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How Genealogists Research a Family Tree

Researching your family tree isn’t as simple as you might think; to get an accurate picture of your family tree takes time, skill and a variety of specialist techniques. In this article, we take a look at some of the methods used by genealogists to research family trees.

Data sources

There are a vast number of data sources available to genealogists; birth records, death records, census records, obituaries, probate records, military records, death certificates and marriage certificates are just a few of the documents available to genealogists. Part of the skill of being a genealogist is determining what records to look at for missing information. Accessing records can be costly and time-consuming; searching through them all isn’t the most efficient approach to creating a family tree. A genealogist will use their expertise to locate and examine the data sources they believe will give them the answers they need. They might need to look at several sources before getting a clear picture of the full family tree. This will depend on the case they’re researching and the complexity of the family structure. Many of these records have now been digitised; this helps genealogy researchers speed up the process of searching for information and parts of a family tree.

Genealogical interviews

Another important part of genealogy research is genealogical interviews. This means sitting down with different family members and asking them about their ancestry. This can give genealogists insights into where they’re likely to find more information and who they should be looking for in the data sources. Genealogists will record the information from the interview on a recording device so they can listen back at a later date when they’re going through the evidence and putting together the data they have sourced. This step is crucial as records don’t always show the full picture. If you enlist the help of a genealogist, don’t be surprised when they ask to interview you and some of your willing family members as part of the whole research process. 

Historical context 

Genealogists that trace family trees will need to understand and use their knowledge of historical context to shape their investigation. Historical context is the events and living conditions that shape people’s lives. In some cases, the genealogist will need to understand what happened in the time period the person was alive to locate the right documentation. A large fire or war may indicate that data sources were lost or destroyed. Understanding and taking this into consideration is all part of the role of the genealogist. In some cases of probate genealogy and other forms of genealogy, this level of research might not be required, depending on the complexity of the case and if there are any significant historical events surrounding the family’s location. Probate genealogy focuses on finding the remaining heirs to an estate of the deceased, using several different sources to trace back the family tree and ensure the relevant descendants have been identified. 

Genetic analysis

DNA testing can help people trace their ancestry and find members of their family. Genealogy experts sometimes use genetic analysis and testing to go beyond the historical records to find out more about a specific family tree. Genetic analysis may be used in situations where the biological mother or father of a particular family member is unknown. This could be true of a situation where the child was adopted at birth or abandoned. In these situations, genetic genealogy can provide valuable information about the person’s ancestry. Since DNA testing became more affordable in the 21st century, genetic genealogy has become more popular.

Mapping out a basic family tree can be a simple process if you only go a few generations back and all of your ancestors are known. However, this is often not the case, which is why professional genealogists are often brought in to find ancestors using a range of sources. Their knowledge and experience, combined with access to a huge range of data sources and genetic analysis, enables them to create comprehensive family trees dating back hundreds of years in some cases. If you’re interested in finding out about your family tree or finding the heirs of an estate, get in touch with a reputable genealogist.