Genealogical research is easier than ever before. Online resources and researchers now provide access to information from all over the world. For most of us the problem is knowing where to start. The HCC library has assembled this collection to help you with your genealogical research. These sources have been reviewed by our librarians to ensure accuracy and reliability.
Genealogy can be intimidating and confusing for novices. Don't worry. It's confusing and intimidating for experienced researchers too! Often your genealogical research will take you through pages and pages of tedious and sometimes illegible documents before you find something worthwhile. It's a little like panning for gold: a lot of work for a little flake of pay dirt.
Fortunately, just like panning for gold, the basic principles of genealogical research are simple. All you need is patience, shrewdness, and a willingness to discard the fool's gold.
In the spirit of the old 49ers, here are a few tips to help you get started.
1. Start with facts. Go where you know gold has already been found, even if it's just a speck in sand. Begin your research with a fact, even a little fact. It can be the birth place of your great grandmother, your mother's maiden name, or just about any factual information about your family you know or think you know.
2. Verify. If you think you've found gold, make sure it's genuine. Look for documents or other reliable sources to confirm the facts. Always look for written and first hand sources. If you're looking into an old family story, but can't provide first hand or eye witness confirmation for the story, find documentation to confirm it. Even if the story seems probable or plausible, it's hearsay, rather than fact, until you can locate documents or a first hand source.
3. Document. If it's gold, save it. Write your research down. Document your sources. Also write down your guesses, hunches, family traditions, etc., but make a clear distinction between the facts you can confirm and the guesses, traditions, and hunches.
4. Discard. If it's fools gold, throw it away. If you can't confirm a piece of information, or there's no plausible reason to believe that it might be true, set it aside. The internet is full of undocumented and often unreliable genealogical information and research. Don't include this information in your research unless you can document it, or support it with your own (plausible) guesswork. If you can't document it, it's not factual. Above all, don't represent information as factual to other researchers unless you can provide a reliable source.
5. Be true. No claim jumping. If it's not your story, don't claim it. Be prepared to learn that you actually aren't 1/8 Native American or that you are not in fact descended from royalty. Let's say you came across an undocumented pedigree taking your family back to Henry XVIII. That's impressive. But if you can't document each link in that family tree, set it aside. It's especially hard to set aside cherished family stories about, for instance, a Cherokee princess somewhere in your background. But DNA testing frequently reveals that family traditions about Native American ancestry are either false or unlikely.
5. Write it down. Take it to the bank. At some point you will want write down the results of your research in some systematic fashion. When you do, include your sources as well as the results of your research. This will help other researchers by providing trustworthy sources for their own research.
Ann Lawthers of the New England Historic Genealogy Society has an excellent primer for novices. You can read it all here. Or, you can use this libguide to start your own research now.