Friday, April 29, 2011

Do You Search Systematically Or ...?

When you learn the name of an ancestor you didn't know before, do you proceed to "prove" a relationship in a methodical manner? Or do you search sources as they come to mind? Do you search the most easily available sources first? Or do you have some other method? Do you have a list of sources to search and run through those in the same order every time you search for a new ancestor?

This year I learned the name of the father of one of my g-g-grandmothers. It would be so easy to just add it to my genealogy program and mark him found. But I can't do it. I want to be sure the name is correct and then I want to learn more about him - and his wife and children. The minimum information is, of course, death, marriage, and birth dates and locations, but I really want more - much more - if I can find it.

I nearly always start my searches with census records. If I can find the person on a census or two, I then try to think of every other place I might find more information, including obituaries and newspaper articles; cemetery listings; city/county directories; deeds; wills; church records; etc. I use some of the links on my sidebar to see what other sources might be available for the area where the ancestor lives, and then I continue my search. I use a Genealogical Concept Map to note the results of my searches for at-a-glance information and I use a research log to keep track of where I searched and found the information. I also use a Checklist for Completed Searches to remind me of possible sources and to mark off those already searched.

I don't know that one method of searching for a "new" ancestor is more correct than another but I suspect that some methods might be more efficient than others. I'm wondering how the rest of you approach your searches for possible/probable ancestors you've just discovered. Please share!


  1. Interesting post because I have just found what I theorize maybe my husbands great great grandfather (Frank Rauscher) On the great grandmothers (Katharina Rauscher Sperl) death certificate it listed her father as Frank and mother unknown. I had wondered about how he son (John Sperl) would know the grandfathers name and not the grandmother.

    It looks like Frank was living in the same town in PA. I really wish PA would get off their controlling high horse and permit a digitization index to be online. That will give me ten years to look for him. I will check some of the links you have listed.

  2. Claudia, I have a similar situation with the death certificate of a g-grandmother - the father is named but the mother is unknown. After research I finally decided that my g-grandmother's mother died when she was young and her father remarried. It probably wasn't comfortable for her father to tell her about her birth mother with her stepmother around. (If such things were even considered in the mid-1850s-60s.)

    I know exactly what you mean about the PA vital statistics. They could at least publicize the information that's older than 72 years like the census. I was thrilled to find a book listing Butler County death information. It's only for about 10 years, at the end of the 19th century, but it was very helpful to me. Maybe a similar resource will turn up for you. I can't remember which county/counties are you searching in PA?

  3. Allegheny, Armstrong, and I have found Coleman's from Philadelphia to Armstrong and everywhere in between.

    Ireland, Germany, Bohemia

    All of my lines settled in Allegheny County PA, how rare is that?

  4. I have a Word document for each family with transcription of all the information I find - censuses, entries in county history books, etc. At the top of the page I put a list of things and places to check. As I find more possible resources, I add those to the list. It's not sophisticated, but at least everything is on one page.

  5. I can't say I have a hard and fast way of researching newly found potential ancestors. It really depends on what information I have been presented with and what is available. I can say that I do:

    *Use a research log.
    *Keep a list of potential resources to check.
    *Check censuses early in my search.
    *Look into history of the area at the time the ancestor lived there.
    *Check to see what records are available for the time and place of interest.

    From there things tend to take on a life of their own.

  6. Most of my efforts the last couple years have been on sourcing and presenting research rather than new research.

    With my new Civil War project I have a spreadsheet that lists all possible participants. As I search a database or file I add column listing it and record whether each person/surname was searched for and the results. Any information I find is on another spreadsheet in the same workbook.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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