Genealogy Sleuth Work: At Any Beginning - Focus


Start - at the beginning. Do not hurry yourself.
- Hercule Poirot

Genealogists encounter many beginning points. Each time we identify a wife or mother, we are at the beginning of a new lineage in our story. Each discovery of a husband or father begins a new generation of that family. In a sense, we have many opportunities to start fresh with improvements in our organization and in our methods.

We generally do better when we concentrate on one or two lines at a time. This limit allows us to become intimately acquainted with members of the focus group and study their problems with an in-depth approach. Remember, ancestors did not live in a vacuum but among a group of friends, relatives, and neighbors. To study ancestors' lives and lineages, we often need to study their children, their siblings, and others in their lives as well.

Grant's statement has an obvious genealogical application: When we try to cover all our ancestors at once, we have no time to stop and analyze detail. Without limitation to our research and without this study of detail, we make mistakes. Worst of all, we run the risk of claiming the wrong ancestors.

Before rushing out to tackle a new ancestor or new focus, update your family group sheets for that nuclear family and each sibling's family within that line. This effort confirms the vital statistics you already know. Then, list in chronological order all the known events in the life of the target ancestor. Include vital statistics and anything else you have, including such events as military service, land sales and purchases, church membership, and births of children. Even Sherlock Holmes asked, "Do you know anything about her history?"

A chronology is most helpful when it gives the date and brief description of the event, the age (if known) of the person at the time of the event, and the sources for that information. The updated group sheets and chronology together show you what you have and help you determine the focus of the next research. With each piece of new information, keep the group sheet and/or chronology up-to-date to aid in the evaluation of your progress.

     Emily Anne Croom, "Genealogy Sleuth Work: At Any Beginning - Focus," extracted from The Sleuth Book for Genealogists: Strategies for More Successful Family History Research, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2008), Chapt. 1, pp. 8-9; digital edition, ( : posted 26 Jul 2012)

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