Two Keys to Great Genealogy


The easiest way to keep your family tree research on track is to follow these two key fundamentals of genealogy research. 

  • Key1: Always work from the known to the unknown
  • Key 2: Always document your sources

Keep these two principles in mind and your genealogy will be more accurate and better organized.Pick a single subject as the focus for your research and work up and down from that person. Most often, that subject will be you. There is no one you know better than yourself so, when you start with yourself, you are starting out right by following the principal of working from the known to the unknown.  If you also want to trace your spouses genealogy, I strongly recommend that you create separate databases for each of you. <You will find it much less confusing if you research one subject at a time.

You should cite every source that you use in your research. If two sources contain conflicting information, you should still cite both. You will have to make a judgment call as to which information is the best, but you should record the differing information too.  Citing every source you use does not mean that you have to use every source you come across. If you have good evidence that a particular writer or compiler consistently puts out false or mistaken data, you can legitimately ignore that source. You might, however, want to make a note about why you believe the information to be incorrect so that other researchers can be warned.Great genealogy research is not just copying what you find in other works. To really do good research you must consciously evaluate every piece of information you come across and make informed decisions as to which bits of data are best. When doing family history research, we are dealing with dates, places and names that were recorded by fallible humans. We can never be 100% sure our conclusions are precisely correct. Still, we must make every effort to adhere to strict standards for good research and quality of proof to keep those errors to a minimum.Evidence!To document your sources properly, you will have to learn a little about the mechanics of source citation. Cyndi’s List has links to several resources you can find online. Good tools you can use to help create the actual citations are Landmark’s Citation Machine and EasyBib. Certainly the most used reference for genealogical citation is Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian by Elizabeth Shown Mills. Ms. Mills is widely considered to be THE authority on documentation for family history research.
While learning to format your citations correctly is important, I think it is even more important to make them clear to your readers. The people viewing your genealogy are likely to be family members and distant relatives who don’t know anything about proper source citation. Try to make your citation clear to them. I like to spell out words like page rather than using the more correct p. I will also make images of documents and attach them to the citation. Not everyone would agree but, adding more detail works for me.