Genealogy Is Not a Video Game Where Everyone Is Dead

Family history research is more than simply pointing and clicking your way to an ancestral tombstone2answer–or finding where someone has already solved your problem.  No matter what the TV commercials, the shows, and the websites indicate, some problems require a little more than five minutes of work or an “automated search” to find the answer.

In the United States, the research becomes a little more challenging when the people being researched lived before the American Civil War in states that didn’t keep vital records. The problem is compounded if the individuals didn’t have much money and moved on a regular basis. In these situations, research becomes (at the very least) about:

  • learning about all the records kept during the time period and locations where the ancestor lived;
  • learning about the history of the area and the current events of the time;
  • accessing material at all levels–local, county, state, colonial, federal, etc.;
  • learning about the applicable laws and common legal practices during the time period;
  • having an understanding of how your ancestor probably lived on a day-to-day basis;
  • being willing to shed assumptions about history, culture, and your ancestor

Not everyone gets leaves on the online trees–especially Benjamin Butler.