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Have You Found Everything? (here's how to know)

Seasoned genealogists understand the importance of leaving no stone unturned when it comes to uncovering our ancestors' stories and researching our family history. But how can we be sure we've exhausted every possible source? Follow these steps to ensure you've found every source that can answer your research question and break down a brick wall.

1. First things first: write out your research question. Include the name of your ancestor, the time frame, and the location. For example, “When was Margaret Smith born in Jones County, Mississippi, between 1870 and 1880?” or “Who was the father of John Johnson who was born in Shelby County, Tennessee, about 1870?” Without knowing the three elements (identity, time, and place), it is difficult to know whether you have found everything available.

2. Research that time and place in a general sense. Look for context and information about the formation of the county, any migration patterns, the history of the area, etc. We must understand the time and place to know about our ancestors and into what types of records they may have been included. The FamilySearch research wiki serves as a great way to get an overview and find sources to offer more context. (see the video above for more info and a short "how to" tutorial.)

3. Conduct a survey of available records in which your ancestor may have been recorded. Before diving into your research, it's essential to conduct a thorough survey of the surviving records available for the time frame and geographic region you're exploring. This step lays the foundation for your research journey and helps you identify potential sources of information. Start compiling a list of all relevant record collections, including census records, vital records, land records, probate records, newspapers, church records, and more. There are a few places to look, but utilizing FamilySearch research wiki (see the demo in video above) can give you a jump start and an overview of what records are still available. Beyond the wiki, also think about these three ideas:

Utilizing Online Databases and Repositories: Online databases and repositories are invaluable resources for genealogists, offering access to a wealth of digitized records from around the world. Begin your search by exploring popular genealogy websites such as Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, and Findmypast. These platforms host millions of records, including census enumerations, birth, marriage, and death certificates, military records, immigration records, and more. Take advantage of advanced search features to narrow down your results and uncover hidden gems. For an easy way to use FamilySearch and Ancestry to look for local records, watch my 2-minute linked video Find Local Records Available Online.

Mining Offline Resources: While online databases provide convenient access to many records, don't overlook the wealth of information available in offline resources. Local libraries, archives, historical societies, and courthouses house a
treasure trove of original documents waiting to be discovered. Plan a visit to these repositories to access unique records such as manuscripts, rare books, maps, photographs, newspapers, and more. Don't hesitate to reach out to archivists, librarians, and local historians for assistance in navigating these collections. Ask if they have finding aids or a catalog to consult.

Tapping into Family Sources: Family sources can provide invaluable insights into your ancestors' lives and fill in gaps in your research. Reach out to relatives to gather family stories, documents, photographs, letters, diaries, and heirlooms. Conduct oral history interviews to capture firsthand accounts of family traditions, migrations, occupations, and events. Remember to document and preserve these family sources for future generations to enjoy.

4. Audit your research. "Audit" may sound daunting, but in this situation, it is the way to know you found all you can. It is really just a check up of your research to date to make sure nothing was missed. It's EASY to do this. After you complete step number 3 above, compare that list you made against the research you already did. You are looking to see if there are things you missed or other places to look.

After you audit your work, you can conduct any searches you identified as needing to be completed. It is also a good idea to follow these tips:
-Write out your research to date - this will force you to address holes in your work
-Use expertise of genealogy societies to review your work and offer suggestions
-Sometimes taking a mental break from your work allows you to see it anew later
-Verify the accuracy of the records you used; make sure you are consulting original records whenever possible
-Print your documents; review them by scouring line by line for any missed info
-Use timelines to see if you have "missing" time in your ancestor's life
-Conduct collateral relative and cluster research (more info in video above)

By following these steps, you can ensure that you've explored every possible source that can answer your genealogy research question. Remember to approach your research with curiosity, persistence, and an open mind. Embrace the journey of discovery, celebrate each new find, and never hesitate to seek help or guidance along the way. Together, we can unlock the mysteries of our ancestors' past and preserve their legacies for generations to come.

Get your own Brick Wall Buster Cards kit today! This proprietary program will change the way you research and give you the genealogy answers you need!



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