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Genealogy - Getting Started

The First Steps

"I'm really new to this genealogy thing and I've got this information from the family bible. I haven't a clue where to go next to find out any information. I'm tied to my home in Podunk so travelling to places to research is really difficult. Any suggestions?"

Welcome "newbie". That's the term used for someone new to Internet research. It's not perjorative, so no one is putting you down, but understand that some members of the online community are quickly "put off" by people who expect the Internet to have all the answers, or the volunteers who provide help to have all the time in the world to assist you. While the internet is "slowly" starting to make things easier, it does not replace traditional research, trips to the library and good old-fashioned "elbow grease." My way of saying, "do your homework."

This page is dedicated to the new researcher. First of all, I assume that you're here because you have some evidence that your family is from Lincolnshire. There is nothing more frustrating to those of us who volunteer time to have someone say, "Well, my family is English and I was hoping they might be from Lincolnshire." Although Lincolnshire is the second largest county in area, our English ancestors were very mobile and you need to narrow your search area. So, first thing is to find out what part of England, and specifically Lincolnshire, your ancestors hailed from.

The second thing you'll likely need is a good map or two, to understand where Lincolnshire is in relation to other counties and the various roads, rivers and railways that people used to move about the county. We have an entire web page dedicated to Maps and Gazetteers.

Before we get into additional sources, let's talk about your education as a researcher. There are a number of sites that can give you good background information on what records to use and how to find them. I recommend:

  1. Rootsweb's Genealogical Resource site, host of this web site.

  2. The LDS Family History site, where you can visit the largest Family History Library in the world.

  3. Cyndi's List, a wealth of both basic information and thousands of links to genealogical data on the Internet and off.

  4. Genuki's Genealogy in the UK site, which focuses on the special needs of those doing research in the United Kingdom.

  5. John Fuller's Resource List, a great place to look for mailing lists and assistance.

  6. If you are in the UK, then you must visit the Family Records Centre site.

  7. Try this relatively new site, the Genealogy Links for Lincolnshire with links to other sites.

  8. A good book is essential. Start with "Tracing your Family Tree" by Jean Cole and John Titford.

  9. Or get a copy of "In Search of Your British and Irish Roots, A Complete Guide To Tracing Your English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Ancestors" by Angus Baxter, published in Canada by McClelland and Stewart and in the US by Genealogical Publishing Inc.

  10. Or a copy of "The Handybook for Genealogists" by Everton Publishing. It tends to lean more toward US resources, but it is a good primer.

Most "newbies" start out with census records as these are easily available and Lincolnshire has the benefit that most areas of the county have been "surname-indexed" so that it's possible to see if the surname you seek was in a particular area. For more information, see our Census page.

Most parish church registers or copies can be viewed either at the local Archives Offices or at your nearby Family History Centre, maintained by the Church of Latter Day Saints.

You should check our Church Records page for more details on the kind of records and how far back they go.

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Mailing Lists

You may want to sign up to a mailing list where you can share your research interests with others working in the same area or on the same surname. Start with just one and read the messages for a few days to judge how much traffic there is before signing up to another. You might start with the Newbies Mailing List at Rootsweb which some people find very good if you are new to computers as well as genealogy.

There is also an active mailing list for Lincolnshire. At the time of writing this page there were just over 900 subscribers. This is an e-mail service. You "subscribe" your e-mail address to the mailing list and you begin to receive e-mail from others who are either researching in the Lincolnshire area or who are answering such queries. There is no cost for this service, and any time you have a question, you can post it to the list. You'll see your posting come back to you from the list a few minutes later, and all 900 others on the list will see it, too. It's a great opportunity to ask if others are searching for the same families, or to see if someone can help you past a stubborn spot in your research. Don't be afraid to sign up and just read the different postings for a few weeks. We call that "lurking," - again, not a pejorative term. Once you are comfortable with the way the list operates, you can go from Lurker to Poster with your first request. To subscribe, send an e-mail to ENG-LINCSGEN-L-request@Rootsweb.com with only the word "subscribe" (without the quotes) in the Subject and Body of your e-mail.

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Buzzwords

Some terms you should know (often used on the Internet or in E-mail):

Another term to know: Closure Law: In England there is a 100-year closure period for most public documents like census returns, workhouse records, etc. It is a Privacy Act, intended to protect the privacy of individuals and families. The act also ensures that government agencies can't sell the data to anyone. So, if you are looking for family around 1940, the records may not be available until 2041.

In order to protect the privacy of your relatives, I recommend that you don't publish birth dates or marriage dates for anyone still living. Replace the date with "Living" or something similar. It's unlikely that you would be sued for publishing the dates, but a professional researcher would protect the privacy of living people and so should you. Every country has a different attitude toward Privacy. I suggest a very conservative approach to ensure that you meet each country's expectations.

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Do It Right The First Time

The most common mistake for Newbies is to take all the information they find and to add it to their family tree without documentation. Here are some thoughts on how to do it right:

  1. For each individual you add, indicate the source. If you got it from Mom or Dad, it's OK to cite them as the source. If you got it from e-mail or the internet, cite that source. Give enough information so that another researcher can go to that source to verify what you've got.
  2. Don't be afraid to cite conflicting resources. In some cases, I have two or three different people who could be a particular ancestor. I list all the references, and why I think a particular person is THE ONE.
  3. Some software packages allow you to give preferences to documentation. It's OK to use that feature, but your notes should tell us why.
  4. If you speculate on a date, indicate that in your source information. "Presumed married in 1820 based on birth of first child."
  5. Don't leave an important date field blank. I'm particularly concerned about death dates because a lot of people say "I don't know when he died...", when the date should be, say, "Aft. 1850" since you knew from the census that he was alive in 1850.
  6. Don't feel threatened if someone challenges your work. Some people take this hobby far too seriously and like to point out all the mistakes you may have made. Take the criticism with a grain of salt and see if you can learn from it. If you can cite sources, you can deflate a lot of these gas bags. On the other hand, recognize that some sources have high error rates. Some people claim that the typical census has more than a 10% error rate.
  7. Humans are prone to errors. My step-dad celebrated his birthday one day off from the date on his birth certificate. And he didn't know the real spelling of his first name until we got a copy of that certificate.
  8. Use more than one source. Find the christening, the marriage registration and EVERY census. Don't be surprised if the ages don't always match. Women tended to under-quote their age. Men were often unsure (as I am, sometimes, unless I do the math).
  9. If someone gives you information, ask for their source(s). Anything you get without sources you should consider fiction until you've verified it.
  10. One of the best books on how to do genealogy "properly" is by a lawyer: [Stevenson 1979] N.C. Stevenson. "Genealogical Evidence; a guide to the standard of proof relating to pedigrees, ancestry, heirship and family history," Laguna Hills CA, Aegean Park Press, 1979, 233 p. ISBN: 0894121596 (pbk.)
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[Last updated: 17-July-2011 - Louis R. Mills]