It can be overwhelming to keep focused while searching online genealogy websites for historical records to document your ancestor. No, an online family tree is not an historical record even though many beginners are preoccupied with using family trees to identify ancestors. Trees can provide useful hints, but the digitized versions of original records on genealogy websites should be the real meat in your search. If you keep the following tips foremost in mind, the time you spend searching online will be well spent.
Begin by building your own online tree. Add what you know, what you already have and what your family can share with you: photos, documents, stories, etc. A few popular websites are FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, FindMyPast.com, and Geni.com.
Research the collections that are available on the website you choose for the area where your ancestor lived. You will become familiar with the different collections that exist and the time periods they cover, and you will plant those collections in the back of your mind as you anticipate which records will surface in a search. Often it is more beneficial to search an individual collection instead of searching an enormous host of records from the main page. Compare different collections on FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com.
Search for historical records from your ancestor’s record on the tree. FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com both have the feature that allows you to search the historical records from an individual’s record on the tree. This is a great way to filter out unnecessary results.
Attach the records that mention your ancestor to the tree that you are building. Attaching the records you find on FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com improves the accuracy of the records suggested, and you can find documentation quickly.
As you discover historical records, be sure to attach them to the other family members mentioned in a record. This will help you become familiar with parents, siblings, children and spouses that you may not have known personally.
After you have discovered as much as you can for one ancestor, visit other websites that offer historical records. Create new sources for those records on the tree that you are building.
Consult trees last
Once you exhaust historical record collections online, begin to search for sources attached to your ancestor on other online trees. You may discover photos, stories or records that are not available online. More often than you realize, you will have the most documentation cited. Consulting other trees after you have exhausted your search will ensure that you will never be confused by conflicting details from another tree.
Share the URL for each individual record that you complete. Be sure to share in the places your family can be found whether it be Facebook or via e-mail.
Research your ancestor’s entire family in the way described above before going on to research their parents. Sometimes it takes getting to know an entire family group through available documents before you can discover more about the preceding generation.
Check for website updates and new collections regularly. Once you exhaust records available in online databases, learn about resources in archives and local repositories by visiting FamilySearch Wiki or Ancestry Wiki.