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Advanced Research Tip: Five Things You Should Do With Every Record

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.image18
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. image19File 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.

Happy Searching!

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, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.

21 comments

Comments
1 LaurieOctober 29, 2013 at 4:34 pm

I also recommend looking at the pages before and after the page your image is on. I nearly missed most of the documents in one of my ancestor’s files from the Death of American Citizens Abroad. Initially, I only looked at the certificate/ report of the death. When I revisited the document, I looked at pages prior to and after the image that came up in my hints. When I started looking at other pages, I found the file had at least 20 pages in it, including correspondence concerning items that weren’t shipped back home which required investigating to ensure items weren’t stolen. Another ancestor who died abroad, died in Italy. I learned that my ancestor wanted to be buried in Italy but the family brought him back home to be buried in the U.S. The same thing goes for censuses, the remaining members of a family might be on additional pages, sometimes, the census columns continue on additional pages. So if you want a complete document on your ancestor, make sure you look not only at the page the ancestry hints lead you to, but look ahead and behind that page and you may be surprised at what you find!!

2 PatOctober 29, 2013 at 4:40 pm

This was so true. My husband has a family member that changed his last name and he was married 3 times but had no idea when his last marriage was , checked the census again and looked at the age they say they got married , bingo there ages told me how old he was at his last marriage, after checking found his marriage certif. I jumped over some thing that could have help ages ago.

3 HeidiOctober 29, 2013 at 5:00 pm

The phrase you were looking for is “lo and behold.” :)

4 SandieOctober 29, 2013 at 5:27 pm

I endorse Laurie’s statement about looking at the pages before and after. I could not find my great-great-grandmother’s maiden name, until I flipped the page of a census record and discovered there was one more household entry on the next page… her brother was living with her. From his surname I had discovered her maiden name. Also, I always like to look at the names of the neighbors of my ancestors, I find the same names often turn up in marriage records later! Also brothers and sisters and inlaws often lived close together, and I have solved questions about one branch of the family while researching another, because they lived in clusters.

5 SuzOctober 29, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Laurie, you are so right. Based on a passport application I had from 1912 that was only one page long, I assumed that a 1922 passport application was only one page, too. Then one day something made me go to the next page, and not only did the application turn out to be four pages long, but it had a photo of my great-grandparents on pages two and four. I was shocked — it was the first time I had ever seen my great-grandparents in my life. If I hadn’t checked for more pages, I still wouldn’t know what they looked like! (And it was a really nice photo, too!)

6 BEEOctober 29, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Sorry to be off topic, but ever since “Old Search” went to the “great beyond”, I receive “hints” that as far as I can see, have nothing to do with the person they come in for.
I’ll say it again – I HATE NEW SEARCH!

7 MattOctober 29, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Where are you writing all this down? I want all of my information in Ancestry.com family tree

8 JeanOctober 29, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Great article. Great comments. Thank you all.

9 LarryOctober 29, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Laurie Quite right! The Iowa state census has a second page naming the parents of each family member. Maiden names, parents, places of birth, etc just by clicking the little arrow. I found this huge help by accident. Now I ALWAYS check for more pages.

Matt On any Profile page click on “More Options”; one menu choice is “Add a Note.”

10 Darlene J. Hill BurbineOctober 30, 2013 at 5:22 am

I was also going to mentuon about looking at the neighbors in the censuses . I have also looked at records a second time and always try to view the actual record . There are also new records being added . I have a second Great Grandfather, Charles Young and only recently learned that he and his twin brother served in the Civil War . The pension records gave their wives names also . His twin brother’s birth record is incorrectly indexed and has the wrong date .

11 JayneOctober 30, 2013 at 7:00 am

I save every record to my computer as well, attached to the individual in Legacy. I back them up in th cloud along with photos. This way, I know I will ALWAYS have the images even if I, for some reason, cannot keep my membership on ancestry. It also makes getting to records much faster than waiting for records to load, not to mention the number of clicks required for the online tree.

12 DebbieOctober 30, 2013 at 7:41 am

By looking at the census original image down the left of the page is often listed the street name and house #. I found a family member who had been estranged from the family and later forgotten by later generations living just a few blocks from her brother. By using google I saw both houses in 2012 and mapped just 5 blocks between them !

13 Ancestry AnneOctober 30, 2013 at 10:27 am

The suggestion to ALWAYS look at the image before and after is a great suggestion. I’m glad you all mentioned that. Gold genealogy stars all the way around! :-)

Matt, you can write or type things and put them in your tree. I type them up and put my thoughts in Family Tree Maker.

14 Ancestry DaigOctober 30, 2013 at 11:00 am

One very important thing hasn’t been mentioned yet. The actual date the Census was taken. In the actual image it shows on the upper right of the page. For example, 24th day of April 1940. This is important when adding the source to a person. Let’s say the person died 27 Apr 1940. If you don’t list this in our tree for the correct and exact date of the Census record it may show at the BOTTOM of his page, after his death, and everyone seeing that will tend to assume the death date is incorrect, and then will have to again go over what has already been found. Happy treasure hunting…

15 Ancestry DaigOctober 30, 2013 at 11:14 am

Thought of two other important comments…

If you can not see the image clearly send a “fix it please”. It can easily be re scanned and added back in, so anyone following you can now have an easier time viewing the source. There aren’t nearly as many now as when I started researching, back in 2000.

The 1930 Census also shows the YEAR a couple first became married. If one was married before the current marriage things won’t add up for one of the couple and you now have a year for another marriage.

16 CarrieOctober 30, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Bee, old search is still there. Call 1-800-262-3787 for help finding it. It has never moved but if you don’t where to look you can miss it.

17 CarrieOctober 30, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Matt, in your Ancestry tree there is always a “description” area for the events in each person’s profile. Click on the event such as residence, (not the source) and a new screen comes up for editing. You can add any kind of text in the description box. I think there is a limit the number of characters so you may have to abbreviate. Not positive ’bout the number.

18 BEEOctober 31, 2013 at 5:39 am

Carrie, THANK YOU! I did find it! I somehow got into that horrible “NEW SEARCH”. I dread the day that it will be all we have, but that doesn’t explain some of the ridiculous “hints” I’ve been getting for people. Documents that have no connection to the person as far as I can see, unless I’m missing something.
A marriage record “hint” for a woman – the only connection is her maiden name is the same as the groom’s surname!

19 Frankie GuinleOctober 31, 2013 at 9:38 am

I was frustrated in not finding some records of my father….and me. I dug and dug and finally found the page containing our address in the 1930 census. Lo and behold…..not only was my family left off the census, so were three of our neighbors. That may screw up a lot of genealogists. We had a telephone (party line) and I had a library card but according to the 1930 census, we did not exist. I also noted on the census all of the house on the west side of Vance Street were there but only2 houses on the east side (including me) were there. We lived at the corner of 23rd and Vance, our address was 2221. Across 23rd street at 2301 Vance, the Wiser family was left off also. After 81 years let it be known that Vernon Franklin James, Besse Thaxton James and Frankie Laverne James lived at 2221 Vance Street, Little Rock, Pulaski County, Arkansas in 1930

20 Bonnie TrailDecember 8, 2013 at 11:17 pm

I am looking for information on my Great Grandmother who never married but used her brothers name for her children. The family said the kids father was native american. How would you work with that? any suggestions. Thanks

21 LeslieMarch 30, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Ancestry Anne: I agree with Matt and Carrie – we need more space for notes on Events in Ancestry. I try to get all the info from a census or other record on each individual’s timeline, but with large families there just isn’t room to note all the facts. I do copy and paste my notes to every individual’s timeline. Example for a census record: Smith, John, 58, VA/VA/NC, farmer, M.35y; Mary, 55, VA/NC/NC, wife, 11/7 [children born/living]; Joe, 18, VA/VA/VA, son, carpenter, S; O’Hern, Lizzie, 28, IRE/IRE/IRE, servant, Wd. And so on, and the same note would be copied to John, Mary, and Joe. But there’s only so much room, so possibly important facts get left out. I do have FTM for Mac, but I use it only to create reports. I do not search from there – it is too tedious. All my work is done on Ancestry.

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