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Genealogy Fundamentals

In genealogical and family history research there are fundamental concepts and practices which everyone, both beginner and expert, should always keep in mind.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Donnie Boursaw
Word Count: 943 (approx.)
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The dictionary defines the word "fundamental" as an adjective meaning "of or relating to the foundation or base; elementary; forming or serving as an essential component of a system or structure; central or of great significance." In genealogical and family history research there are fundamental concepts and practices which everyone, both beginner and expert, should always keep in mind. These concepts and practices fit the definition of the word: they are elementary, essential, central, and significant to the foundation or base of the research. Successful researchers understand, adhere to, and implement these fundamentals.

Perhaps, one of the basic problems beginners run into most often is terminology. As with every discipline, genealogical research has some specific terms and components that need to be understood. The goal of genealogical and family research is not only to prove linage, provide membership in an organization, or get money. The goal is to identify individuals and place them in proper family relationships. To accomplish this, a researcher will follow three basic rules:

  1. Always proceed from the known to the unknown. You cannot start with a Mayflower Ancestor and work forward to connect yourself with them. You must begin with yourself and proceed backward into your history and maybe, you will eventually connect to that ancestor.
  2. Emphasis should always be placed on quality not on quantity. The number of names on your pedigree is not as important as the accuracy of your research. Relationships are established by the correct interpretation of the available information and verifying that it is correct as far as possible.
  3. Begin with the first four generations. Work on making sure the first four generations of your direct line are complete. On the first four generations alone you will be dealing with 16 different surnames and 31 individuals.

There are six elements of identity: name, place, date, relationship, occupation, and gender. If any one of these elements is ignored or mistaken it can cause any number of problems and can even lead to incorrect identification and relationship.

A surname is the first element of identity. It may be a rare name such as Moroz, or Shakespear, or the more common Smith or Jones. Even foreign names have their equivalent Smith and Jones, so don't assume because it is foreign it is a rare name. Pay attention to spelling, all variations, and if it is a "common name" make sure that you place it in a specific location and time period. Surnames did not always exist, so it would be wise to determine where the name originated. Custom and tradition are also helpful, and the naming patterns associated with time periods and countries should always be considered.

A family should be placed in its correct location. The assumption that people did not move or travel as much in the "old days" as they do now is false. Throughout history the grass has always been greener on the other side of the fence, and climbing that fence seems to be an inbred trait of mankind. Discovery of where a family began and the conditions, opportunities, and desires which help determine their location and relocation play an integral part in genealogical research. The only difference between the families of today and yesterday is the mode of transportation. Learn to use gazetteers, maps, and histories to discover the paths they followed and why they followed it.

Dates also play an important part in discovery. Concentrate on when the family lived in a certain area. What was going on during that time period that might have affected them and the decisions they made. If an exact date for a location is not known, but you have a ball park figure, search five years before and five years after.

Two special tools are necessary to apply these elements: the Pedigree Chart and the Family Group Record. The pedigree chart is the outline of a direct line family relationship. The even numbers on a chart belong to the male line of descent and the odd numbers belong to the female. On a pedigree chart, only names, dates, and locations are given for each individual, and each line of descent will double with each preceding generation. The Family Group Record provides the details not shown on the Pedigree Chart. It allows you to fill in important information on family relationships. Each name on your Pedigree Chart should be represented in two Family Group Records, one will list the person as the husband or wife of a family of children and the other will list them as a child of their parents with siblings.

The Group record also identifies gender and allows you to fill in gaps in family history with notes on family members' religion and occupation. The accepted format of recording these details should be followed, as well as making sure abbreviations and spellings are recognizable and acceptable.

Although genealogy and family history is one of the most popular "hobbies" in the nation, it is not a simple pastime. It requires study, effort, time, and money. Many hours can be spent in fruitless searches to find just one piece of information which will tie a family together, answer a question, or identify an unknown person. The researcher should consider the progenitor who will one day look at his or her work. Accurate and correct information that can be verified it the legacy a true genealogist wants to bestow on those who follow. It is like a disease that can't be cured. Once the "gen-bug" bites it can be worse than a bad cold. You won't be able to leave it alone, you'll become the bore everyone dreads to see coming, and earn the nick name "gen-nut." And you won't even care.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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