Starting Your Genealogical Research

Starting Your Genealogical Research

Where do I start? That could be the question that a new researcher might ask. Actually it is my question when I am asked to give a presentation to new researchers. I have been researching so long that I no longer remember exactly how I started. What I can describe are the strategies and sources that I have used since.

Collecting Family Information
The first strategy is to collect all of the family information that you can from immediate and extended family members. I was fortunate that my mother was a packrat. She kept all my report cards and certificates that I earned as a child. After her death my siblings and I found numerous items from her and my father’s work on the home front during World War II.  She had compiled baby books for my siblings and me as well. Included among the numerous items were the hospital bills for births of my youngest sister and me. One of my aunts provided her family history research and left behind local history books that she and her father published. Query letters sent and telephone calls made to close and distant cousins provided numerous stories about and pictures of my ancestors. I know that I was fortunate to have access to this information. Not all researchers will find this wealth of information but each must conduct an exhaustive search for it. I can sympathize with them because to begin my tracking of my Campbell family I had a marriage record for my parents, an obituary for my great grandfather, a few photos of unnamed family members and contact information for a second cousin.

Compiling the Information
Compilation of this information is the next step. Some researchers do this by using a genealogical software program. I like to use a timeline into which I put all the information that I have and then insert references to records that I could look for like census records, additional vital statistics records or directory entries. I include “maybe” information in my timelines and then work to prove that it does not belong. I find this is a better way than trying to prove that the information belongs as I might be willing to force fit the information in the latter case.

A Timeline as a Compilation Strategy
The records in my timelines vary in trustworthiness. In some cases I have transcriptions because I have not yet gained access to the original record. A census record provides a birth date which is usually not as good as having the actual birth record. I do not stop looking for the best records available and do not ever consider my research done.

I do write stories about my ancestors but I include source citations so other researchers understand the provenance of the records. Waiting until I supposedly have the best citations would probably mean that I would not write the articles that enshrine my ancestors’ places in history. That would be a pity.

Alan Campbell
Past President
The Ontario Genealogical Society
© 2018

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