Discover your inside story with AncestryDNA®

July 15, 2015

10 Important Characteristics of a Good Genealogist

10 Important Characteristics of a Good Genealogist
We all want to be good genealogists, don't we. We want to know that we did our best to find our ancestors and that what we found is accurate. We don't want to spend time searching an individual's ancestors and adding them to our family tree only to find out it was the wrong person!

That means we need to be thorough and methodical and very very cautious about accepting documents and individuals without verifying and double-checking every fact we find. 

I've come up with a list of the 10 most important characteristics that will tell you if you're on the right track to being a good genealogist.

A good genealogist

1. Finds every document possible on an ancestor. He/she does not stop at census and vital registrations but looks beyond to records such as land records, court records, military records, church records, immigration records, education records, newspaper articles, tax and assessment records, etc. Checks for more obscure records such as coffin plates, funeral cards, and other miscellaneous records pertaining to the time and location of his/her search.

2.  Learns what records have survived for the location and time period for each ancestor's life.

3. Copies documents exactly as found, not as he/she thinks it should be. Example: You know your Grandmother's name to be Mary but in one census she is record as Marie. A good genealogist copies her name exactly as found in the original record, not as he/she knows it. A good genealogist notes the discrepancy in names but does not alter what was found in the original document.

4. Cites sources for all facts found.

5. Never relies blindly on family stories or online family trees but searches out a source for each. Verify, verify, verify! Example: If great aunt Harriet told you Great-Grandpa was a trapeze artist who deserted his wife and children, make note of this in your notes with the source and date you were given this information, then hunt for proof of her statement.

6. Makes an accurate copy of all records found. Carefully notes spelling of names while copying and does not make changes. Example: my name (Lorine) is often carelessly copied from my websites, blogs or emai by genealogists who write to me and address me as Lorrine, Lorraine or Lori.This makes me wonder how good a genealogist they are if they are unable to copy a name correctly.

7. Keeps a research log of all sources checked, and notes if the search was successful or not.

8. Analyzes each record and document carefully in order to spot clues that may lead to other areas of research and to accurately understand what the record is  and is not. Example: A woman who asked me for help told me she knew when her grandfather arrived in N. America and had his immigration record. She provided a complete date - day, month and year. But when I looked at the original document it was not an immigration record but rather his naturalization paper.

9. Searches siblings of a challenging ancestor in order to find more documents that may hold clues pertaining to his/her ancestor.

10. Leaves no stone (record) unturned. Extends his/her search to records not found online such as in local courthouses or archives. 

There are more characteristics of a good genealogist and the list could be extended. But these may be the 10 most important and if we make sure we are following these characteristics, we are definitely on the way to being a good genealogist.

What would you add to the list? 


Jackie Corrigan said...

Great list! I'd add that a good genealogist revisits previous research to cast a fresh eye on your conclusions.

T said...

I would add: Go back to web sites you've searched last year or the year before and see if there is anything new added since your last search. No web site is stagnant unless it's abandoned.

Geolover said...

Oh, so important: " . . . accurately understand what the record is and is not."

I have seen one account of tax assessment lists say the persons "registered" for them (no so). Another account of tax assessment rolls states the persons "paid taxes" (this is not what the lists were about) and drew a questionable conclusion as to whether persons were in that locality based on supposedly making such payments.

Really, we do have to know exactly what we are looking at.

Great list!

Anonymous said...

What's the difference between #3 and #6? And isn't #10 covered by #1?

Devon Noel Lee said...

I like the list and find it very thorough. In evaluating myself, I would say that a good genealogist is patient. May of the items on your list are unavailable to me at this time due to the season of my life, the cost of the in-depth research (in dollars and time), and the distance from which many of the repositories of my ancestors from myself. This is an area I must be patient in until the day when I can be more thorough in #1.

Would is be possible to also add something? I also think a good genealogist takes the time to stop researching and start writing about what they've discovered. All this research does few a bit of good if it isn't turned into something a 'lay' person can understand. A good genealogist will take the names, dates, and places, and create a narrative that pulls all the discoveries together in one place.

I hope these comments benefit your list. Please disregard if they do not.