Genealogy research can be exhausting, but it can also be very rewarding. It's a little like detective work where you search for clues, piece together the bits of information, and come to reasonable conclusions.
You might encounter errors, inaccuracies, or contradicting information during your research, so this page provide some tips for searching and explains how to gauge the information you might encounter.
Some genealogy sites have a feature that allows you to create your family tree. A Family Unit Sheet is also a helpful tool for keeping track of family members as you locate them. It's also a nice (secondary!) document to pass along to family members. Try this printable Family Unit Sheet from the Mid-Continent Public Library/Midwest Genealogy Center.
The records that appear in genealogy research sites like FamilySearch are entered by hand by people who have to decipher the handwriting on very old documents. This can lead to errors or inaccuracies and sometimes makes it difficult for you to find records.
Instead of searching the full last name, use a wildcard (*) to search just the first few letters.
For example, when Frank Starzak arrived to the United States in 1902, he was listed on the New York Passenger Arrival List as "Franciszek Starzak." On the 1920 census, he was listed as "Frank Stzarsek." To allow for alternate spellings of names, you might use wildcard searches that look like this: Fra* Star* or Fran* Starz* or Franc St*
A primary source is an official record that was created at the time of an event. Primary sources tend to be more accurate than secondary documents. However, it's not impossible for primary sources to contain errors. A secondary source is a record created later by someone else.
When possible, use primary sources to verify the information you need.
Many documents can be used as both primary and secondary sources. See some example below of each, with explanations.
|Examples of Primary Documents||Examples of Secondary Documents|
Vital records when used for the purpose they were created, such as birth, marriage, death certificates.
For information on how to use vital records, visit Online United States Birth, Marriage, and Death Records from FamilySearch.
Vital records when used for information other than the purpose of the certificate. For example, when using a marriage certificate to obtain birth information about a person, the marriage certificate would be considered a secondary source.
|Personal letters||Newspaper obituaries, where the information is provided by a friend or relative who may not know the deceased's exact date of birth.|
|Church records||Census records, when used for information
like birth dates
|Court documents||History books|
|Factual newspapers articles written and published at the time of the event||Newspaper articles written later by someone
analyzing an historical event
|Military records||Compiled family histories (family tree or Family Unit Sheet)|
|Census records (a primary source for information at that time, like address and occupation)||Oral family histories|
|News film footage|
|Artifacts like clothing, furniture, or photographs|
A bit about census records:
For more information about what you'll find in census records, visit Census Records from the National Archives.