Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Another Kind of Genealogy Toolbox

Linda Stufflebean's post, A New Look at Bloggers' Toolboxes, reminded me of a draft I began several months ago about another kind of genealogy toolbox.  I decided to finish my thoughts and share them.  I hope you'll tell me what you think.

Most of us have genealogy toolboxes with direct links to resources on our blogs so we can easily access and share them.  Our toolboxes are often specific to our own individuals and families we wish to find and the locations where they lived.  They usually include links to online resources and sometimes information for repositories without online images.  We add all kinds of useful resources to our toolboxes.

I think there's another kind of toolbox, too, a toolbox that's even more personal, often private, with tools we need to go about our searches to find deceased family members.  It's a toolbox with our personal skills and abilities and those we want to obtain to help us become better genealogists and family historians.

Below are some of the most basic tools I think we need in this other toolbox.  Some are almost inherent in our personalities, some we've learned through our education and life experiences, and others can be learned through study and experience.

Essential Tools to Begin. 
  • Interest.  Without an interest in our dead ancestors, or some information we can obtain from them (such as medical information), we would not search for them.
  • Desire.  I separate desire from interest because we can be interested but have no desire to do the work to find our ancestors.  Interest can be wishful thinking.  Desire can be, too, I suppose.
  • Motivation and Willingness to search happen when interest and desire together move a person to action.

Other Necessary Skills and Abilities (inherent and/or learned).  Some of these may be related to and/or overlap each other but I listed them separately because they're so important to the process of research and evaluation of results.  These are listed in no specific order.
  • Analytical Thinking.  The ability to decide what information one wants to find, then think through the methods and means of finding the information is essential to family history research.  I think of analytical thinking as a pre-research activity and an aid in the process of research.
  • Critical Thinking.  The ability to analyze and evaluate the results one finds.  Without it, one may make incorrect assumptions about results.   
  • Math, especially addition and subtraction.  At minimum, one needs to be able to calculate the year of birth based on age in a census or on a ship's manifest.  There are other uses, too, of course.  I suppose this could be grouped with critical thinking but to me it's so important it needs its own line on the list.  Haven't we all seen an individual listed as a parent when he was four years old, or some similar situation?  Math would have prevented the problem, as would several of the others skills mentioned here.
  • Organization and Record Keeping.  Without some system of organizing records, one may repeat the same searches a number of times.  What a waste of time!  There are plenty of other reasons to be organized, not the least of which is to be able to return to a record when other, contradictory information comes to light.
  • Evaluation.  Assessing research findings and judging their worth can help a careful researcher separate the gold from dross.  All documents are not created equal and some documents may be about an individual who is not your ancestor.
  • Desire to Continue Learning.  We can make more and better progress if we continue to learn, not only about our ancestors, but about the research process, about places to search, about evaluating and documenting our research.  The desire and ability to learn is a great skill to have.
  • Ability to Interpret.  Does it mean this, or that?  I suspect knowing how to interpret records comes with experience, helped along by education.
  • Problem Solving.  This skill goes along with some of the others, above.  There are all kinds of problems that can pop up when doing family history research.  Being able to solve problems can help us determine our next step in the research process.
  • Sleuthing.  I often imagine family history research as a mystery in need of a good detective.  Sometimes we need the skills of a detective to move forward.  Where is the next place to search (in both online database and physical location) when an ancestor disappears.  Are there any "leads" to follow to indicate what happened to the ancestor?

Do you consider skills and abilities likes these part of your genealogoy toolbox?  What skills have I missed?  What skills do you have in your research toolbox that have helped you along the way?


Copyright © 2009-2016 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.



  1. I like your alternate toolbox and fully agree with your list. Dedicated researchers would have a difficult time being successful if they lacked any of these traits and skills.

    1. When we began family history research, I suppose most of us didn't think of adding these to our toolboxes, and I suppose some of us don't think much about them now because we've just acquired them and they've become part of us. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment, Linda. I appreciate it.

  2. Nancy,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

    1. Thank you, Jana. I appreciate being included in your Fab Finds. It's an honor!

  3. Excellent list. I'd add PATIENCE. As in the patience to read unindexed digital church records or poorly indexed city directories, page by page by page. I've solved many a genealogical mystery that way.

    1. Thanks, Jackie. Yes, I hadn't thought of it but patience IS an important tool, too. I still sometimes want the ancestor's record to pop up first when I do an online search but I've had enough experience to know it rarely does and that I often have to look page by page through records. Thanks for leaving a comment. I appreciate it. (I may update this list with the additional suggestions left in the comments.)

  4. I like your approach very much. The programs and forms are of paltry use without abilities involved in thinking about what we are going.

    I especially like your Analytic / Critical bookends for the research process. Your last 3 entries in that section are also essential middle pieces. So many lack the ability to contemplate how they "know" what they think they "know."

    I would add ~Flexibility~. A would-be 'complete' research plan is not to stick to if one finds a treasure trove in a records repository. Failing to look at road petitions, chattel mortgages or seemingly esoteric or difficult records can make us miss that essential detail. And allow for serendipity: a cousin once just randomly pulled down a deed book, set it on the counter; it opened up to the middle of a 31-page instrument, and in the middle of one of the immediately accessible pages was the name of a relative as having paid on some land. The relative would never have been indexed, and if time had not been taken to look at what was on the page, some crucial information would never have been found.

    We need every little bonus we can get :-)

    1. Thank you, Geolover, for adding to the discussion. I like your additions of flexibility and serendipity. I think it's important to have an objective with a plan for reaching it but, as you say, flexibility is important. When we are at the library and ignore other resources because we're focused only on our list, we might miss some important sources. That's an amazing story of serendipity -- one most of us would wish to happen to us!

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and insights. I appreciate it.


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

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...