Genealogy from A to Z, by Michael John Neill

Accuracy. Are your records as accurate as possible? Have transcriptions been made correctly and in an honest effort to copy the original precisely?

Bibliographies. Have you looked at bibliographies and finding aids frequently shown on state archives websites and genealogical research libraries? Materials listed in these guides may assist you in your research. Bibliographies in historical or genealogical journal articles may also reference materials of which you were not aware.

Cited. Are you sources cited in such a way that you or someone else could easily find the record again if necessary? If not, consider expanding your source detail.

Documented. Do you have at least one source for each event or name in your database? Although one source does not imply accuracy and multiple independent sources are preferable, one is a start.

Errors. Remember that any record can contain errors. Never assume that one record is 100 percent accurate. Gather as many records as possible before drawing conclusions.

Faith. Have you searched for records of your ancestor’s faith? Records of church membership may provide insights into your ancestor’s life and family.

Google. Have you Googled all your relatives? I searched for a relative that died twenty years ago, entering in his name and last county of residence in the search box. I got several hits, including a post made by a granddaughter.

Home. Did your ancestor go back “home” to marry, have a child, die, or to be buried? Do not assume your ancestor never made any trips back home. In some cases significant events might have taken place “at home” after the ancestor had left that required his return.

Ignorance. We’re all ignorant in some area or another. Being ignorant simply means you do not know something, and not knowing something can lead to misinterpretation. Remedy your ignorance. Attend a conference, read a journal article, read a book, ask questions, but do not let ignorance create additional research “blocks.”

Journals. Have you searched genealogical society journals and quarterlies for information on your ancestors? Some have been published in online form, some are indexed in PERSI (Periodical Source Index), and some are unindexed, but these print materials may contain just the clue you are looking for.

Kith and kin. Have you researched all the kith and kin of your ancestor? Unless he was a Hoover, your ancestor did not travel in a vacuum and there’s a good chance his neighbors and associates are people he knew back “home” or are related in some fashion.

Lifetime. Have you researched your ancestor for her entire lifetime? The gaps that result from an incomplete picture may be hindering your research.

Memorization. Are you using “facts” or concepts in your research that you have “memorized?” Are you certain you have remembered them correctly? Trusting your own memory should be done sparingly.

New. Have you kept up with new indexes and databases? Many times “new” databases or websites provide easier access to records that previously have been difficult to utilize.

Organization. Have you organized all your information in a way that makes sense and that others can understand? For some of us this may occupy the rest of our “genealogical lives.”

Preface. Do you read the preface to published and online materials you use? Prefatory material should indicate if there were records gaps, omissions, or difficulties, or other issues encountered when compiling the book or database. Not reading the preface could create problems where none exist.

Quiet time. Do you give yourself “quiet time?” The ability to solve some problems or to be inspired can be enhanced when there are no distractions. If your research is done with constant interruptions you may be missing important clues.

Robotic. Has your research become robotic? If you are approaching each ancestral problem with the same process and the same set of assumptions, you may be making a mistake. Determine how this ancestor is different from others you have researched and change your approach accordingly.

Soundex. Do you know what alternate names are searched when a Soundex search option is chosen for your last name? If not, you may not be searching for all the names you think you are.

Terminology. Do you know what those “legal” words mean in a deed or a will? An incorrect interpretation could lead to wasted research time or inaccurate conclusions.

URL. When you print or save genealogical information from a website are you also printing or saving the URL (Uniform Resource Locator–the website address)? If you don’t, you may waste valuable time re-locating the information online should that be necessary.

Variants. Have you considered variant spellings for first and last names? Variants can easily result from handwriting issues and how your ancestor pronounced his name.

Why? Are you asking “why?” The reason your ancestor moved, the reason he sold his farm when he did, the reason a child is left out of a will–all may have genealogical significance. There are times when you may really never know “why” but just asking the question may get you to thinking.

X-ray. Have you x-rayed your genealogical documents? Not literally, but rather have you looked beyond the surface of each record to see what less-than-obvious clues are included?

You. Have you written your life story? Don’t leave behind piles of information on long dead ancestors and precious little on yourself.

Z. There is no Z entry on this list. It is done to make the point that not only does not every letter get a word, but not every question can be answered. Sometimes we all need to remember that.

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

Michael John Neill is a genealogical writer and speaker who has been researching his or his children’s genealogy for more than twenty years. A math instructor in his “other life,” Michael taught at the former Genealogical Institute of Mid-America and has served on the FGS Board. He also lectures on a variety of genealogical topics and gives seminars across the country. He maintains a personal website
Upcoming Events with Michael John Neill

6 thoughts on “Genealogy from A to Z, by Michael John Neill

  1. Pingback: Paget & Taylor Family Tree

  2. Last week I did a presentation on genealogy for my Bible study group. I have been requested to do another for some other church members. I was very impressed with this article and am requesting your permission to copy it for use in my next presentation. Thank you!

  3. BRAVO! An excellent quick-study for budding genealogists. I particularly liked E:

    ERRORS: Remember that any record can contain errors. Never assume that one record is 100 percent accurate. Gather as many records as possible before drawing conclusions.

  4. Sir:

    I would like to request permission to print your “A to Z” column in our next newsletter. Is this a possibility?

    Thank you.

    Marilyn Young
    Genealogical Society of Yuma Arizona
    P O Box 2095
    Yuma AZ 85366


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *