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Historical Resume: Organizing Your Research

Who? What? Where? When? These are the questions we are constantly asking in the hunt for our ancestors. Keeping the answers organized in a Historical Resume can help keep your research on track.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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Sometimes in the course of genealogy we can become so focused on facts and dates that we forget to stop, breathe, and take a moment to tie the pieces together. Of course, there are many ways to organize the data you have gathered and different people will find that some are more useful to them than others. In my own experience, I have found that creating a historical resume for that elusive ancestor or relative can yield miraculous results. The word resume is a French derivation from the verb resumer, meaning to summarize. Therefore, a historical resume should include everything you have collected about your ancestor, forming an overview and chronology of their life. This not only allows you to clearly and quickly see temporal relations between events and note where there are gaps, but also provides a more personalized context, bringing your ancestor to life so to speak. To keep it simple, the historical resume should take on the same format as a professional resume.

Heading: This section should consist of the person's name, parents, spouse(s), occupation, and anything else you might know about their personality or hobbies. The heading will allow for those bits that won't necessarily fit into a time sequence.

Objective: There is probably something specific and outstanding about your relative that has you stumped. This is the area where those questions should be posed. For instance, "My objective is to determine when my ancestor died, so that I can search for a probate record. By obtaining a probate record, I hope to learn all the names of their children and perhaps if they were landowners."

Chronology: The timeline, starting from the date of birth, should be comprised of any number of dates: baptisms, schooling, residences (addresses, towns, state, county), moves, marriages, jobs, birth of children, land sales, government land, pensions, probate records, wills, funerals, cemetery burials, etc. all the way up to the very last date you have on record.


1856 Mar 27 Born, Keokuk, IA
1856 Apr 4 Baptized, Keokuk, IA, St. Mark's Catholic Church
1860 Living in Keokuk, IA, etc., etc.

References: The source of your information is especially important to genealogy research, as it is evidence that something actually took place. Not to mention, once you review the finished resume, you may have further questions and will find it necessary to refer back to your original source. If there are discrepancies in your data, you will need to determine if your sources are legitimate or contain errors. If you keep your resume current you will avoid duplicating requests by having a list of those you have already checked. Legal documents are the most valid, but you should be aware that there can be inaccuracies. The various references might be census records, pensions, history books, cemetery records, death certificate and so on.

Now that the resume is complete, all the information you have about your ancestor is in one easy-to-look-at place, so you can more easily make an assessment of which sources to go to for further research. At this point, you will also have a better understanding of the bigger picture, noticing correlations between people and events that never surfaced before. And the framework of the resume neatly places your ancestor in a specific time period. Consider what you wrote down in the "objective" section while studying the resume and be prepared to take notes. Also look for gaps in the timeline, mistakes, or material you may have previously overlooked. Immediately itemize, on a list, anything you feel is important to address so that you do not forget about it. Next to the item write down different ways to tackle the issues; i.e. ordering records, referring to a book, calling someone, etc. It is really not reasonable or necessary to consult all of them and taking these steps will save you from trying to secure material irrelevant to your search.

Bear in mind that you will be building on each piece of information you receive, so carefully determining where you should begin is the key. For instance, if you already know the date and place of death and birth of your ancestor, and you were looking for the names of all their children, you would most likely start with a will, obituary, or census record rather than a death certificate. However, the case would change if your ancestor was living before the mid-1800s. In this instance, it might be more effective to look for a will or possibly a Revolutionary or Civil War pension application. During this time period obituaries were not common and census records listed only the head of household before 1850. Besides, depending on what you are looking for, you may be able to answer more than one question by requesting just one document. Wills and military pension paperwork can be very informative, oftentimes including where the person lived, who they lived with, place and date of death, place and date of birth, assets, business associates, spouse(s), children names and possibly birthdates, in-laws, friends, neighbors, witnesses/executors, and where children and in-laws lived. By working in this manner, you will learn how to make the most of your resources and find more efficient ways to fill in the pieces of the puzzle. Part of this is periodically updating and reevaluating your resume as you gather more facts ands clues.

Knowing the information that is essential to your investigation is simply a matter of organizing, analyzing, and re-organizing your data. As you can see, the historical resume can be quite valuable in this respect. Of course, as we all know, nothing is fool-proof in the world of genealogy, and brick walls always seem to be in the way of what we want to learn most. But part of family research is persistence and exhausting the resource list. You will never know what all your resources are without a little orderliness to help your leg work along. It would be overkill to follow this method for every ancestor or relative you are researching. But it does work well to focus the direction of your research if you are really stuck on one person in particular.

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.

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