How to Research Your Family Tree
How to Research Your Family Tree, by Will Johnson, Professional Genealogist.
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When amateur genealogists are researching their family, they tend to put little to no emphasis on documenting what they find. It is enough for them that they have found some exciting detail, which they write out in full, without noting when and where they found it. The belief that the finished product is the goal leads to fabulous trees and reports with no authority to back them up. When the next researcher picks up the thread, they have little idea where and when to look. That researcher ends up repeating once more, work that has been done ten times already, in trying to find the underlying evidence for the claims.
When your Aunt Nellie tells you "my grandma's name was Pattycake", you don't write in your notebook "my great-grandmother's name was Pattycake". What you write is, "my Aunt Nellie, in an interview with me on 20 Aug 1969 told me that my grandma's name was Pattycake". You want to record the source for each purported fact, not just the bald fact. This lets others have confidence in the type of research you do, the carefulness with which you do it, and that the end-result can be credited. It also, lets them know, not to spend days in the courthouse looking for a record for "Pattycake", since the source was a personal interview.
And remember remarkable claims require remarkable documentation. If your great-grandmother was a "full-blood Cherokee Princess" you'd better have very excellent documents stating just that.
I try to impart to my clients and myself, the overwhelming importance of treating each member of your tree in a full biography. That is, write a biography for yourself and each of your direct ancestors. For example, if one hundred years from now, someone is researching me, would they know that until second grade I went to Pidgeon Crest Elementary, but then from second grade to sixth grade, I went to Hawk Nose Elementary? Why is this important? Because it informs the researcher on where to look for documentation. Where the documentation lives, is one of the most important things to know. Now that you know what town I lived in until I was 7 and what town I moved to, at the age of 7, you will know where to look for my mother's phone directory and land-deed entries. Without this knowledge you'd flounder around in various books hoping by chance to encounter this information. Probably not even in the right county.