In Genealogy Success is a Four-letter Word

Sherry Irvine, M.Sc, CG kindly gave AFHS permission to post the notes from her talk on May 3rd at the Alberta Family Histories Society, on May 3rd, 2010.

In Genealogy Success is a Four-letter Word

Lecture presented at Calgary 3 May 2010

By Sherry Irvine

Text of some of the PowerPoint slides used in the presentation

Start Using Place Summaries – some questions to answer in a place summary

What jurisdictions is this parish within? And what places are adjacent or close by?

What are its physical features: area, population, topography, economy etc.?

Who owns the land?

What records match/overlap the parameters of your search, bith date range and geographical area?

Why Plan and Analyze (i) – Failure to Find an Entry

Event occurred or was recorded elsewhere

Unaware of a gap in records (brief ones may have to be found, big ones may be noted)

Searched using an incorrect range of years

The event was never recorded

Results exist but are hidden by indexing errors

Results exist but are hidden due to problems in your search technique

Results were missed (fatigue, etc.)

Why Plan and Analyze (ii) – Finding Too Many Entries

A surname-only search produces too many results

A full-name search produces too many results

Date range selected for the search was too wide

Geographic area selected for the search was too broad

Too few identifying facts to be able to single out your ancestor(s)

Limitations of an index

Limitations of an online search tool

Why Plan and Analyze (iii) – Failure to Understand What Was Searched

Latching onto the wrong entry

Latching onto a fictitious entry or incorrect entry

Concluding the search has been thorough when it has not

Focus on the name and not the records

All of the above arise from:

a lack of knowledge about indexes

a lack of knowledge about contents of online databases

a lack of knowledge about record survival

Why Plan and Analyze (iv) – They Disappear / Origins Unknown

Even with a firm foundation ancestors may be hard to find

Planning and analysis are essential to alter your perspective and to generate new ideas

(i) Whole family genealogy

(ii) Circle of associates genealogy

(iii) Whole community genealogy

(iv) Searching across the British Isles

(v) Speculative searches in large – and reliable – databases (from real records)

For all of these historical and geographical foundations are particularly important

Why Plan and Analyze (v)- You Know What You Are Doing

Preparation is quite likely going to take more time than the research

Preparation saves time

A route map for your research

Knowledge of value to research is cumulative

Stored up knowledge improves instincts

Websites Referred to in the Lecture

The National Archives:

National Library of Wales:

National Archives of Scotland:

Public Record Office of Northern Ireland:

Access to Archives (A2A):

AIM 25 (Greater London collaboration):

Archives Hub (British universities):

Archives Wales:

RASCAL (Northern Ireland collaboration):

SCAN (Scottish Archives Network):

Archives Online (ARCHON):

National Register of Archives:

British History Online (for Topographical Dictionaries by Samuel Lewis and Victoria County Histories online and much more):

Library Ireland (for Lewis’s volume on Ireland and much more):

FamilySearch 1851 Jurisdictions:

Your Archives:

FamilySearch Wiki:


British Isles GenWeb:

Books Mentioned

Mitchell, Brian. New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland. Baltimore: GPC, 2000.  Visit to order.

Scottish Association of Family History Societies, Parishes, Registers and Registrars of Scotland. Visit to order.

[Ed. Sherry Irvine is an author, speaker and educator based in Courtenay, BC. She is the Course Director of Pharos Teaching and Tutoring Ltd and can be reached at ].

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3 Responses to In Genealogy Success is a Four-letter Word

  1. Al King says:

    Great looking Blog site but am I the only “old” person who finds light grey font on a somewhat lighter grey background difficult to read?

  2. Joan Miller - AFHS PR says:

    Hi Al,
    Thanks for your comment! We appreciated your suggestions and found a different theme for our AFHS blog. Check out our new background and larger font.

    AFHS blogger
    PR Committee

  3. Joan Miller - AFHS PR says:

    Hi Al,
    Excellent suggestion. We listened and we updated the theme to one with larger font.

    Joan, PR committee.

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