Monday, 2 March 2015

There's more than one way to skin a cat....

... and there is more than one way to "do genealogy".

Many family historians are hung up on "doing the right thing" but, just as there is more one way to skin a cat, there is no one right way to do genealogy. This applies to all stages of whichever research process we use and the tools we use to facilitate and record our research. It depends on why we are doing the research in the first place, is it just for fun, is it as part of a collaborative exercise with family or society members or is it to prepare a detailed report to fulfil a client contract? Constantly in my thoughts is the statistic shared by Curt Witcher at Rootstech 2015 that between 82%-90% of people who do family history do not belong to a Society but go it alone. While some of these folk will devour online genealogical educational opportunities and purchase many geneabooks and guides many of them will probably work happily in isolation. They will be doing family history research their way.

As for the Research Process I stick with the Australian one I have used for years, it can be applied to all things from making a peanut butter sandwich, to learning to ride a bicycle to genealogy research. I notice that Michael John Neill also advocates another oldie: Polya's Four Step Process which also appeals to me. I would suspect that most family historians don't follow a particular published process while others may follow one specifically developed for genealogical research.

I see at least one query each week in the online forums I inhabit that asks for suggestions on which is the best genealogy program to use. Most of the answers are suggestions on which particular program to use or avoid but do not address the issue of what unique features the programs suggested offer to fit the requester's individual needs. Of course beginners often don't know what they want out of a program, in this case I think they should avoid the software evengelists' suggestions and turn to a few trusted friends or members of their family history society for advice. Another excellent resource is Gensoftreviews, one could probably choose with confidence any of the programs that appear in this site's Annual Gold Award List. The pruned down free packages or 30 day trials from various vendors  also give one an opportunity to try before you buy.

Keeping track of one's research is another question that pops up regularly. The evangelists come out in force to answer these questions by suggesting their way as the only way but there are many ways. I would suggest that if you are confident with a means of recording (be it pencil and paper or on a computer) then use that or if you are up to a challenge then select and learn a piece of software that will do the job for you.

My genealogy software program is rather sophisticated so I am able to keep my research notes, research log and to-do items within the program. Before I switched to this program I used Excel or Google Sheets (if sharing with others) for these tasks, as I love spreadsheets I still use them for all sorts of geneatasks.

I am an Evernote junkie and use this tool for many personal tasks and a few geneajobs like managing my blogs and details of my genimates. It is an excellent tool for keeping track of your research and making it available on any device you may use but it takes a  while to become a comfortable and confident user. There are groups on Facebook and Google+ that can assist you with this.

If you find that you can organise efficiently and effectively with pencil and paper and are happy with that method then keep doing it your way. My advice is to find a method that works for you and use it consistently.Whatever works for you should be the bottom line.

Taming the paper and digital mountains of files we have created while researching is another hot issue. Do you have a huge Piling System that is crying out to be organised? If you can find whatever it is you need within a couple of minutes then that system works for you but what about those that take over once you turn up your toes? Will they be able to negotiate and make sense of your folders and files?

If you keep digital copies of your photos and documents in your genealogy software program and have them linked to appropriate individuals then others should be able to find and retrieve them. I haven't done this yet but my program copes admirably with this. I use a very simple system of Surname (and other) Folders for both my digital and physical files. This works for me but may not be sophisticated enough for other users (note to self - update four year old post - my filing system is dynamic). I ascribe to the KISS Principle (Keep it Simple Sweetheart - I prefer Sweetheart to Stupid ). I would suggest that whatever system you use is easy to adapt as your needs and experience grow.

Storing those valuable original documents safely should be a priority. Make sure they are digitised and that your digital files are backed up in several places.

And then there is sharing. I am an advocate of Geneablogging for sharing ancestor stories and putting out Cousin Bait. To this end I also have a personal website where I share the details of my ancestors, both of these have brought me valuable cousin connections. I have concerns with printed family histories because they are not dynamic like online publications. Recently Mr GeniAus used my research to compile a written history for his brother's significant birthday. The delight and interest of my brother-in-law and family as they perused the publication demonstrated the value of providing  family members with a printed version of their family history. However you do it please record your family stories in a format that will survive and be accessible for future generations.

So what I have been banging on about for the past few paragraphs is that there is no one correct way to "do family history". I hope that, as members of a collaborative and supportive community, we respect the efforts of our fellow researchers no matter which way they approach their research.

As individuals we should approach our study of family history in a way that suits our personalities and purposes.


  1. Right on! Couldn't agree more, live and let live. I love learning from others ideas' and recommendations and then picking the methods that suit my style. Eventually I may decide what style that is! 😄

  2. I love the chase but not the recording and that gets me into trouble at times !

  3. You can either follow the crowd or you can freestyle!

    Following is easy. Freestyling takes guts. It says that you are going to do the research in a manner that is right for you. You are going to document your findings in a style that is right for you. Freestyling says that anyone who follows you will simply have to figure out what you Have given them. Not a huge deal.

    Be comfortable in your skin and in your research and in your documentation. That's what I'm screaming!

    Peace & Blessings,
    "Guided by the Ancestors"

  4. Thanks NAACP Santa Fe. I love the term Freestyling - hope it's OK to add it and your deinition to the Geneadictionary at

  5. I agree, and I just want to tell you that I've included this post in my NoteWorthy Reads post for this week:

  6. Thanks for that, Jo. It's much appreciated.


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World Wide Genealogy Team