I often get asked for tips. So below are some online search tips, as well as some general tips on how to approach your own genealogy research (basically - how to get started).
Tips for online research
Sure, you can use Ancestry and other paying genealogy sources, however I wouldn't necessarily recommend to start with that, especially as there are many open source alternatives. Also, many of these paying genealogy solutions and resources kind of have a tendency to lock you in, and it is difficult to get your data out (see also approach section). Furthermore, many of these paying services, also 'sell' your data and research to others. So, basically they rely on your work and intelligence in connecting many of the dots, and thus they sell your knowledge and work, and still you have to pay.
There are a lot of open source or otherwise free sources available to support your research. So let's OSINT this: Open-source intelligence (OSINT) is the collection and analysis of data gathered from open sources to produce actionable intelligence.
Below I will provide an overview of the key open source resources I have used.
|Free genealogy solutions or solutions that have a free version||
There are free genealogy solutions or solutions that have a good free version. While I wouldn't necessarily recommend to use them as your main family tree-tool (see also approach tips), they do present great free resources.
Familysearch is probably the best one there is. FamilySearch is a nonprofit organization and website offering genealogical records, education, and software. It is operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is closely connected with the church's Family History Department. Apparently, ancestry is a key component in the believe-system of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Creating an account is free and with it you can search their vast amount of records, including full scanned versions of historic birth, death and marriage records, but also Census records, draft records, naturalisation records, immigration records, etc.
Note: they also have APIs (application interfaces) that allow genealogy tools to scan their databases and records. E.g. MacFamilyTree, the tool I am using and one of the best genealogy tools available (only on Mac) has an optional and easy to use integration with Familysearch, automatically scanning your records against possible matches in Familysearch.
Geneanet is another good resource. This resource first and foremost is a tool for people to create and manage their family tree online. However, contrary to other solutions (Ancestry, MyHeritage.com or geni.com), the results remain freely searchable. As such, it is a great resource for exploring family trees that are managed in it.
It sounds trivial but online search engines are also a fantastic resource for genealogical research. I periodically just enter my family name in Google and check the results for potential new information, or look for particular search results such as obituaries (see also below).
Of course there are some extra pointers to take into account:
|Online genealogical databases||
Check for the existence of genealogy databases by local historic associations and governments.
Many local historic associations also have genealogical databases and resources. In my own research I used e.g.
Similarly, governments (local, regional or national) are enabling historical and genealogical research by providing online resources for their research. In my own research I used amongst others the following:
Obituaries always contain a lot of information on a person and often also his or her family. Many are posted online, or have been digitized and are now available online. Search for obituaries via online search engines, and while it may sound morbid, repeat that periodically to find new ones.
In line with the previous topic, there are also websites in which graves and entire graveyards are indexed. E.g. findagrave.com, billiongraves.com
There are online collector marketplaces specialized in buying and selling paper-based collectibles such as obituaries, praying cards, memorial cards, etc. A good example of such a market place is delcampe.net, a European marketplace for paper collectibles with amongst others French, UK, Belgian and Dutch vendors. Many of the vendors provide scans of the documents they sell, and these images of scanned documents such as memorial cards may provide you with additional details that help you along in your research. And if you are interested you can obviously buy these documents as well.
Government journals in which official notices are published (often also in combination with laws and regulations). These journals may include personal data on company owners, custodies, government medals issued, etc. E.g. Belgian Official Gazette.
Websites holding old newspapers. Even better if the content has been digitized and therefore searchable. Examples of sites I have used include:
Note: some of these websites such as newspapers.com may be paying, though often the OCR of the text is available, and that may be all you need. Pointing a search engine to such websites also helps.
For living people social media network profiles remain a great resource. All social media sites are worthwhile checking, however Facebook and LinkedIn in particular are most useful. While Facebook use is on the decline, many people still have their profiles there, and many probably share too much information. LinkedIn is another great resource. Checking out the connections (friends) of people online also can allow you to identify potential family ties.
Approach tipsOver the years, I have learned some important lessons that I can summarise in a number of rules of approach. Note: these reflect my own experience and preferences. You may not necessarily agree with all of them, but they are still worthwhile considering.
TIP 1 - Ensure exportability / transferability
Always ensure you can easily export, transfer or otherwise migrate your family tree such that you are not locked in to a solution (whether that is an online solution or a software on your computer). Be aware that there is a common standard open file format for genealogical data: GEDCOM. This is a file format for exchanging genealogical data between different systems. It allows you to export your genealogy data from one application, and then import it into another. So, as a minimum, any solution you use to create and manage your genealogical research should support import and export of GEDCOM files.
Personally, I have always preferred local software solutions over online solutions. For two main reasons: 1/ as such you always control your own data, and 2/ you are not sucked into a monthly paying service model with never-ending payments. I myself use MacFamilyTree (only available for Mac). It is not the cheapest solution, but it has a fair price and meets all my requirements.
TIP 2 - Back up
Your research will be the result of a lot of time and effort. Therefore, ensure you back up your work (if not already foreseen as part of the service, though even then you may want to keep a backup in case the service suddenly stops or you somehow get locked out).
TIP 3 - Track your sources
Keep track of your sources meticulously. Know for each piece of data where you got it from. Most family tree solutions allow you to link each piece of information you enter with a source. Take the extra effort to note that down. Over time you will definitely not remember, and you may encounter contradicting information or notice that you may have made a mistake, or would like to further explore the source for more data. Knowing where you got the initial information from will help you then and you will be thankful that you took the time to note down the source, but also help any other researchers exploring your work.
TIP 4 - Build your own documentation archive
Download all supporting information and documentation (photos, obituaries, birth registrations, etc.) that you encounter during your research such that you have it yourself. Don't link or reference it to online resources, because this content may disappear or become inaccessible over time. Additional tip: use a naming convention for the files, e.g. start each file name with the name and birth year of the related (main) person, and logically group the files in directories e.g. birth, death, marriage, communion, other.
TIP 5 - Save search results
Certain online archives grow over time, so you may want to revisit them and check them again. However, when there are a lot of results it may be difficult to identify the changes and additions compared to your previous search, which would mean a lot of work if you need to check each result again. Keeping a copy or record of your search results (e.g. via a printscreen) will allow you to compare new search results with old search results, and as such you will be able to easily identify changes and additions compared to previous results.