By Rebecca W.
Remember when genealogy records first started popping up online? When you were finally able to research those mysterious New England ancestors without actually driving to New England, or even worse, calling someone on the telephone? And then remember how you jumped on your computer and, within hours, had a complete record of your family tree? Yah, me neither… But recently, with a little extra time on my hands, I got the itch to give it a try. After a number of – let’s face it – failed attempts, I can confidently report that I’ve caught the “genealogy bug.”
So, what brought on this sudden urge to research? Free, I repeat FREE, access to genealogy records through HCLS. If you’re anything like me (a total cheapskate), you just can’t turn down free. Though these resources have always been offered by our system, a limited time offer from ProQuest for at-home access to Ancestry.com library edition (previously available only in the branches) makes now the perfect time to start for all of our cardholders.
Ancestry.com is truly a great resource for genealogy research, but it can easily lead a novice down the wrong path. So where to start? Well, I decided to search the names of random ancestors without a whole lot of other information. I did not have an organized plan of attack. My suggestion: start with a timeline. I mean a physical timeline. Not, “oh, I have an idea in my head,” or “yah, I know when so-and-so was born.” Check out Ancestry’s “Creating Timelines that Produce Answers Guide” to see best practices for using your timeline, including evaluating sources and tracking your ancestor’s migrations (from the Ancestry.com homepage, click Learning Center and scroll to the Getting Started section).
Now, my number one piece of advice… check multiple sources! You will be surprised at how many birth certificates, marriage records, draft registration cards, you name it, will look like they fit into your family tree, but are actually unrelated. If you think you found the marriage certificate for your great-grandparents, make sure you can cross-check a solid number of facts on there. Do you have another source that verifies their age when the certificate was issued? Is their place of birth listed on the marriage record? Do you have a birth certificate to back that up? What about their parents’ names? You get my point: never take a source at face value.
While there is a bit of a learning curve to genealogical research, these online tools really help with the heavy lifting. With just a day of searching, I was able to find information on my family tree that my relatives didn’t even know. Hopefully this post sparked a little curiosity and you are ready to start your search. Make sure to look at all of the HCLS genealogy research tools, including MyHeritage, HeritageQuest, and Gale Genealogy Connect. While Ancestry.com is a robust and popular resource, these other online tools can help fill in the gaps you are bound to encounter. Happy searching!
Becky is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS East Columbia Branch who enjoys art and everything science.