Search billions of records on


From the Green Valley News, Sunday September 20 2009, page B5

Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

Twelve Tips for Problem Solving

Fall is just around the corner. Now is a good time to review our genealogical problems and plan to solve one or more during the winter doldrums. Okay, it's not that bad in Green Valley, but it does get dark way too early. The following tips will even work during the next long hot summer.

  1. Review your previous research. You may find clues overlooked the first time around, especially with items found early in your ancestor hunting. Don't file anything permanently-the more you review the evidence you've collected, the more you can learn from it.
  2. Evaluate your sources. Are all of your facts documented? Are your sources reliable? "Aunt Tilly" is probably not a reliable source if she didn't witness the event she talks about. An original source created at the time of an event is the best evidence.
  3. When original sources are absent, search for several derivative or secondary sources that are in agreement and you will likely have satisfactory proof.
  4. Are there conflicts in your information? Further research is always necessary to resolve a conflict. Don't ignore any piece of evidence until you can determine the best evidence from additional research.
  5. Have you found evidence to prove or disprove all the family traditions that are part of your family history? While most traditions have an element of truth, it's easy to be misled by an untruth.
  6. Study the area in which your problem ancestor(s) lived to make sure you have found every available record. Don't overlook obscure sources such as school records, tax records or passport applications to name a few that are harder to locate but may provide important clues.
  7. Research areas around that in which you know a family lived. It's not unusual to find records for a given family in two or three surrounding counties. County borders appear only on paper.
  8. Reach conclusions only with evidence to back them up. Sometimes we want something to be true so badly we can convince ourselves it is. You can easily waste time researching someone else's ancestor because it seems likely to be yours. Rely on evidence to prove every relationship.
  9. Avoid making assumptions based on today's values and way of life. While human nature hasn't changed, the society we live in has. Learn more about your ancestor's times to better understand problems and possible solutions.
  10. Don't overlook court records. Even law-abiding citizens went to court for many reasons, such as debt, divorce, land disputes, name changes, sex before marriage and other reasons we can't even imagine today. Court testimony may provide information found nowhere else.
  11. If you're really stuck, read a book related to your problem, attend a lecture, discuss the situation with a fellow researcher, or hire a professional to review your research and suggest a plan.
  12. Remember, not all genealogical problems can be solved. Sometimes there just are no records, but often a problem can be solved with non-traditional records that are available. Always perform "a reasonably exhaustive search" before you give up on finding a solution.

Finally, share your successes. We all like to celebrate whenever a problem is solved.

Home Page
768 visitors since
20 September 2009
Page revised
27 September 2009
Valid XHTML 1.0