Weâ€™ve come a long way technologically with family history research tools. Years ago locating a record sometimes meant many hours cranking away at a microfilm reader and often transcribing the record because there was no machine to print it out. Now, with many records, we can sit in the comfort of our homes and locate our ancestors with the click of a mouse. Another click prints a copy, and with another click we can attach it to our electronic family tree. Voila! Weâ€™re done.
Ah, not so fast. While I love the advances that technology has brought us, sometimes weâ€™re a little too quick to attach the record to our tree and move on. That wonderful find is relegated to a kind of electronic purgatory where we never fully explore it.
Here are some steps you can take to ensure that youâ€™re getting the most from every find:
1. Transcribe it.
While this might seem a bit tedious, the act of transcribing a record forces you to read and think about every element of the record. Youâ€™ll be amazed at how much more you can glean from a find when you examine it closely.
2. Put it in context.
Create a chronology or timeline for all the records youâ€™ve found on your ancestor and copy your transcription into that timeline. Seeing the information in the context of other information you have found can help you to estimate important dates and learn more about your ancestor.
3. Create an action or to-do list.
While youâ€™re plucking clues from your new find, ideas will pop into your head for follow-ups. Keep a to-do list open on your desktop and add these ideas as they come to you. That way you donâ€™t risk forgetting about them, and the next time you get a chance to return to your research, you know exactly where to start.
4. Add it to your tree.
O.K., if you havenâ€™t already done it, now is a good time to click and add that record to your online tree and/or genealogical software. You may have to do this in more than one place if you maintain an online tree and another in a genealogical software program.
5. File a paper copy.
I like to keep a paper copy of what Iâ€™ve found. When Iâ€™m looking for a new angle, I find that browsing through paper copies is helpful. Plus, when it comes to showing family what Iâ€™ve found, most people seem to respond better to browsing through a binder than clicking through electronic files on a computer.
6. Pat yourself on the back.
With every record you find, youâ€™re adding a piece to your family history puzzle. Take some time to appreciate each find and know that youâ€™re doing your part to preserve your familyâ€™s place in history.
Have you perhaps been too hasty in dismissing a recent find? During these cold winter months venturing outdoors on slippery roads to do research isnâ€™t quite appealing. Winter is an ideal time to revisit what youâ€™ve found and search for clues you may have missed the first time around and pursue new leads online.Â
Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for ten years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at Juliana@Ancestry.com, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.