12 Problem-Solving Tips when Researching your Family History

1. When searching online databases less is always more. Enter as few details as possible, perhaps using the surname or forename. Try different combinations of name, age & birthplace.

2. Use wildcards. * stands for any number of characters (including no Characters) ? stands for a single character.

3. Avoid precise birthplaces where possible. People were not always consistent when it came to stating where they were born. People tend to be less precise the further they are from their birthplace.

4. Consider alternative spellings. Standardised spelling of personal & place names is a relatively modern concept, so Brown and Browne can be the same name!

5. Middle names can help. Same databases allow you to search using middle names, particularly useful if Ancestor had a distinctive one.

6. Search for the family member with the least common first name. Look for Herbert Smith, rather than his brother John, but weigh this against the increased possibility of transcription error with less common names.

7. Where possible, search for children rather than adults. Children’s ages are more likely to be accurately recorded.

8. Find out everything you can about your ancestors & their extended families. This is the best way to identify inconsistencies in your evidence; you never know what else you might discover.

9. Use a combination of the “focussed” and the “scatter-gun” approaches. Try records for the area where your ancestors lived. Search in major family databases. If all else fails, try Google.

10. Build up a theory, then attempt to knock it down. It’s usually easier to disprove something than it is to prove it. If you can’t disprove your theory, it might just be the answer.

11. Ask a fellow enthusiast. Share your problem with subscribers on one of hundreds of mailing lists dedicated to all aspects of family and local history.

12. Write to ancestor’s magazine. We can call on the wealth of experience at the National Australian Archives to answer questions sent in to our Ask the Experts page.

Source: Ancestry: supplied by J Mitchell

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