to add a source or citation, or how difficult they are to navigate, however the majority of them lack any kind of evidence as to how they linked certain people to their pedigrees.  The numerous times I have contacted “owners” of some of these trees in the past about where they got their information, and how they made the link, the common response seems to be:  “Oh I copied mine from that other tree, but I don’t know where he or she got the information”.  Don’t be fooled by how far back these trees go, and don’t for one second accept anything as credible until you yourself have either seen the document, touched the document, or hired another to do just that!

  • Don’t just accept someone else’s word as truth.  What I mean is, view the sources and information therein yourself before accepting it as evidence of a certain fact or event about your ancestor.  Yes, you can order transcriptions for a few dollars less than the original document, however you are then accepting that the transcriber has done their job accurately, and many often do…but they are human and they make mistakes.  So if you accept something that is incorrect…how long will you spend tracing the wrong person, or the wrong surname, or research in the wrong area…and how much money will you spend…before you find out that that you’re on the wrong track.  Professional Genealogists use standards; standards that guide us in having the most accurate outcome possible with the evidence given; we will never use a transcription when the original is readily available.

  • Tying in with the above, always view the original document when possible.  If you hire someone from a Family History society in Yorkshire to check original parish registers for you; ask them to photograph the original as well as provide their interpretation of it.  If you search an index online and see your ancestors name; make every effort to view the original before believing that what you are seeing is true; and if you can’t view the original then standards dictate that you need to find the same evidence from a few other sources before accepting it as proof.

  • Although this may sound confusing I still must state it: don’t always accept that what you see with your own eyes on an original document is fact!  What I mean is this:  don’t accept someone’s age on a census as the truth; or their age on a death record, etc…these are more often than not misconstrued or deliberately incorrect. Other pieces of information such as maiden surnames, child’s names, child’s DOB’s, the person’s DOB or year of birth, second marriages, father/mother’s names, etc, etc.  There are a lot of red herrings in genealogical research, and over time you will come to expect these and to look out for them…but in the meantime just be aware of their existence.

  • Know HOW to search for something.  One of the best courses I did was learning how to use Google properly!!  I am still amazed at the results I get when using this incredible tool to break through the brick walls I encounter.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to read and learn about the search tool on different sites.  For instance, when using different search engines such as or, they each have unique ways in which their search engines produce results.  Some will accept a * symbol as a wildcard, some will not; and it’s these small differences that you need to know before you begin…otherwise you may walk away from the vital clue you need.  But the other reason that knowing HOW to search is so vital…is because some sites’ search facilities produce pretty poor results; in other words you almost have to spell the name exactly as it appears to get even close…so if you don’t know how to manipulate the search facility and use it to your advantage then you won’t know if you’ve missed out on important information.

I am more than happy to put a more comprehensive list together about how to do your own research; just send me an email about what you are researching now and ask me what advice I can give and where to look – I aim to reply within 24 hours.


Oct 1, 2019 | Posted by | 0 comments