Three Steps to Help You Get Your Genealogy in Gear

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena provides three ideas to help genealogists break through the “brick wall” they sometimes run into while searching their family history.

Do you feel stuck? All genealogists come to a point where they just aren’t sure what they should do next. Like with any activity, a researcher may feel burned out after having faced brick walls, uncooperative relatives, and a lack of time and money to devote to research.

vintage family photograph

Note: The vintage family photographs in this article all come from the personal collection of the author, bought off eBay. None came with attribution or identification. If any of our readers can provide information about any of these photos, the author would love to hear from you.

When you feel stuck it’s time to consider a different approach, something to help bring the excitement back to your research. Here are three ideas to help you get past a speed bump in your research and back on track to break down your research brick wall.

Try Something New

Instead of searching the same old way that you always search, try something new. Look at the genealogy sites and other resources you use with a fresh eye, to see if there’s something more there that you haven’t tried before.

vintage family photograph

A good example is how you may search GenealogyBank. Sure it’s known primarily as an online newspaper site, with more than 6,100 digitized newspapers from all 50 states—but examine the site more closely. GenealogyBank has several other collections of genealogy records to help with your family history research: the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), historical documents, and historical books. Search those collections as well to see what other information you can find about your ancestors.

Pay similar attention to the other sites and resources you use—they, too, may have additional genealogy records that you’ve never explored.

Another new approach is to vary the type of searches you do. For example, consider searching for your ancestors by substituting their initials for a first and middle name. Or try using such variants as “Bill” or “Wm.” for “William.” Another trick is to purposely “misspell” the surname to catch possible errors the newspaper editor or the SSDI clerk made.

Reevaluate Your Project

Sometimes, in the rush and excitement of finding documents that help us learn about our ancestor’s story, we get so caught up that we forget what our original genealogy goal was. Maybe your goal was too big, a mistake many genealogists make. When you are stuck, it’s a good idea to go back and reevaluate your family history project and recommit yourself to that project, a variation of that project or an entirely new one. Maybe it’s time to put away your current research and look at a different branch of the family.

vintage family photograph

Genealogy, like any pursuit, is one that’s best worked at one small task at a time. Come up with a few projects that can be done in a small amount of time—like ordering death certificates, writing letters to family members, scanning documents, or taking photos at the cemetery. Then move on from there.

Work with a Genealogy Partner

We’ve all heard that two heads are better than one and in many cases that can be true. Working with a relative on your research problem can not only help get you excited about the research, but also help you come up with more ideas to ease the workload.

vintage family photograph

Don’t live near your genealogy partner? No problem—use a collaborative editing program like Google Docs or use a file-sharing program like Dropbox to share your findings, write research plans and keep track of research that has been done. Google Docs allows you to create word processing documents and spreadsheets and then collaborate with others. Dropbox allows you to store and share files. To use Google Docs you will need a Google account which is free. Dropbox does have a free membership option that includes up to 18GB, with additional storage space available for a fee.

Don’t have any family members to work with? In that case, consider collaborating with a fellow genealogy society member or even a genealogy friend online. Sometimes just the motivation of knowing someone is there to help can assist you in reaching your research goals.

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Written by Gena Philibert-Ortega

Gena Philibert-Ortega

Gena Philibert-Ortega holds a Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and a Master’s degree in Religion. Presenting on various subjects involving genealogy, women’s studies and social history, Gena has spoken to groups throughout the United States and virtually to audiences worldwide.

Gena is the author of hundreds of articles published in genealogy newsletters and magazines including Internet Genealogy, Family Chronicle, GenWeekly, FGS Forum, APG Quarterly and the WorldVitalRecords newsletter. She is the author of the books, Putting the Pieces Together, Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra (Arcadia Publishing, 2007) and From the Family Kitchen (F + W Media, 2012).

Gena is the editor of the Utah Genealogical Association’s journal Crossroads. An instructor for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, Gena has written courses about social media and Google. She serves as Vice-President for the So. California Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, board member of the Utah Genealogical Association and is a Director for the California State Genealogical Alliance.

Her current research interests include social history, community, social history, community cookbooks, signature quilts and researching women’s lives.

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About Gena Philibert-Ortega

Gena Philibert-Ortega holds a Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and a Master’s degree in Religion. Presenting on various subjects involving genealogy, women’s studies and social history, Gena has spoken to groups throughout the United States and virtually to audiences worldwide. Gena is the author of hundreds of articles published in genealogy newsletters and magazines including Internet Genealogy, Family Chronicle, GenWeekly, FGS Forum, APG Quarterly and the WorldVitalRecords newsletter. She is the author of the books, Putting the Pieces Together, Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra (Arcadia Publishing, 2007) and From the Family Kitchen (F + W Media, 2012). Gena is the editor of the Utah Genealogical Association’s journal Crossroads. An instructor for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, Gena has written courses about social media and Google. She serves as Vice-President for the So. California Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, board member of the Utah Genealogical Association and is a Director for the California State Genealogical Alliance. Her current research interests include social history, community, social history, community cookbooks, signature quilts and researching women’s lives.

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