Monday, February 21, 2011

10 Research Tips to Fast Forward

Genealogy Research Tips to Fast Forward
4 Generations to Civil War Possibilities
Clearly it is impossible to research 8 generations in 60 seconds, but when you tell the story about that one famous ancestor, or infamous one, somehow there is a quick jump from you to your 7th great grandfather in no time. If you are looking for your sensational, yet factual family storyline, you don't have to suffer through a  lifetime of research.   This can be accomplished in as few as 3 generations, others may need to unveil 10 generations for that perfect storyline. 

You will have to do two things. 1) create a pedigree chart 2) perform genealogical research. Let me explain the difference.  Pedigree charts have a bunch of related names ("begats" if you will); genealogical research tells a story of your ancestor.  Don't confuse the two.  Recently I took a client back 8 generations, however some were just pedigree charts even though I still provided proper citations and proof of relations. The real research however, supported the storyline.

As researchers we know in order to complete full genealogical research (collecting documents, data, relations, social history, etc) on one family member can take months if not years.  So, how can you get to the meat of your personal family "episode" quickly?  I tell my clients, I'm looking for a few parallel events: "wars, mass exodus, and the opening of land - as it concerns the whereabouts of your ancestor!"

Five Sets of Records
Certain records yield the good stuff for determining your "quick" storyline 1) war records 2) local history books 3) deeds/wills 4) newspaper stories/ obituaries; and 5) comprehensive timelines.

You can trace 256 grandparents  in 8 generations,  so somewhere there is buried a story of success such as the cunning escape, or a rags to riches; a story of pain and suffering such as refugees, and orphans; a story of absolute "favor" due to a class/caste system or royal bloodline; or a story of get the picture.   Of course the key is to focus on a story line you wish to share with others. Here are a few tips to creating your own fascinating story once you have a few generations of grandparents names. 

1) War Records.  The goal is to "fast search"  to 1870 for names and family members to find Civil War information.  Yep a pedigree chart of about 3-5 generations should do.  For clients who are looking for a sensational, yet factual story, I first do a quick search to hopefully get me to at least 1870.  Why?  Now, I have possible names for civil war veterans (1861-1865).  Great place to start.  You can discover rank, and regimen information.  Or, you can perhaps determine why an able man did not serve in the war? So much can be found on non-serving men, that you storyline might begin right here.  You may want to become familiar with some under used records like the Forgotten Provost Marshall General's Records.  And don't forget the Women in Wars.

2) Know your local history.  If you know the history of the areas you are researching, you will know what to look for. I usually read up on the local history at every stage of my research.  It might help eliminate a less intriguing storyline, early in the phase. Recently I was able to quickly (28 hours) attach a client to Rebecca Nurse of the Salem Witch Trials.  REMEMBER:  Nothing has value until you can prove your research with cited documents.  So for the family, I provided all of the connection (unequivocal), and the story 11 generations back.  Now...did I research in detail 6 of those generations?  No...but I did prove pedigree!  This research started in California (client) and ended in Salem Village.

3) Deeds and Wills.  Nothing allows you to fast-forward through generations quicker than deeds and will records. Bequeathing to children and grandchildren is a blessing.  (Sorry about your deceased ancestor(s), but here's not the time to get sentimental, unless of course your story lies in these records.) I take a pause. If there is a gnawing feeling in your gut suggesting the death to be questionable, I recommend you do a quick local  newspapers search for the cause of death.  If an excessive amount of land was acquired, definitely pull the land records to analyze acquisition and timeframe. You may even find that your ancestor settled the area.

4) Newspaper Stories/Obituaries. With digital/OCR newspaper database searches readily available for the researcher, why would you ever overlook this search?  Obits may provide full family histories, solidify descendents, and move you a full generation back -  often with dates! I usually dedicate one research session a week to newspaper searches. I only use free newspaper databases.  For a primer, you may wish to get started with the post Old Newspapers: A Treasure Hunt. These old newspapers also give you a great view of your ancestor's home place. 

5) Comprehensive Timelines. To have a good story, you need a plot, a reason, a goal.  I use historical timelines to gain an understanding of the era. Many ethnic groups moved in clusters for a reason. Many explorers faced their demise when moving westward to open territories. There were plagues and epidemics that full families succumbed to.  Oh...the list goes on and on.  But use this tool to perhaps answer: Why? 5 easy steps, you have your sensational story.  Ok...maybe not in 60 seconds, but I bet you can leap to that ancestor's story in less time if the story is fascinating enough!
Create your Episode!

Here is a compiled list of handy links referenced in this blog post.

Kathleen Brandt


  1. Thank you for an excellent set of tips!

  2. An interesting article - thanks! To do this here in Australia, one of the first sources I'd use would be the digitised Police Gazettes in searchable PDF format. There are lots of great stories there - offenders and victims of crime; people who 'vanished' (deliberately or otherwise); mothers of illegitimate children trying to locate the father to make him to pay maintenance; etc.