Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tuesday's Tip~Gettin' By With Help From Our Friends-Melissa Corn Finlay

This time our Tuesday's Tip comes from Melissa Corn Finlay of www.finlayfamily.org and littlefamilytree.com.

After a quarter century of genealogical research, I have noticed there are a few fundamental activities that lead to more effective and thorough research with less backtracking or duplication. Now who doesn't want that? These aren't research tips, per se, but they are an important part of my research process.

1. Make note of all the clues in every document you find, even if they don't seem relevant at the time. Those clues may be key in future research! How many times has a census record listed a person in the household that "wasn't family"? Or a death record has an informant that you do not recognize? How many records contain addresses which we gloss over because they are not a vital detail? What may not seem pertinent to the current research question you are answering, may be incredibly important to unraveling a future question. I find that it is easier for me to recognize and note all the clues in a document if I take the time to transcribe it completely. Then I make notes below the transcription of the less-than-obvious clues the document provides, along with a list of questions these clues leave me with.

2. Review your previous notes on the person you are researching, and also their extended family members. (Remember those clues that might be key in future research?) I wish my memory was good enough to remember minute details of research I did a decade ago, but I have a hard time remembering those kinds of details on research I did last month. When reviving research from some time ago, or starting research on a person related to someone that has been researched before, it is helpful to revisit the previous research notes and refresh your memory about the clues therein.

3. Trace the siblings, additional spouses, half siblings, cousins, etc. They all have clues for your direct line ancestors. So many, many research questions are answered not through the individual person's records, but through their extended family members' combined records. For example, one man I researched left few detailed records of his own, but the story of his life became clear through his daughter's records and his second wife's records. (She lived to 105 and outlived three husbands!)

4. Write your ancestor's life story in narrative form. Once you have done fairly thorough research on an ancestor, take the time to write out a life sketch, or a non-fiction story about that person.  Some ancestors have a very apparent theme running through their life that can be the focus of the story, weaving in the life events along the way. For some ancestors, a simple but complete life sketch is adequate. For either type of narrative, I refer frequently to the person's life timeline and their extended family timeline, and a world event timeline. You will be surprised how this exercise reveals patterns, events, and gaping holes you wouldn't notice otherwise. Plus, after all the hard work of uncovering a person's life through documents, it really is the capstone activity of our genealogical work to write the story!

5. Put your family tree out there and share generously. Whether you call it Genealogy Karma, Genealogy Serendipity, or the Golden Rule of Genealogy, you will be rewarded with distant cousins sharing generously with you! I have hosted my full genealogy database (the actual one I am editing, adding to and working on) at my website since 2002. Because it is my working database, it is not perfect, in fact some parts of the tree are downright messy. Messy or not, it has been a great way to share. In that time I have been blessed to be contacted by dozens of distantly related cousins, as well as others who are researching associates of one of the individuals in the database. Not only has it been wonderful to make these personal connections, but I have been floored by the reciprocal giving that has occurred. When I share what I have, I gain a new friend and often new photos, new data, and sometimes new generations to add to my tree.

Melissa Corn Finlay is a genealogist, an entrepreneur, a gardener, a homeschooler, mama to 7 fantastic children, and wife to the love of her happily ever after. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Family History-Genealogy from Brigham Young University. She has been researching her own family lines for over 25 years. Connect with her at www.finlayfamily.org  www.yellowforktech.com & www.homegrownhabitat.com

Thanks for the tips on the research process, Melissa. It's always good to see how others work!

Share your ideas and thoughts about how you research in the comments below!

Are we kin? Need help with your research? Please contact me.
Together we can find our people.
Thanks so much for stopping by!


  1. I always enjoy reading other people's ideas of what to do, it reinforces what I do. Thanks for the interesting ideas.

  2. I agree, Jeanne. It's good to learn from one another. Glad you enjoyed the tips and found them useful. Thanks so much for reading the post and taking time to comment. It is much appreciated!

  3. These are such helpful tips. Thank you! I agree that writing a narrative is so helpful to make sense of what you know.

    1. Nicole, I am so glad that you found the tips helpful. Writing a narrative is the best way for me to keep everything under control too! I appreciate you reading and commenting!