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A Genealogical Paradigm

Each genealogist has their own ideas of the paradigm that should be used in researching a family's history. The following are some ideas to expand your paradigm and help you break through more brick walls. These ideas are simply ones that build upon patterns you probably already use. They include some extra ideas to help you get the most out of your research.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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One definition of the word paradigm is "a shared set of assumptions." Essentially, a paradigm is a pattern. Each genealogist has their own ideas of the paradigm that should be used in researching a family's history. Classes you have taken at your local Family History Center, information from professional organizations, or maybe the way you were taught to "do" genealogy from a family member might inform this paradigm. Whatever the case, we go about researching a family based in a way that is comfortable and familiar to us. Unfortunately, sometimes these comfortable research methods can lead to our brick walls.

The following are some ideas to expand your paradigm and help you break through more brick walls. These ideas simply build upon patterns you probably already use. They include some extra ideas to help you get the most out of your research.

Use Internet Sites to their Fullest

Often, when we learn about a new genealogy site that might be of use to us, we type in a search word or phrase and judge its usefulness on the number of hits we get. What is missing is the extra effort to learn more about the web site and how it works or doesn't work.

One example is the genealogy giant If you only use the home page search feature to conduct an exact or ranked search, you are only touching the surface. After you conduct that initial search, click on the "Search" tab at the top of the page. Then click on the state your ancestor was from or select a database collection from the right hand side. Clicking on "Military" will take you to a page that lists each individual military collection that Ancestry currently has. Once you click on an individual collection, you can then perform a search on that collection. This targeted search of individual databases often finds ancestors that you would not have found in an overall search on the homepage.

Another important feature of the Ancestry searches that you can utilize is the wildcard search. Ancestry allows you to conduct a wildcard search as long as you type in 3 letters and the asterisk (* ) symbol. So for example, instead of typing out Susan Johnson, you could instead type Sus* Joh*—this approach may help find ancestors whose names are misspelled in the census index. Also, using the Soundex spelling option can enlarge the scope of your search and help find misspelled names or names with variant spellings.

When searching for resources in the Family History Library catalogue available on, remember that in addition to conducting a Place search such as Indiana, you can conduct a "Related Places" search that will allow you to find resources on the county or city level. The "View Related Places" button is on the right hand side of your state or country search results.

Some websites just don't have the best search engines; that's where Stephen Morse's web site comes in handy, One-Step Webpages by Stephen P. Morse. This web site provides easier and more complete searches of web sites, ranging from the Ellis Island and Castle Garden sites to using Ancestry Library.

Utilize a Research Calendar

I don't think I am alone when I admit that I have conducted the same Internet search on a family over and over again because I did not use a research calendar. You know how it goes, you're up late one night and you look for your grandma's family in the 1910 census and find them for the 10th time. Maybe you make another copy of it since you can't remember where you put the one you made last week when you stayed up late. Some sort of research calendar, one that you like and will use, can help keep your research organized and help you remember what you have looked at and what you haven't yet found. You can find pre-made forms on web sites like Family Tree Magazine or from the web site for the BYU TV series Ancestors,

I tend to use only forms that I can type in and can use on my computer. A form that I use that I learned about from a presentation last year at the FGS conference is to create a table (you can do this in Microsoft Word or another word processing program) with 4-5 columns. The first column is for a document number. This is a number that you give a document in your file, for your reference. The second column is for the date you searched the resource. The third column is the name of the resource. The fourth column is for the name of the repository and call number for the resource. Finally, the last column is where you state the purpose for the search and the results of the search. For example:

Document # Date Resource Repository/Call# Remarks
1 15 June 2006 Legacy of Faith: the Life History of Mary Ann Smith McNeil… by Herbert A. Hancock Family History Library, 921.73 M233h Purpose: To find a list of Mary Ann's children.Results: Children are listed throughout text and include a picture of each on page 371
2 16 June 2006 1910 U.S. Federal Census. Year: 1910. Census Place: Douglas Ward 2, Cochise, Arizona; Roll: T624_38; Page: 19B; Enumeration District: 18; Image: 1116. Purpose: To find a list of Mary Ann's children.Results: Census shows 4 of Mary Ann's sons living with her, Ephraim, age 34; Jesse, age 22; Frederick, age 16; and Don Carlos, age 14.

 Now, you can personalize this form in whatever way makes most sense for you. Also, I go to "Page Setup" found under my File menu in Microsoft Word and choose the landscape orientation so that the form "fits" better on the page. I also insert a header that gives the name of the family and the date.

Research the Whole Family

Sure you want to know who your great grandfather's parents were but you may only come about that knowledge through researching his brother. Let's face it, sometimes there are family members who are found in all kinds of sources while others are noted in only a rare instance. My third great-grandfather, Moses Chatham, is listed in a few sources but, unfortunately, he is murdered by a neighbor at the young age of 38 years. A clearer picture of his family can be found through researching his brother Alexander Chatham who founded the Chatham Mills in Elkin, North Carolina. Information abounds on him because he was an entrepreneur whose work resulted in his life being written up in business histories, family histories, and regional histories. Researching only your direct ancestors will not give you a complete picture of your ancestor's family. We live in families, we are conducting family history research, so we should research the whole family.

Tell Your Story

I wonder if we genealogists are the most boring people to those "normal" folks out there? We are the ones that at any occasion are content to talk about dead people more than the living. My husband has been known to tell people that I love dead people.

The next time you are about to tell another genealogist about your latest research, stop and consider asking them their opinion about what your next step should be. Ask them what resources they would have used to find the information. Ask their favorite web sites. Elicit feedback on ways to punch through the invariable brick wall. This can also be used when talking to non-genealogists. My mom proofread a family history for me on ancestors of my father's. She noticed some children missing in one of the census years that I had not noticed in the five years of researching the family. I had become too close to the subject and lost a little objectivity, and that's exactly what another set of eyes gives you. Plus it helps you become a better researcher.

Whatever your pattern is for tackling a research project, consider the above actions in helping you make your research more thorough and complete. Maybe you will even shift a paradigm or two.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

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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