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Genealogy Research


Research Strategies

Getting Started

Use this introductory guide to locate subject guides and tutorials that will help start and advance your research, and to locate a wide selection of online historical records and archival collection descriptions.

Guides and tutorials can make research more effective. Use the links on this page to demystify genealogy. You’ll find guides to broad topics like beginning your research, and links and tutorials on specific topics. Need Massachusetts probate records? African American ancestry sources? Military service records? Resources about immigration in a certain time-period? Start here.

The “Locating Sources” tab links to some major repositories of online records and offers brief descriptions of types of records and where to find them.

Subject Guides & Tutorials

Research Tips

Before diving in, learn how to search more effectively by reading the “search tips” or the “guide to searching” on the website you’ve decided to use.

Formulate specific questions, and research them one by one

  • e.g. What was the name of an individual’s mother?
  • e.g. Did an individual serve in the military? Which branch?

Keep a record of the sources you’ve consulted for each question

Note discrepancies in the information you find and look to resolve them using other sources

  • Expect a variety of name spellings, even for the same individual
  • Expect dates that don’t exactly align with what you’ve found 
  • Notice who provided and recorded the information - and how close (or distant) they were to the primary individual or event.

As you view a new record, pay attention to its collection description which will provide context.

When viewing an online record, page forward and backward to be sure you’ve seen any additional pages.

If an individual is hard to find, look for people associated with them

  • Family members or close family friends were often witnesses to baptisms, citizenship documents and other sponsorship
  • Associates (churches, fraternal organizations, military units, etc.)
  • Neighbors (relatives often lived near one another)

Historical societies and libraries may hold material that is not online. Contact them to learn if online descriptions exist, and if it is possible for you to request copies.

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Shelley Barber
Burns Library