- Question your relatives. Take copies of their photos and ask them to identify people in them. They may have old address books, letters and school achievement records etc. There may be interesting family rumours. Could “Uncle Bill” be perhaps “William” or “Henry William”. Please don’t overtire them or bore them, and remember there may be events that they don’t want to talk about! Try to keep them focused on the information you need.
- Whenever you discover information make a note of your source. It can be frustrating if you need to locate it again quickly, and potentially time consuming. Also, make a note of the records searched and the date.
- Look into the geography of the area and remember borders change. A family spread over three counties may just be within a five mile circle where the borders meet.
To help you along.
- Create a timeline for each key individual you are researching. You may think you have only a few details, however, by the time you add their christening, marriage, and burial dates, plus occupational information and abode at certain times of their lives e.g. from their children’s baptism or marriage record, or on a land deed etc, plus when their wife died, census dates, apprenticeship records and trade directories etc, your understanding of them starts to be a lot better than you first thought.
- Remember that spellings of surnames and places over the centuries have changed. Add to that illiteracy, accents, nicknames, poor writing and miss-transcriptions, and you will see that you have to be quite flexible in your thinking. Surnames placed as middle names were often the maiden name of the mother or grandmother, and can be a useful clue to family ties. An unusually named sibling may also be easier to identify in records.
- On various research websites you will find that people have enthusiastically added their family tree. These often include mistakes, but they have entered the guessed details as facts. Then, you find that other people have copied them and they appear on multiple internet sites. Make a note of what they have written, but check against proper resources.
- Get a “feel” for the family i.e. the circumstances in which they lived, the area, their occupations etc. Be realistic – don’t romanticise them. This will help anomalies stand out.
- Employ a professional researcher like myself to unlock those difficult questions.