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Stuck in a Genealogy Rut? Three Ways to Bounce Back

Thanks to guest blogger, Lisa Alzo, for this great article.

Alzo_GenealogyRut_01Have you hit an impasse in your genealogy research? Do you keep searching the same databases only to get the same negative results? Has the paper trail back to your ancestors gone cold? At one time or another even the best researchers get stuck in a genealogy rut. Here are three ways you can bounce back and find new inspiration.

1. Review Your Research.

Many times our biggest research roadblocks result from missing important details or clues the first time around. Perhaps you did not listen carefully when you interviewed Aunt Betty, or somehow misunderstood the name of the ancestral village she mentioned. Or, maybe you were in a hurry when you photocopied a page from a book at the library or from the microfilm reel at your Family History Center, or when you rapidly downloaded records from an online database. A second look can give you insights into a missed maiden name, a questionable connection in a family line, or an incorrect source citation.

2. Read, Understand and Evaluate.

Be honest, how many times do you go to Google, or open an online database and just randomly type in the names you are researching? I do it too. In reality, your first step should be to read the directions! Look at the About section, the Help section, or the Frequently Asked Questions section so you know exactly what a collection contains and what is not included. Two of the biggest online content providers, FamilySearch (free) and subscription site, both have detailed notes explaining their collections and tips for how to search them. Both sites also have free learning centers with videos and tutorials. Successful database searches depend upon creativity. Try different ways of searching and notice how the changes you’ve made are being interpreted by the search engine and then adapt your search criteria accordingly. Every search engine works a little differently. The search criteria that you use on one site may return entirely different results when used on a different site. Remember: Broad searching is NOT always the best approach. Look carefully at the search fields before you enter your terms. Understand what you are viewing (an index or abstract versus an actual scan of the original image). Evaluate each result and scroll down to the bottom to check the source citation for what you are viewing. Then, write down or save/print the instructions of where you will need to go next for more information. For example, if you see just an index of a marriage record, is there a notation stating where you can obtain the actual record through online ordering, mail request, or in person?

Alzo_GenealogyRut_023. Banish “Brick Wall” from your vocabulary. Genealogists like to use the metaphor “brick wall” to describe that seemingly unsolvable research problem, or a roadblock or impasse encountered when trying to get back further in time with one or more family lines. More often than not, we have just run out of resources, can’t easily locate information, haven’t looked beyond the obvious, or have unrealistic expectations. Make sure you have conducted a “reasonably exhaustive search” (Check out the webinar “What is a Reasonably Exhaustive Search” by Michael Hait from September 2012 to learn more about this process). Finally, consider the steps you need to take to look at additional resources and how to use new media solutions to connect with cousins, discover fresh leads, and crowd source your research problems.

Want even more tips on how to rescue your research? Sign up for the free Legacy Family Tree webinar I will be presenting on August 8, 2014: “Research Recharge Turning Old Clues into New Leads.” In this webinar you will learn fresh ways of looking at data you've already collected, strategies for smarter searching your favorite databases (and new ones) for clues, and tips for identifying what you may have missed the first time around.

Lisa A. Alzo is a freelance writer, instructor, and lecturer, and has been tracking her ancestors for 25 years. She is a frequent presenter for the Legacy Family Tree Webinars series and can be contacted via


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