The Research Like a Pro process created by Diana and Nicole is a brilliant method that has helped me break down some brick walls in my research. I have become a much better researcher by participating in their study group. The skills I have learned have helped me understand how to really analyze my existing research and then dig in and find elusive records that I had previously been unaware of in my attempts at pushing beyond dead ends in my family tree.
However, not all family history research involves breaking down brick walls. In many cases, records are readily available and it’s sometimes fun to sit down on a Sunday afternoon for a session of “easy” research. Rather than haphazardly attaching sources and following random tangents, I like to focus on one family at a time and try to make sure that the family is complete. FamilySearch and their partners have provided a wonderful interface and great tools for searching for and attaching records. In addition, they are continually providing new features that can help us become more organized and productive with our “easy” Sunday afternoon research.
Those who are familiar with the Research Like a Pro process understand the importance of using timelines, historical facts, and maps in our research. FamilySearch has incorporated these elements into their Timeline features. To access an ancestor’s Timeline, log into your FamilySearch account and select the person on your tree. Navigate to their person page and click on the “Timeline” option right below their name.
Make sure the “Map” button is toggled on, then click “Show” and select the events you would like to view on your timeline. Be sure to check the “Historical Events” box.
Part of the reason for creating a timeline is to analyze what you already know and decide on what you need to learn. Doing this can provide order to your research. The built-in Timeline in FamilySearch will automatically show the life events you currently have dates for and whether there are any sources for those events. As you examine the timeline, ask yourself whether there are missing records that can easily be found and attached by searching FamilySearch or its partners. Have the census records for each decade been found and attached? Do you know the birth and death dates and burial location of the ancestor? Does the ancestor have a spouse and children listed? Are sources attached for the events that are already in the timeline? Asking yourself these questions can help guide your research and help you create a more thorough picture of your ancestor’s life. When I viewed the timeline for William S. Beck, I noticed right away that there was a marriage date but no sources. I can look for records that confirm the marriage date and attach them.
Viewing your ancestors’ life events on a map can help you understand your their residence and migration. Another great way to use the map is to notice whether there are any events that look like they happened in a place that doesn’t make sense. With my example of William S. Beck, I noticed right away that a child was born in Central Pennsylvania and that all 11 other events were concentrated in Western Pennsylvania. This seemed strange, so I clicked on the birth event pin and realized that the reason the location was different was that the child’s birthplace was listed simply as “Pennsylvania,” which FamilySearch placed right in the center of the state. I now know that I need to look for a more exact birthplace in existing records, or search for records that will state an exact birthplace. The map feature can also help you quickly realize if two people of the same name have been merged into one record in the Family Tree. If your ancestor was born, lived, and died in New York, an event in Colorado for a person of the same name will be something you will want to investigate. It is quite likely the person from Colorado and the person from New York will be two different people and will need to be separated from each other in the Family Tree.
One of the newest elements of the Timeline feature is the ability to view Historical Events. Knowing a little bit about your ancestors’ history can help you understand their experiences, actions, and movements. It can also help you understand what types of records might be available. For example, on William Beck’s Timeline, the first historical event is the Battle of Gettysburg. The timeline shows that William was 23 at the time. Williams’s age at the time of this event and his residence in Pennsylvania leads me to believe that he may have been a Civil War Soldier. Further investigation of the Timeline shows one Civil War Record – a veteran pension card. No other pension records are attached to William in FamilySearch. I can look for pension records and other records that might help me learn more about his Civil War service.
Once you have looked over the Timeline and Map, you can create a simple research plan in a notebook. Write down what events are missing from your ancestor’s timeline, what records you need to search for, and any contradicting facts that need to be addressed, then begin searching for and attaching records. By applying the steps in the Research Like a Pro process using the Timeline tools in FamilySearch, your afternoon of “easy” research has just become much more productive!