Conducting your research

Dadaw 'n Me
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Miss Shari via Compfight

In the family history course this week, Dianne Snowden spoke to us about how to conduct our research. Here are the notes I made while listening to the video. I have also included a few links to sites on the net which might be helpful.

Remember to follow the basic principles for family history

Steps for conducting your researchElwell[1]

  1. Write down what you know
  2. Decide what you want to learn
  3. Choose a record or source of info
  4. Obtain and search the record
  5. Use and record what you have learned

Look for online finding aids to help with your research. Familysearch has many aids for helping with handwriting

Have an aim for each research task

  1. What do you hope to find out?
  2. Where are you going to look? – Repositories and records – Primary/secondary sources

Document your sources

  • Any statement of fact must have its own source
  • Sources will record location of the fact and also record details that might impact your evaluation of the fact

Tips for researching

  1. When searching, often better to put in less information
  2. Too many results, then refine search by adding more words
  3. Spellings in early records is flexible
  4. Names can be spelt many different ways
  5. Names can be changed
  6. Reading difficult handwriting, compare with sequence of letters you know.  Familysearch online help
  7. Never assume family relationship with person of same name
  8. Many records have similar info eg birth registration/church records, address in electoral roll/post office directory
  9. Children registered in Tasmania with f or m


Start with Chapman Codes but also keep your own list

Once you have info, you must then evaluate it.

  • Original source material generally more reliable
  • What processing has the source material undergone – eg transcribing which might not be accurate, re-copied from tree to tree
  • Truthfulness of record will depend on purpose and motivation of creators eg ages on marriage certificates, obituaries especially to cover convict records
  • Most reliable informants have first hand knowledge of events
  • Veracity and skill of record’s creator will have shaped content
  • Timeliness adds to a document’s credibility
  • All known records should be used
  • Case never closed on a genealogical conclusion.

When searching don’t just rely on Google as your search engine. You can also use customised search engines – often Google based. Try out some of these others: I put in Francis Colgrave (my gggrandfather) and found many resources I had never seen before

Genealogy in time

Cyndislist which has search engines for many countries of the world

Genealogy search help based on Google has nine search engines to suggest

Digital trends gives some great sites to search

My readers: Which search engine or genealogy site have you used that gave lots of great information?

[1] Barry J Elwell Family Treasures: 15 Lessons, Tips, and Tricks for Discovering Your Family (Cedar Fort Publishing, 2012)

My William SMITH research plan

Davo the Tassie Devil tours Albany whaling station

As part of this family history course we have to come up with a research plan. Here is what I have added to our discussion area.

As I have already completed a lot of my family history over the last 40 years, I want to try to find out more about my great great grandfather who was given the name William SMITH. I would love to find out his actual Samoan name.

So the following is my research aim:

To create historical timeline of Captain William SMITH’s life as a whaler. To do this:

  • find out the names of the ships he was on and the dates (PS2) (PS1) (PS4)
  • where the ships voyages were (PS1)
  • his role on each ship (PS1)
  • life on board the ship (PS3) (SS1) (SS2)

Hopefully find his Samoan name by finding out when he was given the name William SMITH.

Primary Sources:

  1. Marine Board records of ship’s voyages – government record
  2. Application for master of foreign vessel certificate – government record
  3. Newspapers of the time – shipping news and articles about voyages – newspaper record
  4. Images of ships he served on

Secondary sources

  1. Susan Chamberlain thesis about early whaling in Hobart Town – public record
  2. Books about whaling around Tasmania from the 1850’s to the 1890’s – public record
  3. My relatives including Glenn (who I will be interviewing) and Kim – great grandsons of William
  4. I am wondering if there might be records at the Australian Maritime Museum?

Once I find his Samoan name, then Missionary records held at the Mitchell Library – might need to visit Sydney at some time in the future.

I have lots of records once he became a master mariner in the 1870’s but don’t have much prior to this.

 Readers: Can you think of any other primary or secondary sources I could use? Which repository would I find them in?



Convict record of Rebecca Jackson
Convict record of Rebecca Jackson

One of the most important things to do when finding out about your family history is to research thoroughly.

Don’t believe everything you see online.

If it is a digitized copy of the original document that you can decipher on your own, then that is OK. But many people add their family tree to online websites without having first verified the data. This can then be added to other people’s trees and so the problem or inaccurate data is passed on.

Always check and double check from original or primary sources as historians call them.

What can primary sources include:

  • digitized documents like newspapers, convict records, diaries, ships logs that were written at the time of the event
  • photos, videos taken at the time of the event
  • government records such as census, immigration records taken at the time of the event
  • quilts, paintings, sculptures etc made at the time of the event
  • interviews with locals at the time of the event

So in general, anything written, taken or made by an eyewitness or participant in the actual event.

Where to find primary sources:

  • local libraries
  • family history centres
  • online digitized documents
  • microfilms of documents – many now being digitized
  • parish or county record centres

You will find links on my sidebar to some of the places I use when researching my family history. Many relate to Tasmania, UK and Ireland as these are the places my ancestors came from or lived in.