Improvement in any area often comes down to improving habits. That includes our genealogy research. Better genealogy habits makes for better research. Here are five habits that will help improve your genealogy.
Read the Introduction to Sources
Though it's natural to want to dive right in and start searching in a new source, take a minute to read the introduction. This is true whether it's a book, a database, a website, or a set of original records.
Learning more about the source will help you avoid erroneous conclusions. If you use a database or a book called "Indiana Marriages, 1800 to 1900" and you don't find your ancestor listed, you might conclude that your ancestor wasn't married in Indiana between 1800 and 1900. However, it could be that the county where he was married isn't included in that book or database. It could be that the year he was married wasn't included. Reading the introduction can help you avoid making the wrong conclusion.
Play With Search Terms
Don't be a "one search and done" kind of genealogist. Get into the habit of playing with different ways of searching. Not surprisingly, different search terms usually give different results. However, we usually don't embrace that as a good thing.
What happens if you leave the first name out of the search? What happens when you add or omit a location?
Cite Your Sources
(You had to know this one was coming!) Citing sources not only allows us to recreate our research, but it also helps us evaluate what we have. It may seem daunting at first, but it does get easier with practice.
One way to avoid citation stress is to focus on the elements of what goes into a good source citation, rather than worrying about where the commas go. I've put together a quick guide on the elements of a good source citation. Click the orange button below to get it:
Ask a Research Question
Get into the habit of asking a research question before you start to research. This will help you focus. Instead of just sitting down "to research," ask a question. "Where and when did Philip Everts die?" "What was the maiden name of Philip Everts' wife Catherine?" Looking for Catherine's maiden name will take you on a different path than searching for when and where Philip died.
I’ve had students in my Beyond the Hints course tell me that asking a question before researching has really helped them focus their research. It's a simple thing, but it is so effective.
We talk a lot about researching, but what about after we research? What do we do with it? I think that one of the most overlooked areas of genealogy is writing.
Are we leaving all of your discoveries in your genealogy software? If so, I can almost guarantee you that your research will not outlive you. Taking those conclusions and stories and writing about them will get them into a format that others can more easily use.
Writing about your ancestors is not only a way to preserve your research, it’s also a good research aid. There's nothing quite like spelling out what you know about someone to show what you don't know about someone!
It doesn't have to be dozens and dozens of pages. How about a couple of paragraphs explaining a probate file or how the land passed through several generations of the family. Tell the stories. Share the discoveries.
If you're stumped about who and what to write about or you just want to challenge yourself to write more in the new year, I encourage you to check out my free writing challenge called 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. It’s a free challenge. Each week is a different prompt to spark ideas for your writing.
What is a good genealogy habit that you've developed? What habit do you want to work more on? Let me know in the comments below!