Seeing the wood from the family trees..


One of the most important aspects of genealogical research, which is often overlooked, is the focus of the research. Knowing exactly what information one is hoping to uncover is arguably the most important part of the research process.

One of the first questions we ask our clients before beginning research, is what outcome they are hoping to achieve from the research. As anyone who has undertaken even the smallest amount of genealogical research will tell you, there are no guarantees what, if anything, research will uncover. Therefore, having a clear focus is really important to ensure that the research undertaken affords the best possible chance of achieving a positive outcome.

Having a clear focus promotes better research and helps to avoid frustration.

Deciding the focus

“My focus is…tracing all my ancestors” – Fantastic, a noble pursuit, but a little too broad for a focus. Setting a broad focus runs the risk of getting distracted by the dreaded ‘tangent’. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes tangents are great and they can lead to new and interesting information, but there is a time and a place for them.

A good means of deciding a focus is to look at the earliest individual on a given line and trying to take that line back a generation further (e.g. “I want to find out who my paternal great-grandfather was”).

Search strategy

Having a search strategy is always a good idea, it will keep you focused and allows you to itemise options and systematically work through them to maximise efficiency.

Keeping your focus in mind, make a list of the sources that might help you achieve your goal. Using the example above: what sources might provide a record of a great-grandfather’s name? Grandfather’s birth/marriage certificate; Census return (if grandfather is enumerated with his father); Property records (maybe your grandfather inherited land from his father); family records (bible, back of pictures), etc.

Think of as many sources as you can, then rank them in terms of likelihood of yielding a result; this is now your search strategy.  Also bear in mind accessibility or records. Some searches may be possible from the comfort of your home, others may require a visit to a repository.

By Stephen Peirce,

Eneclann Research Expert,