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Interested in going deeper into family history research?


Once you get a few hours of research under your belt, it's time to go deeper into source records. Here are some more tips to keep in mind.

1.  Spelling means nothing without a liberal dose of creativity. The spelling of a surname may vary from record to record. Just because the name is spelled differently, don't rule out a family connection if the surname spelling is close. Clerks or census takers sometimes had poor handwriting, made mistakes, or spelled names phonetically For this reason, you have to get creative when you're trying to find an ancestor in the census index. When searching for my Lile ancestors, for example, I've learned to check Lile, Lyle, Lisle, and Lyall.  I've found members of the same family under all those spellings. I even found my great-great grandfather listed as Issac Syle in a census index -- a misreading of the census taker's handwriting by the compiler of the index! (That's Issac "Syle" Lile to the right.) So my advice is: Get creative. If you don't find a family in the location you expect, try to figure out all the possible alternate spellings and check those.
Issac Lile (1836 - 1920)
2. Collect information on whole family groups, not just your particular ancestor. Until the 20th century, it was common to find multiple generations and branches of the same family living in the same area. Married adult children lived near their parents and households were frequently comprised of a married couple, their unmarried or minor children, and often the elderly parents of the husband or wife.  If the spouse of a married adult child died, the widow frequently returned to the parents' home with children in tow. Sometimes a married couple's brothers and sisters, aunts or uncles, or other relatives lived with them for a period of time, often because of a death in the family.  Not only did family members live near each other, they often moved to a new location together.  As a result, keeping track of your ancestor's siblings or cousins may help you locate your direct-line ancestors. These ebbs and flows in household composition are all part of your family history.

3. Keep track of the neighbors.  Not your present-day neighbors (though you could do that, too), but neighbors of your family. Prior to the 1900's, neighbors often developed strong ties with each other. They collaborated to build houses and barns, helped each other with harvesting crops, exchanged blacksmith or carpentry skills. They witnessed neighbors' wills and other legal transactions. They socialized and watched out for the community's children. When it came time for those children to marry, they picked spouses from close to home. When neighbors became close friends, they often moved to new locations as groups, bringing the familiarity of the old community to the new. So though you may not know whether or not a particular neighbor group will be significant in your family research, it can pay off if you keep notes about nearby families as you research.
4. Learn how to access and use original source materials, then keep meticulous records regarding where you found data. The term "original source materials" includes such things as census records; birth, marriage and death records (which include  records kept by government entities, official church records, and even family Bibles); military service records; voter and tax lists; cemetery and burial records; immigration records; and written records created at the time of the event by family members or people who knew them. The latter includes journals, diaries, and (less reliably because they're usually created from memories) memoirs. You might even glean facts from old newspaper articles or local histories.  Huge volumes of materials have been digitized and are available online. The best places to start are Ancestry and the website of the LDS Family History Center.
5. Keep good notes and have a plan!  Develop a systematic plan. You know your great-grandparents' names, for example, but don't know where and when they got married, or where they were living at specific times. So, as a beginning place, you might want to look at census records, beginning with the first census after each one's birth. (Beginning with the 1850 Census, every person in the household was identified; before that, just the name of the head of household and the numbers of people in various age categories were listed, so they're not quite as helpful.) That way, you can develop a geographical timeline for each of them. You'll also begin to narrow down when and where their marriage took place. Then you'll have a good idea what marriage records to check. Some states have statewide online marriage records for specific period; for ones that don't, you'll have to search a little harder for the data. Some online databases may say "Ohio Marriages to 1850" but include only marriages from a small number of counties. If you don't find what you're looking for, it may be because the county they married in isn't included in the database. Normally, you'd expect the marriage to have taken place in the county where the bride and groom were living, but if you don't find it there, expand your search. Maybe they got married in the place they used to live. Maybe they eloped to a place with lower age requirements!

Write down specific facts, but also what records you looked at, where you found them, and what results a particular source yielded -- even if you didn't find anything useful. That way you can avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, yet still be able to retrace your steps if you need to go back to a particular record. It takes discipline to faithfully record that you found your grandparents' marriage certificate in a specific LDS microfilm of records of Grant County, Washington, but if someone asks you how you know something, you can give them specifics.
Record the name of the source, the author or compiler, the publisher (if available), the page number, the date of the source record, and the place the source record was housed or accessed -- whether at your local library's genealogy section, a county courthouse somewhere, via microfilm ordered from a Family History Center, or online.

6 Network with other family researchers and share information generously. Other researchers can help you analyze data, suggest other records to check, and may even be researching families in the same geographic area you're studying. Plus, in my experience, family history researchers are some of the nicest people around.
Courtesy note: If someone shares information or family files with you, be sure to list them as your source, giving contact information and how the information was conveyed to you (email, interview, GEDCOM file, etc.).