From my years of at least weekly visits to my local Family History Center, many members of The local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) have come to know me and respect my knowledge of genealogy research. Because of this, the Bishopric of the local church asked me to teach a weekly genealogy class for their members. The class ultimately was more of a workshop with me helping about six people interested in their genealogy with online research. Let me tell you, the fact that every person's genealogy research is going to be completely different makes it quite a challenge to help six different people get started with online research. I essentially had to make five people wait while explaining how the first user should start, then move on to the second. When I was about halfway through helping the second person, the first person had found that he didn't find anything on his initial search. It was a pretty hectic hour but I hope that I helped everyone there at least a little bit. We'll find out next week with the next class.
Even though everyone's research is at least a little different, there are common things that would be helpful for a beginning researcher to know. Here is a list of what seemed the most helpful during the first week's class:
1. Common names can be very difficult to search for given that your search will come back with many results that have no connection to your family.
2. Searching in a place like New York City can be extremely challenging, especially if you're looking for common surnames.
3. Spelling doesn't matter. Whether the transcriber couldn't read the original handwriting or the person was illiterate, records prior to about 1900 frequently have different ways of spelling names. Don't be stuck on a given spelling. Think of different ways you could misspell the name you're looking for. Use wildcards in your search. The question mark will replace any one letter in a name, the asterisk "*" will replace a string of letters. For example, If you're searching for the surname "Smith", you might do a search for "Sm?th" in case it was spelled with a y instead of an i. If you're searching for "Miller", you might do a search for "M*ller" in case it's spelled with an "i", a "u" or "ue".
4. When starting any search, have a focus. You can't just start with "I want to find all my ancestors". You need to have some information to start with and a specific piece of information you're looking for. Say you know your great-grandfather's name, death date, spouse's name, and marriage date and location. You'll likely be wanting to find his parents names. Given this information, you might look for his obituary and his marriage record. Either of these could list his parents names.
5. My favorite family tree charting software is "One Page Genealogy". You can download it from http://onepage-genealogy.software.informer.com/download/ . This software takes branches of your tree that don't have as much information and shrink them down on the page. It then allows the branches that take up more space to use the space that branch otherwise could have taken. It allows you to fit a lot more information onto a single page chart. When you see a chart on this blog, most of the time, this piece of software was used to generated it.
I'm sure more tips will arise with the next class this Sunday or in some future class. When they do, I'll be sure to let you know.