The first two things are simple and are common sense - but very often overlooked in genealogy research. They are critical KEYS to your effectiveness:
1. Make a plan, have a genealogy goal, get a clue (from the information that you do have) - Just have SOMETHING in mind to get further along your family tree that you want to accomplish: Chart your course: There are times when you just want to surf around and just see where you may wind up. But if you review some of your notebooks and filing cabinets where you have your genealogy stuff - and maybe even review the contents of whatever information is in your genealogy program, you can choose the direction that you want to go.
2. Keep your genealogy goal, along with other recent goals in front of you, on paper. Having a hard copy (handwritten, printed, on 3 by 5 index cards, or whatever) will help keep you focused on what you want. With so much information available that is just a click away - it is easy to get sidetracked in your search. This will help you prepare to...
3. Approach your decided genealogy research goal with a very wide net.
Finding the elusive ancestor: Let's say that your genealogy goal is to find out more about your G-G Grandfather. And all you have so far is: his name, that he was of Irish decent, and that he died in Virginia.
Instead of using a net, many people will do what I call throwing out a worm on a hook... which is a single line instead of the wide net which will catch so much more genealogy information. In this case, let's say that you make this common mistake: You search for his name on the Internet, check out a few Scottish Web sites, and not much more than this.
Many times a genealogy goal is so important (for instance, maybe you have longed to know more about a certain ancestor for thirty long years) to someone that the focus becomes very narrow.
A dead end... So what CAN you do? One of the basic rules of genealogy research is to start with yourself and work backwards. So in this example, you would dig deep to see what you have on HIS son (and the other children of course), your great grandfather. You would turn your focus more to this group of ancestors for now.
Here, you can find the clues and information that will most likely get you past this roadblock. Make a mental note: This is the example of the Irish G-G grandfather.
Another genealogy research goal could be learning more about a topic: This is easy to do on the Internet. You can spring board to almost any topic from one of the genealogy directory sites, or by using one of the search engines.
4. Be ready to develop and USE your own personal "bag of tricks." These fall into two main categories:
Examples: Here's a basic genealogy research strategy for your bag of tricks: Taking each one of your ancestor's names through the "cookie cutter approach." It is called this because you do the same thing (with a single name) over and over again. This is a very flexible "formula" you can use.
Step ONE: In the example about the Irish G-G Grandfather, we wanted to direct the focus to his children. So, your part of the formula would be to take each name individually and run it through different search engines. For females who married, you would use both her maiden name and her married name(s) and do the search twice for the same person. I encourage you to run ALL of your ancestor's names through this process.
Step TWO: Is to run the individual's name through the search engines with OTHER key words that will pull the genealogy pages (even with common surnames) to the TOP of the pile of results that the search engine will throw back at you.
Step THREE: Then, you will want to go back and run the names of your ancestors through the search engines yet AGAIN - combining their names with specific facts that you know about them, as the key words. You will be surprised at how varied the search engine’s results can be.
Example: You would use towns, cities, and countries (along with their full name AND with their surname only). If your ancestor served in a war, you would use key words related to battles, cities and regiment names, etc. that they served in.
As you do these things, you may not find the individual. But you can find valuable contacts along the way. People who have the same research lines and interests as you, who may be able to help. And most certainly, gather fantastic information on the events and topics that pertain to the lives of your ancestors that will help you with your search.
This may sounds like very painstaking and time consuming work but once you get the hang of it, things go pretty quickly. And the potential for success is great. So far, three steps have involved the search engines. Do not underestimate the power that they have and the time they can save you.
Knowing how to really use the Internet's search engines to find the needle in the haystack is an incredibly important key. But, I have discovered that this "must know" skill is often being overlooked by many on-line genealogy researchers. Make the effort to learn more about them.
See these Search Engine Genealogy Search Tips to apply these methods.