Monday, October 6, 2014

Your Online Genealogy Tips

I love Facebook.  Don't you love Facebook?  I mean, I guess, it has it's pros and cons, of course, but when it comes through for you, it usually does it with a bang!  Not too long ago, I was working on some new lecture materials and I thought I would pose a research question via my Facebook page to see what my friends there had to say about the subject I was working on.  I quickly had fantastic responses from some of the best researchers in the country.  You can't buy genealogy help like that.  So I thought I would mirror some of those ideas back to you here so that we could spread the brilliance around and make sure more people get to hear these great ideas. 

For those who missed the party (it was really fun, wish you'd been there), I am going to recap the Q&A for you here, because it's something we can all reap the benefits of in our genealogy endeavors.  The questions was: What is you best online search strategy?  The results were extremely useful whether you are just jumping on the genealogy train or you've been around the mountain a few times already.  I'll do my best to give credit where credit is due because the tips are worth their weight in gold.

Almost everyone said to have a plan going in.  Some people said they had a plan for just one person at a time, some have their trees visually laid out in the background of their computer or on working group sheets right next to them.  George and many others said to stick to the plan you create, too.  But most of us also agreed that we tend to get sidetracked and fall into the tangential genealogy group from time to time.  However my friend Laura mentioned that sometimes when you allow yourself to get sidetracked that can often be when you find your answer unexpectedly.  Has that ever happened to any of you?  But Thomas also reminded us that sometimes genealogy research online is like Costco and we need to resist the temptation to try all the samples.  Which makes me sad because the samples are all so yummy and fun.  But I see his point completely. :)

For staying on target with our research, I loved Crista's suggestion to formulate questions you want answered before you begin.  By having a specific set of questions you're aiming to find the answers to, it focuses your search on what records you need to look at in order to answer the pre-formulated questions, thus yielding a generally faster and more successful search.  Of course, the librarian in me loves that suggestion.  Ann seconded that idea with the slant of questioning why she might feel like she needs to find a particular record, then asking herself if there are any alternative ways or records to gather the information she needs, before moving forward.  Questions and cross-referencing questions.  Nice.

Naturally we all wander now and then, no matter how disciplined we try to be, and I really loved the suggestions you all had for when that happens.  Helen said she keeps a word document open in the background and then when she finds she's taken a side-road, she'll write down where she went, so she can go back later and pick up the trail another time.  Anne mentioned that she uses Evernote for that purpose as well.  What other ways do some of you keep track of the various trails in the forest of family trees that you come across?  We've all got our own way of leaving a bread crumb trail and I am always interested to know what works for people.

Becky mentioned that Facebook itself is a great way to meet up with distant relatives to swap notes. Sue and Grant said the big three (Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage) and a few other online sites are where they start and then move outward from there.  Others say that having a variety of social media on hand in order to give your brain a break is a good option too.  I am particularly fond of Susan's suggestion to have a plate of chocolate chip cookies on hand for sustenance.  Why didn't I ever think of that one?

Russ also had a great suggestion over on Google+.  His hint was to make sure you understand how the search engine works on each website you are using.  I'm going to work on that myself because I'm sure my searches would run better if I new the nuances of the differences between each genealogy site.  Thanks Russ!

As some final advice, several folks mentioned the following and it really is a golden rule for online genealogy research: search and then research everything.  We've all been there: you find something that looks promising only to discover it is the result of someone else's poorly researched, improperly cited tree merging.  It's enough to make us all want to throw a tantrum, isn't it?  We have to remember that no matter how promising something looks, we've got to check and recheck and then recheck again the facts and sources.  It can be tedious and lead to days/weeks/month/years of frustration sometimes, but it is so very necessary.  What's that joke quote floating around on the internet these days?  "The problem with quotes on the internet is that you can't confirm their validity" -Abraham Lincoln.  Basically, amen!  Be diligent in checking your facts.  Everyone seemed to agree on that.

Did our Facebook discussion miss any high points for you in your online research habits?  I'm always looking for some new ideas.  What about you?  And if you aren't friends with these people on Facebook, go send them an invite.  Check out the actual discussion thread here and get to know these amazing folks.  They are fantastic friends and I learn a lot from them all the time.  I'm sure they'd love to talk to you too.  And don't forget to friend me on Facebook and Google+  I'd love to talk to you there anytime.

6 comments:

Jana Last said...

Janet,

I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2014/10/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-october-10.html

Have a wonderful weekend!

Janet Hovorka said...

Thank you so much, Jana! I always appreciate it when you link me as a "Fab Find." Have a great weekend!

Geolover said...

While formulating a research question, review documentation already on hand. The answer may be there, acquired before you even knew about the existence of person X.

Janet Hovorka said...

Great idea! Thanks!

Paula from SCGS said...

Oh the distractions! It's my biggest problem -- the genealogical equivalent of "SQUIRREL!!" I came up with a workable solution to that. I take a screen shot of the record or whatever and I put it in my "Do Later" folder. When I get frustrated following one line, I go to that folder and pull up a record and work with that, just to keep going. I've also found that very useful as I go back and forth between my online tree on Ancestry and record searches on FamilySearch. I can see how Evernote would be really helpful in keeping these organized. I may migrate to that system in the future.

Janet Hovorka said...

Great idea with the screen shot going into a "Do Later" folder, Paula. It does seem helpful to jump lines from time to time, doesn't it? Especially when we feel like we've been staring at the same brick in the wall for too long.