So you find a record. It could be through a hint or a search or something is sent to you in the mail. You attach it to your tree. Are you done? No, of course not! (This would be a very short post if you were done.)
So what do you do before you move onto the next record?
- Source the record. As I mentioned in my article on sourcing, you need to know where the record comes from and who supplied the information. How can you evaluate the validity of the evidence if you don’t know where the information and who supplied it? If the info comes from your crazy great aunt it may not be valid. Or it may be. But you have an idea of whether you should trust it or not.
- Examine the image, not just the index. Never, ever, ever attach a record without looking at the image if the image is available. Not everything on the image is included in the search index. (The search index is there to help you find the image.) You might miss something. Just the other day I was looking at my great uncle’s 1940 census record and noticed he had a supplemental line at the bottom. Low and below it told me that my great uncles father (my great grandfather) served in the Spanish American War and World War I. If I had just attached the record without thoroughly examining the image, I might have missed an important clue.
- List all points of genealogical importance. It is amazing how writing something down helps you understand it. It is too easy to glance at something and not really grasp it. But if you write every little bit of genealogical data in a record, you might find something you missed. When was the record recorded? Name each person listed on the record no matter how significant. Every date, location and relationship you find. Any assumptions you might have. (Oh, and write down that something is assumption.) If everything is written down, it is easy to review later.
- What questions do you have? OK, now that you’ve look at the image and gathered everything you can find, what new questions do you have? Do you know who all the people are on the document? Do you know why that document was created? Then you can create a plan on how to answer them.
- File it so you can find it again later. Raise your hand if you can’t find something in your genealogy files that you know you have. If your hand is up, you aren’t alone. Put the information you wrote down somewhere you could find it. You can put it in a Word file, or a Story on Ancestry online trees. And if you have Family Tree Maker, then you can put it in the notes files. And there it is whenever you need it.
Try this on your latest brick wall. Gather all the records you have for a person and go through them and do all five steps for each record. You may have the answer right in front of you. Or you may have asked the right question that will lead you to the answer.
About Anne Gillespie Mitchell
Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at Ancestry.com. She is an active blogger on Ancestry.com and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.