Tips from the Pros: Get out of the Rut, from Michael John Neill

After you have researched for a while in a specific locality, it is easy to get into a rut. You use certain records, search in certain ways, and you emphasize certain materials. Without realizing it, you may be using the same procedure to work out every problem. Sometimes this does not work. One way to avoid this pitfall is to go back and read a guide or how-to book for the state or area your research covers. This is good advice even for those who are seasoned researchers; all of us occasionally forget something and a quick review may remind us of sources we have neglected.

Red Book (rev. 2004) provides an excellent overview of each state, summarizing the types of records typically found and where they can be located. The research guides written by the Family History Library  are also good reading material. County genealogical society websites, state historical society or archives websites may also have helpful information. They are easily found by searching the Web. Sites maintained by private individuals may be helpful too, but official sites tend to have more accurate information.

Reading genealogical journal articles on related topics is another excellent way to get your genealogical wheels spinning again. Sometimes I find it helpful to attend a conference lecture or read an article on what I think is a topic “unrelated” to my research. Many times on the surface the topic does not have a direct connection, but I find that learning about something new gets me thinking about my old problems in a different way. I have no Italian ancestry, but a lecture several years ago on Italian research got me thinking about my wife’s German lines. While many of the specifics of the lecture did not apply to my research, the presentation gave me a new perspective. And the discussion of reading and interpreting Latin in Catholic Church records was directly helpful to my work on German Catholic families.

Review what you think you know. Learn about something new. It may be just what you need to get out of your research rut.

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