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Basics of Research: Step 4 - Survey Sets Up Research

Twenty-five years ago in the pre-internet days, I searched for information on Sterne Hotchkiss, my great aunt's first husband, and found two things: First, he was called Dr. Hotchkiss, but that could mean just about anything in those days.


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Twenty-five years ago in the pre-Internet days, I searched for information on Sterne Hotchkiss, my great aunt's first husband, and found two things: First, he was called Dr. Hotchkiss. That could mean just about anything in those days. Was he a trained medical doctor? Someone with a knack for helping sick people? Was he a veterinarian? A philosopher? A teacher?

Second, from some unknown source, I had the notion he was from New Haven, Connecticut. Not much to go on. So when it came time to write about the fourth step in genealogy • doing a computer and printed resources survey - I chose him as the subject of the survey.

After a few hours on the Internet, I found much about Sterne Hotchkiss/ Hodgkiss/Hotchkins. Someone by that name was in a Ravenna, Ohio newspaper twice in June 1831. An advertisement in a Utah paper listed him as "a Surgeon Dentist, and probably as a physician" who had come from Pottawattamie County, Iowa. Hotchkiss was a defendant in a case of trespass in March 1853 in Salt Lake City.

Online surname databases gave his birth as 9 Oct 1816 in Naugatuck, New Haven, Connecticut to Thaddeus and Harriet Hotchkiss and his name as Lawrence Sterne Hotchkiss. By adding the additional names Thaddeus, Harriet and Lawrence, I discovered several family and local histories to explore.

Censuses showed Steven Hotchkiss, a dentist, in Pottawattamie in 1850 with wife Cordelia and son Thaddeus. An 1860 census of New Haven showed a Lawrence S Hatchkiss of about the right age. The 1870 census of New Haven gave Lawrence S as a manufacturing agent living with wife Esther and a maid. The survey provided many inconsistencies but many sources to search.

The above results were the direct result of completing the computer and printed resources survey for Sterne Hotchkiss, Step Four of the eight-step research cycle. Anyone can do a similar search because computer/internet time is available at most libraries. Remember to try all spelling variations of both first and last names. Include initials too. When searching a woman's name, use her maiden name and all her married names.

Here are the steps in the computer and printed resources survey, the fourth step in the genealogical research process. First, look at Be sure to peruse the 1880 census. Then go to the Family History Library Catalog to find titles of histories and newsletters of your surname. Seventy-two thousand volumes have just been donated to the city of Logan. When that collection is online, search it as well.

Online surname databases are second. Even though most require subscriptions to access all their databases, they all have some free databases. Try the free databases at:,,, (for United Kingdom families), and You can access some of these sites, especially HeritageQuestOnline, at various public libraries all over the country.

Third, enter your ancestor's name in search engines. I recommend starting with the NedGen Ancestry Search Engine because it scans genealogy sites exclusively. After NedGen, my favorite search engine for historical and genealogical information is Alta Vista. It consistently picks up entries Google, Ask Jeeves, Dogpile, Mamma and other search engines miss. Though I usually try those too.

Find your ancestor in censuses, fourth. If the person you were searching for was alive in 1880 in the United States or 1881 in Canada, England or Australia, you should already have that census from FamilySearch, Step One. Find additional censuses free at, and You can access a terrific collection of census records online by subscription from

Last, Submit family queries to message boards, mailing lists and newsgroups starting with, and Other sites to explore are,, and

Choose the name of a relative you'd like to know more about. Do the computer and printed sources survey about that person starting with FamilySearch, the first step listed above. Complete all five steps. You may have conflicting information, but it will give you an idea of what to do next.

Other Articles in the Series:

Step 1: Genealogy Can Be A Cheap Hobby
Step 2: Documentation Saves Pedigrees
Step 3: Family Records Are the Best!
Step 5: How Many Marys Did David Merry Marry?
Step 6: Genealogy Detecting
Step 7: Publish Or All Your Research May Perish
Step 8: Evaluate and Decide

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.

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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