My Top 6 Family Research Tips

Whilst I have enjoyed reasonable success in my family research, I am still learning. Nonetheless I feel it may be useful to share research tips which have worked for me.

Tip 1 – Let It Go

This is a hard one and requires more than a little humility. There have been many occasions when I have attempted to solve a family mystery and come up with zero. Each pathway I attempt to follow, leads nowhere, leaving me feeling like I am in a maze where all the exits are blocked.

I do the genealogical equivalent of giving up and finding a coffee shop.

Letting Go…

I usually decide it is possible I am being protected for some reason or that I may be on the brink of a huge discovery but now is not the time.

This means I sometimes relinquish that particular part of my investigation – for years.

Whilst I have been involved in family research since the mid eighties, there have been huge periods of time when I have virtually forgotten about it. Then an incident or a conversation might bring it back into focus.

I was a busy mother of small children for a while. Once they had grown sufficiently independent, my curiosity had led me to Google a few names.

I was astonished to discover my father had also been researching those same names. He had been dead almost ten years by that point in time. That was the nudge I had needed. I had felt I was meant to continue where he had left off.

Another time my computer had crashed. Initially I had been pretty upset as I had then needed to reload disc after disc of information.

My father’s long-forgotten hand-drawn family tree had miraculously appeared on my screen. This was again sufficient to re-energize my investigations.

I have learned that the answers I seek, may well eventually burst up out of nowhere.

Every now and again I might delve into Google to see if I get a hit but I no longer let it become my focus.

I used to love the TV programme Cold Case – each week somebody comes forward who raises questions, a box is retrieved from the archives and a case re-opened.


In genealogy we are dealing with some very cold cases. Family research is like this in my experience. Sometimes we get instant answers – sometimes we need to let things stew in the archives.

My friend came to me very upset one day, as she had just witnessed a terrible accident and had seen a guy die in front of her. She had been particularly distressed that she had not even known his name. I told her to leave it with me. Within a few hours on Google, I had discovered enough to allow her to reach out to his mother on Facebook. Whilst I am sure his mother’s grief was still immense, I believe the communication between them had helped bring them both a measure of peace. This was one occasion when I was able to get instant results from my research.

This is not the norm – mostly answers take time. They may take decades and sometimes answers may not even come in our lifetime.

I once set myself the task of finding out about the individuals from an old address book. One entry in particular had fascinated me.

I had regularly dropped “Fred Smith” (Not his real name) into Google.

I had learned a little more each time. Then one day, in what could only be described as a miracle, I had discovered that this person was not only still alive but he had an email address. He was over ninety years old, yet I had been able to communicate with him and his wife for a few years before he died.

I firmly believe there is a time for everything – or as my parents used to say,

Everything comes to he who waits.


Sometimes simply being prepared to wait for answers is the most valuable research technique.

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