Principles of Family History Research

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Genealogical or family history research is the process of searching records to find information about your relatives and using those records to link individuals to earlier and later generations.

This article describes a process for doing genealogical and family history research. In addition to following a process, research includes knowing about the records that have the information you seek. For discussions of specific records to use in your research, see the research outlines available on FamilySearch, or on this wiki for the country, state or province of interest. You may also find information about records in the genealogical handbooks.

This article is intended for persons who are interested in learning in depth about family history research. For a brief overview of the research process, see A Guide to Research.

Table of Contents

STEP 1: Identify What You Know
     Use Appropriate Forms
     Recall Information
     Gather Family Information
     Record Useful Information
     Organize Your Records

STEP 2: Decide What You Want to Learn
     Identify Several Individuals or Families
     Select One Individual or Family
     Identify Questions
     Select One Research Objective
     Prepare a Research Log

STEP 3: Select Records to Search.
     Identify a Category of Sources
     Choose a Record Type
     Select Specific Records
     Describe the records on a Research Log

STEP 4: Obtain and Search the Records.
     Obtain the Records
     View the Records
     Search the Records
     Record the Results

STEP 5: Use the Information.
     Evaluate the Evidence
     Transfer the Information
     Organize the New Records
     Share the Information
     Prepare Name for Temple Ordinances
     Restart the Research Cycle

For Further Reading

Using This Article

This article explains the basic steps of the research process. Figures illustrate the text while blue boxes provide important background information. Key points (maxims) are highlighted. A short bibliography of books about research methods under “For Further Reading” is at the end of this outline. The appendix includes a useful summary diagrams of the research process and record types.

Your Genealogical Quest

There are many reasons why people begin researching their family history. A person may want to join a lineage society, such as the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), or find the town in the old country where the family originated. Others seek to understand their own traits and characteristics by learning about grandparents and other relatives, or they may want to have a reunion of all the descendants of a pioneer settler. Latter-day Saints (Mormons) desire to share religious blessings with their deceased relatives. All of these, and many others, are good reasons.

Regardless of the reasons, each person seeking to learn about their family history is embarking on a quest. Just like the journeys of pioneer ancestors, such quests may seem almost impossible or never-ending. However, a quest is just an “over-all” goal and like every other journey, proceeds one step at a time.

As with every journey, you will have to set and reach several intermediate goals in succession during this quest. If family history, goals often focus on learning about an ancestor or family. Later in the research process, you will learn how to further break these goals into specific achievable research objectives that will keep you on the path, goal by goal toward achieving your quest.

Research Process

Research is done in cycles. You will complete a series of steps and then repeat the steps again, using the new knowledge you have gained. An illustration of the research cycle is found later in this outline.

For successful research, follow these steps:

1. Identify what you know.
2. Decide what you want to learn.
3. Select records to search.
4. Obtain and search the records.
5. Use the information.

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