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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree February 2019 > Getting it right! Essential research skills for first-rate family history

Getting it right! Essential research skills for first-rate family history

Discover how you too can master the six key qualities you need to be an excellent family history researcher. Professional genealogist Kim Cook guides you step-by-step through them, with handy case studies to show you how to put your super-charged skills into play


Having a wonderful array of family history sources and databases online is great for us all to search, but there are disadvantages. The wealth of information means that there are probably dozens of people who share the same name and one or more additional key details – date of birth, marriage, or death, name of parent or spouse, occupation, or place of residence. Unless we learn how to discern the correct person, we can end up with ‘ancestors’ – so-called – who are nothing to do with us. So how do we ensure this does not happen?

Let me tell you about the six key qualities that I believe every person seeking their ancestors should strive to master.

The 6 key qualities

To ensure family history is both accurate and relevant, it’s essential to follow specific methods when gathering, analysing and interpreting information.

These methods have six key elements.

1 Be systematic in research

2 Be thorough in exploring resources

3 Be methodical in making and keeping notes

4 Be discriminating in assessing the value levels of various sources

5 Be analytical when information appears contradictory

6 Be discerning in interpreting the accumulated information before applying it to your family.

1 Be systematic

Start with yourself and work back methodically

A key principle of all research is to start with the known and work towards the unknown. If there’s a suggestion that your family may descend from a person recorded in history, don’t base your research on that. Keep a note of it, but don’t use it as a starting point for your research.

The only reliable starting point is you! Begin by writing down the basics of your own life (family, homes, schools, work etc, with dates) in a dedicated notebook. Use this information:

• to fill in a Family Group Sheet showing parents and siblings

• to fill in a Pedigree Chart showing your direct ancestors for four or five generations

• and as the starting point for a narrative pedigree.

This is a Family Group Record Sheet. It allows you to create an at-a-glance record of the key information about a couple and their children, noting which details you have found (the gaps showing the info you need to track down still)

It’s also useful to fill in further Family Group Sheets for parents and grandparents, showing their siblings.

Work back systematically, generation by generation, to gather similar information about earlier ancestors.

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About Family Tree

What are your family history goals for 2019? Perhaps you'd like to get your family history notes more organised? To be sure you're searching the right ancestors? To take your research back further? To look into your family's lives in more depth? Or perhaps your goal is simply to take that first step and start finding out about your family tree? Our ultimate guide - in this, the Feb issue of Family Tree - has advice to help everyone become the best genealogist they can be... from the newly curious, to those with many research discoveries under their belt already, you're sure to find it a valuable read. Happy researching!