Tips & Best Practices

hintsStart with what you know and work backwards. Start with yourself, then your parents, then your grandparents. Don’t forget to include aunts, uncles and cousins!

Ask Relatives. Ask precise questions. Questions generate information and more questions. We remember more than we think we do. Look at pictures and documents and ask about them. Disagreements are okay: the truth is in there somewhere.

Find Family Documents. These include certificates and licenses, deeds, wills, newspaper clippings, postcards. Papers can be saved in drawers or bank boxes, folders, or in the hands of other relatives. Any document can have genealogical significance if it has information about family members and their activities.

Photographs. We all end up with old pictures we don’t recognize. Your relatives may be able to help you figure out who they are. Write on the backs in pencil. Remember to do this now for photos of people you CAN recognize and date. Digital photos are great but they multiply like rabbits. Develop a consistent naming convention to keep track: e.g., HAYES William A-1917-yearbook.jpg.

Write everything down consistently and clearly – and cite your sources!

  • Write dates in a standardized format: dd mm yyyy (eg. 28 Apr 2017).  It is the international date standard. Genealogy programs usually either require you to enter dates this way, or flips them around to fit this standard.  Plus, this helps you be sure that when you see at date like 10/5, you know if you meant October 5th or May 10th!
  • Write locations in a standardized format: Write as City, County, State, Country. (Ex: Tyler, Smith County, Texas, USA or Mildenhall, Suffolk County, England). This is especially important to be able to distinguish between City and County names when they are the same.

Create trees, either on paper or in a computer program or website. Fill out family group sheets and pedigree charts as you go to help you keep track of your information.

FAN Club: Our ancestors didn’t live in isolation. When doing your research, look at their friends, associates, and neighbors as well as the names you know. This also includes looking at records for siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles. What you may not find in your own direct line might show up on a record for someone else in their FAN club.