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Basics of Research: Review of the 8 Research Steps

At reader request, here is a summary of the recent 8-step series on the genealogy research cycle.


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
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Word Count: 713 (approx.)
Labels: Beginner's Guide 
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At readers' request, here is a review of the eight steps in the genealogy research cycle. Allow the review to meet your needs. Read it through before you begin each new problem. Publish AFTER the corrections in Step 8. Enjoy the trip around the cycle and celebrate every new person you add to your database. 

Step One. Genealogy Can Be a Cheap Hobby. Obtain only the materials you need. First time around, I recommend Internet access, a genealogy computer program, some manila folders and a file box, a genealogy address book and a magazine. The second time around, purchase the resources you need to solve the problem you are working on. You don't need to buy every genealogical thing available, though genealogy shopping sure is fun.

Step Two. Documentation Saves Pedigrees. Document everything you find for two reasons. First, documentation keeps you researching your own family, not someone else's. Second, you want others to be able to follow your research trail, so they don't have to repeat it. When I started doing research nearly half a century ago, this step was not included in the research cycle. So much of the work older researchers did is not well documented. But that is no excuse for us not to document from this day on. 

Step Three. Family Records Are the Best! Collect and copy family records. Your family has more information on your family than any repository. Collect and document. Never let down on this step. Remember who has the old black and white family movies, the family Bible, the war-time letters, etc. and ask for copies--over and over. Interview and ask your whole life long.

Step Four. Survey Sets Up Research. Survey computer and printed sources. This step includes a thorough search at, both the databases and the card catalog for histories. Then search the large commercial databases, they usually have one or more databases you can search free such as,, and others. Then do a search-engine search for your ancestor on Alta Vista or Google, etc. Check all appropriate censuses. Then put queries on message boards, mailing lists, and newsgroups.

Step Five. How Many Marys Did David Merry Marry? Process the collected findings, match then extend. Match new information on a person to four pieces of old data. When you find a match, extend your pedigree by adding the new information. Decide what information you want next and plan how to get it.

Step Six. Genealogy Detecting. Search original sources. Many people who start genealogy with the Internet do not know about this step, yet it is what all other steps lead to. For this step, you find birth certificates, tombstones, and church records. This is the step that takes the most time and is the most fun. Decked out with apron and paper towels, maybe even gloves, you visit courthouses and special collections. This step is the source of all that stuff on the Internet.

Step Seven. Publish or All Your Research May Perish. Publish on CD, on the web, or in a book. Publish to correct errors, to save others from redoing what you have done, to save your hard and valuable work from accidental or deliberate loss or destruction. Publish to unify your family. Don't wait until it's all done either, because that will never happen.

Step Eight. Evaluate and decide. Both electronically and visually, scan your family group sheets and pedigree charts for errors. Do the math, so six-year-olds aren't having babies. Go back to the documents you acquired and milk every single possible research clue from them. Decide what you want to know next and go back to Step One in the cycle.

Saying all this in the few words of this column leaves out the best stuff: the shout of triumph when a missing marriage is found, the tap dance in the library aisles when emigration records reveal the country of origin, the flying e-mails when a new relative is found. I love finding out more about my ancestors. It is exciting, intriguing and healing. Have fun finding more of your own.

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 4: Survey Sets Up Research
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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