Thursday, July 14, 2011

My Research Problem Solution Advice

"What should I do next?" 

"How would you solve my research problem?"

"I've looked everywhere online and can't find anything about my great-grandfather."

These are the types of questions I hear every week from my genealogy society colleagues, in my senior adult class members, and in email from my blog readers.  They realize that they're "stuck" or against a "brick wall" and don't know where to turn next.  I'm always willing to help, but it seems like my advice is a broken record:

"The online information is the 'low hanging fruit' - the historical record collections and books online are only 2% to 3% of all of the available records. has over 30,000 collections, FamilySearch is imaging and digitizing collections and has 670 online at present, and there is a wealth of information in other websites, online family trees, Rootsweb and USGenWeb. 

"There are useful genealogy records 'hiding' in county courthouses, state and national archives, genealogical and historical societies, library manuscript collections, etc.  Some - only some - of those records are available on microfilm and microfiche at the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City (and can be ordered at a local Family History Center or participating library).

"Your job is to find everything you can - not just search over and over again in the online databases.  Learn more about the locality history and availability of records."

  My suggestions usually include:

 * Join and participate in a local genealogical society, post queries in their newsletter or periodical, and ask questions and advice of the experienced members and speakers.

*  Look in the LDS Family History Library Catalog ( for your surnames and localities.  Are there microfilms or microfiches there can you should order from the FHL?

*  Go to the FamilySearch Research Wiki ( and Family History Wiki ( and learn the history and available records of the localities of interest (country, state, county, town), and learn about record types and research methods also. 

*  There are over 160 FamilySearch Research Courses ( with video presentations, syllabuses, etc. to help learn about research techniques  in record types and specific locations.

*  Ask for help from other researchers, and search for earlier posts,  on the Rootsweb/Ancestry Message Board Archives ( and the GenForum Message Board Archives ( for your family names and the localities of interest. 

*  Ask for help from other researchers on the FamilySearch Forums (  These forums are monitored and most queries are responded to quickly.  FamilySearch also has some Online Research Communities on Facebook ( and Skype ( 

*  Go to the nearest FHC or participating library, order some microfilms or microfiches, search them for your specific families in specific localities.  Then order some more. 

*  While you're at the FHC and libraries, check to see what online databases they provide to their patrons.  The FHCs has almost all American subscription databases and many European subscription databases available for free on their in-house computers.

*  Review the book, periodical and manuscript holdings of distant local, regional and national libraries and societies (the catalogs are usually online!) to determine if there are unique records in their collections.  Then visit them to do your own research, or hire someone to visit there to research for you.

*  Visit, or have someone visit for you, the courthouses, town clerk, county recorder, cemeteries, churches, etc. offices in your distant localities. 

It is so much easier to "do a reasonably exhaustive search" now, and it can be done much faster in 2011 than it was back before 2001.  I started, back in the old days of 1988, and did everything on paper and microfilm (going to the FHC on Saturdays), and by 1993 had almost all of my current ancestral families identified.  I've spent the time since 1993 trying to "prove" the collected data and relationships by using published, manuscript and online records.  My guess is that what took me five years back in the 1988 to 1993 time frame could be done in one year or less today because of the availability of online historical records. 

The reaction to my "preaching" to the folks is usually "that sounds like a lot of work..."  Yes, it is.

It's your choice - spend the time and solve the puzzle, or let someone else do it sometime.  Each person has a life to lead, with relationships, priorities and commitments, and needs to be realistic about them.  If you can pursue genealogy research once a week, then do that.  Your ancestors won't go away, they'll just have to wait longer for you to find them!

What else would you suggest?  What works for you? 


Root Digger said...

This is a great Post! Thank You!!

TRG said...

Someone just asked me for advice on genealogy research 5 days ago! My response was pretty lengthy so I hope you don't mind me pasting the link to the comment on my blog instead...

. said...

Thanks for this one, Randy! It's going in my Favorites as a checklist of what to do next when this newbie gets stuck. Diane-The-Nut

smj said...

Use PERSI at Heritage Quest to find articles about the area or your family. Best version is on Heritage Quest.

Jennifer said...

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