Sydney Cruise Dixon: Finding the Elusive Ancestor

Planning, Organizing and Implementing Genealogy Research

Finding the Elusive Ancestor

Main Line Genealogy Club

November 12, 2015

Sydney F. Cruice Dixon

Are You Using Proven Genealogy Research Methods? 

• Did you develop a genealogy research goal; create a research plan; and follow it?

• Are you using the genealogy Wikis?

• Are you moving from the known to the unknown in your research?

• Are you using the genealogy Wikis?

• Are you doing very targeted and specific searches?

• Are you using the genealogy Wikis?

• Are you extracting everything you can from the records/sources?

• Are you taking your research in the direction the records are pointing?

• Are you avoiding a particular research area because you need to develop new genealogy

• Have you truly done a Reasonably Exhaustive Search?

• Are you organizing your research results so you can identify patterns, holes, etc.?

• Are you researching collateral family members, friends, associates, and neighbors? 

• (Using the FAN Principal)

• Are you using Maps in every step of your research?

• Are you looking at indirect and negative evidence?

• Are you researching the type records; the time period; and the geographic location? 

• Are you looking at your research in historical context?

Planning, Organizing and Implementing Genealogy Research

Develop a Research Goal

Developing a Focused Genealogy Research Question:

 A focused genealogy question must be clear and specific.

 Your genealogy question must be about a documented individual.

 Your research question should ask for specific information regarding your individual.

 Your genealogy research question may seek to answer one of these three issues about

your research subject, but not all three: determine relationships, clarify identity, or

determine participation in a specified activity.

Examples of focused genealogy research questions:

 Who were the parents of the Samuel Armpriester who married Virginia Clifton in

Burlington, New Jersey in 1846?

© 2015 Sydney F. Cruice Dixon.  All Rights Reserved

 Is the Henry Mahan listed on the tax records of Franklin County, Pennsylvania in 1793

the same Henry Mahan that married Hannah Musgrove in Burlington, New Jersey in

 What service (if any) did Whittington Clifton, whose children were born in Lewes,

Delaware in the 1790s, provide during the Revolutionary War?

Developing a Research Plan

Organize Known Facts and Information:

 Determine and record any known facts/information about your research subject.

 Include the sources of the known facts/information e.g.: State death certificate, Interview

with Aunt Millie, etc.

 Organize the information according to whether the information is documented or


 Try to verify any undocumented information about your research subject - this may lead

you to additional documented facts.

Develop a Research Strategy:

 Determine the available resources for your subject’s time and place – Use

Wiki and FamilySearch Wiki as they contain both geographic and ethic research guides.

 Research and choose the documents/sources that would provide the best information to

answer your research question – see the “Original Records Table”


Create a Written Research Plan:

 Write down and prioritize your targeted sources.

 Make sure you organize your research plan so you are researching as efficiently as

possible: geographic location, record type, etc. – you don’t want to make a return trip to a

 First use original records with primary information - only use derivative sources when

original records are unavailable.

Research Implementation:

Research Arrangements:

 You may need to make arrangements in advance to access some records – always

thoroughly research a repository’s hours and regulations prior to your visit.  You may

want to call them in advance to make sure the record collection you seek is not closed for

restoration, etc.

 If you are making a field trip to repository make sure you have done as much of your

research from home as you can.  Thoroughly search the repository’s online catalogs or

finding aids so you have all the necessary information (call number, record group

number, microfilm number, etc.) to access the records as quickly as possible.

 Follow your Research Plan.

© 2015 Sydney F. Cruice Dixon.  All Rights Reserved

 Make sure you pursue the records and documents that are not digitized on the Internet. 

Many researchers continue to search the Internet even though they know the real

information they seek is contained in a document that has to be requested by mail.

 Be flexible - you may find information that leads you to sources you had not identified in

your original plan.

Track Your Research – Research Logs:

 Keep a research log of all the resources (indexes, books, websites, databases, records)

and places you have searched even if you did not collect useable information.

 Record the name of the source, the date, the repository for the source, the reason for the

search, notes about the search and the source citation.

 A research log can be recorded on paper or a spread sheet.  Familytree Maker and other

genealogy software packages contain research logs and research notes as part of your

family tree data.  Evernote is another excellent program to store research notes and logs. and both have blank forms for research logs and

research notes that you can print or download.

 Record complete and accurate citations of all your sources.

Evaluate your Findings:

 If you are not finding the information you need you may need to expand your research or

redirect your research.

 If you have answered your research question you may want to establish a new genealogy

research question and start the process again with a new research plan.

Ways to Organize Information and Correlate Evidence

 Use spreadsheets to make it easier to sort by different criteria: address, given names,

occupation, dates, county, state, etc.

 Create and sort tables by: person, family group, surname, record type, geographic

location, occupation, or chronologically

 Use and maximize the automatic timeline that is built into a person’s profile page on the family trees

 By organizing the data and breaking it down into smaller pieces it can help to you to

solve the larger more challenging research problems

The Genealogical Proof Standard – Five Elements

 A reasonably exhaustive search

 Complete and accurate citation of sources

 Analysis and correlation of the collected information

 Resolution of conflicting evidence

 A soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion

© 2015 Sydney F. Cruice Dixon.  All Rights Reserved

Research Check List

• Acts, Journals

• Local Parish Rs

• Local Church hist.

• Wills, Estates, etc.

• Naturalization Rs

DNA Tests & Studies

National Records

• Censuses

• Mortality Schd.

• Military Rs.

• Pension Rs.

• Passenger Lists

• Immigration Rs.

• Land Rs.

• Special Rs.

Libraries & Historical


• Indexes, special

• Misc. genealogies

• Printed Histories

• Occupational Hists.

• Biog. compendia

• Manuscript Hists.

• Obit col/indexes

• CemRs/grave inscr

• Abstract volumes

• Maps

• City & County

• Cemetery Rs/grave

•  Public  Histories

• Newspaper Files

© 2015 Sydney F. Cruice Dixon.  All Rights Reserved

Helpful Internet Sites and Articles:


• Wiki 

• Chronicling America, Library of Congress

• Cyndi’s List

• Daughters of the American Revolution

• Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter


• FamilySearch. Wiki

• Family Tree Magazine

• Find A Grave

• Fold3


• GenealogyBank 

• GenealogyInTime Magazine’s  Top 100 Genealogy Website for 2015


• Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission Genealogy Research Page

• Stephen P. Morse's One-Step tools 

• Devine, Donn. “Research Cornerstones: Plan the Attack”

• Family Search. “Original Records Table”



• Jones, Thomas W. “Focused Versus Diffuse Research,” On Board

• Powell, Kimberly. “Think Like a Detective – How to Develop a Family History Research



Suggested Reading and Resources:

 Board for Certification of Genealogists. Genealogy Standards. 50th-anniversary edition.

Nashville, Tennessee: Ancestry, 2014

 Colletta, John Philip. They Came in Ships: Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor’s Arrival

Record, 3rd ed. Orem, Utah: Ancestry, Inc., 2002

 Eales, Anne Bruner and Robert M. Kvasnicka. Guide to Genealogical Records in the

National Archives. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Trust Fund Board, 2000.

© 2015 Sydney F. Cruice Dixon.  All Rights Reserved

 Eichholz, Alice. Redbook: American State, County, and Town Sources. Provo, UT: 2004

 Greenwood, Val D.  The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, Third Edition.

Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, Inc. 2000

 Jones, Thomas W. Mastering Genealogical Proof,  Arlington, VA: National Genealogical

 Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History sources from Artifacts to

Cyberspace. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007

 Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Profession Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers,

Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001

 Neagles, James C.  U. S. Military Records: A Guide to Federal and State Sources,

Colonial America to the Present.  Provo, UT: Ancestry Publishing, 1994

 Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Lueking, Sandra Hargreaves, editors. The Source: A

Guidebook to American Genealogy. Third edition. Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2006

Now Go Have a Genealogy Adventure!