I’ll bet many of us (most of us?) go to a genealogical website and plug our ancestors’ names into the first search box we see and hope for the best. At least at first. In the past, this was exactly how I conducted my research. Rather haphazardly, with varying success.
In my experience, I think there are two phase in the life cycle of the genealogist (there may be three or more, but I haven’t gotten there yet). First, there is the collection phase. We’ve just gotten started, we know a few details from our parents or grandparents, and we just start collecting records and filling in the pedigree chart as fast as we can. In this phase we find the “low-hanging fruit” in terms of records. And that is fine, but eventually, you get to the second phase. In the second phase, you’ve run into some trouble. You’ve found some conflicting records or some brick walls and have some harder work ahead of you.
Each of the major genealogical websites has a front page with that ever-tempting search box in it. That is their way to get quick engagement with website users and potential subscribers. This blog series is going to assume that we are all subscribers. If you try to do some of the things I’ll discuss, it will likely ask you to subscribe to see the documents or the search results anyway. Just be aware. This is not meant to be a blog series that discusses only FREE websites or databases. FamilySearch is the only free site I’ll be discussing.
The main front page search box is going to be great for that collection phase, but not so great for the phase where you work on more difficult problems. This series is going to help you learn some other facets of these websites to make your searching more targeted and efficient. That front page search may also be a hindrance if you are working with common names or don’t have much information to help narrow down your search results. When working with general search results, we have to pay extra attention to details so we don’t end up “adopting” the wrong family into our family tree.
Up next… Ancestry’s Card Catalog