Research Basics

First of all, let me state that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an expert on this subject! I am learning as I go, as we all are. Also, you have to judge for yourself what works for you and what doesn't.

I am going to post things that I have found to be helpful to me as I started out, and hopefully you will benefit from the information too. Frankly, I would have loved to have had all this in one place 12 years ago!

I welcome any additions to this information that you may want to share.

Keeping Track of Your Information

I find that using a computer program to store your data is indispensible. You will be amazed at how fast you accumulate relatives you never knew about - even without winning the lottery!

Being somewhat thrifty, I chose to use Personal Ancestry File which is FREE from the LDS website I have found it to be very good at organizing data, and very user friendly. You will have to find one that works for you.

My Rant: I do not patronize companies that profit off the work of casual researchers such as myself. (Broderbund, the publisher of Family Tree Maker does this.) I very much dislike finding my own personal information being sold on CDs and posted on websites of unknown people. Researchers who purchase these CDs often assume that everything on these discs is correct, which it is not as it is just a collection of submitted data. The purchaser in turn publishes the information they obtain, further spreading misleading and incorrect information.
OK, end of my rant and I am climbing off the proverbial soapbox.

I did not get too far into my research when I discovered that it would be a lot easier to divide my research data to keep the file sizes down. I have our maternal side and paternal side in separate files. To divide any further than that may cause a problem when you merge the files in the final product, especially if you have relatives intermarrying, which is not as unusual as one would think. Again, you decide what works for you. I divided my files when I had about 600 individuals, and now that I have 3000+, I am really glad I chose to do so.

My biggest mistake was not keeping good records of my sources. In the beginning, I thought, "I'll remember where this information came from." WRONG! Many years have since passed, and now I can't remember what was on tonight's dinner plate, much less from which parish I obtained a particular record back in 1999. I have gotten better about detailing EXACTLY where a piece of information came from, i.e., stating that an age of a person was derived from the obituary of "John Doe" - and where this obit is stored in my files. I cannot stress the importance of this detail enough!

Speaking of files - how does paper manage to accumulate like this! I keep copies of everything I find, if possible, to verify and double-check - there are many reasons to do so. I have a huge collection of sacramental records from various parishes in St. Louis. I am constantly amazed at how much I missed the first 30 or so times I looked at them. As I find new branches of the family, I go back to the records and will always find several things to add to my data file. Also, I find it is easier to copy the page and read it later than to try to read it on the microfilm reader for hours on end. Yes, this does incur some expense, but in the long run, it is worth it. You save your eyesight!

Storage of these papers is another issue. For me, it is easiest to keep sacramental records organized by type: baptism, marriage, death, etc. I have several 3" three ring binders, and each is dedicated to a particular type of record. Each book's pages are numbered sequentially, and the page number of a particular record is recorded in the source field of a database for the particular data. So, if I am looking for a marriage record of a particular person, the marriage field will indicate on which page in the marriage book I will find the record. The page numbers are not important, there is no real order to the records, I just number them as I obtain them. I have been in the process of indexing these records for a long time - and it will be an ongoing process.

Articles, pictures and other things that reference one particular person are filed in a drawer with one or more folders for each surname in my database. People on whom I have located a lot of information and/or pictures have their own folders. The folders are color coded by family lines - I have 8 different colors of folders, 4 colors for the maternal side and 4 for the paternal side, so that each of our grandparents' family data would be stored in the same color folders. This might be taking it to an extreme, but the visual clue of color helps when you are dealing with a couple hundred folders.

This system has worked for me so far - and would work better if I would file things on a regular basis. Letting the paper pile up makes the task overwhelming! This is my New Year's resolution every year, and it hasn't happened yet - I'm about 9 years behind!

Again, these are my methods - madness included! Develop your own as you go along. Feel free to share your ideas, I don't want anyone to think that this is the only way to do things!


Websites that may be of help


Cyndi's List - This is the mothership of Genealogy websites!

LDS Family History Library - you can get the PAF software as well as search their records

Burial records from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs


Find Obituaries in:

The Southern Illinoisan or The Herrin Spokesman (Herrin, IL area)

Detroit Free Press

St. Louis Post-Dispatch


If you find a site that you feel should be added to these lists, please let me know!