I know that it is easy to get discouraged when researching your family tree. Sometimes it seems you search and search and get nowhere. Databases don’t include your ancestors. When they do, they don’t reveal the one bit of information you were hoping for. But, my best advice to those who are frustrated is to keep searching.
Don’t Give Up Researching Your Family Tree!
You might say “But, I’m already beating my head up against the wall. Why would I keep inflicting this kind of pain upon myself?”
I feel your pain! I remember the excitement of my early years of research when I could open up the census for a town and find 10 to 20 families all living within a block of each other. Those were good times.
But, genealogy isn’t always that easy.
First, Educate Yourself
One of the reasons we get frustrated with genealogy is we simply don’t know where to start or what to do next. Read books, follow blogs, join Facebook and Google groups that pertain to the area of genealogy you need help.
There are training classes, tutorials, and all sorts of things out there to help you. I’ve heard of this great Portuguese Hawaiian website…okay, it’s my website, but it is pretty helpful. If you’re interested in this area of research, visit yourislandroutes.com.
If your interest lies elsewhere, start with the FamilySearch Wiki. There’s lots of great stuff on this site!
My Really Bad Genealogy Year
I had a very bad genealogy year. A year where no matter what records I sought it always seemed the index didn’t include their names, the record set ended just before the year I needed, the microfilm I ordered really didn’t include the village on the label, or the information I sought was left blank on the document. I almost gave up.
Instead, I took a year off from actively researching. I took a breather. Then, I reassessed what I had found on my families.
I did this by writing up research plans for every person in my tree. I wrote down what questions I wanted to answer. Then, I created a research plan around it. Something like this:
1. Do I know when and where he was born?
In Achada, Sao Miguel Island, Azores sometime around 1860-1865
2. Do I know who he married, when, and where?
He married Jacintha Rosa Moniz probably on Kauai between 1884-1886. His wife arrived in 1884 and their first child was born in 1886.
3. Do I know when and where he died?
No, but he was alive when his daughter, Bertha died in 1941 (mentioned in her obituary)
4. Do I know when he left Hawaii for California?
Between the 1900 Census and 1910 Census.
By doing this, I’ve established what I knew and what I didn’t know. The next step was to think of what documents might answer my questions.
For instance, learning when Manoel Pacheco died could be established by looking through Oakland City Directories, the California Death Index, and obituaries for other family members.
Figuring out when he was married would involve going through the Hawaii Marriage Register Books on Microfilm.
(By the way, I now know all the answers to the questions of above for Manoel Pacheco.)
This is how you take a larger problem and turn it into smaller, more manageable ones. There would be no one document that would answer all my questions, but several different sources might get me to where I wanted to go.
This is an example of a research plan I wrote for one of my ancestors. You can see my questions, how I followed that with research I’d already done, and then ways I might find the answers. This will give you an idea of how you might use a research plan for your family tree.
In that year away that I re-evaluated my research, something happened. New records became available. These new records provided clues I needed. I also knew what I was looking for, so I stopped fumbling around doing unnecessary research.
There’s More Available Today Than When I Hit My Brick Wall
That was in the 1990s. Today, I no longer read from microfilm, but search digitized databases on the internet. Instead of only one or two indexes being available online for the regions I need, there are many for me to choose from. Records like newspapers and mortuary records are available and searchable. Each month something new goes online that I can research.
This is why my advice is to keep searching. Today, you may exhaust all the indexes, books, and databases that are available. But, what about tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year?
Records are getting digitized every day. And, not just by Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, FindMyPast.com, and FamilySearch.org. There’s InternetArchive.org, FindAGrave.com, Google Books, and so forth.
Countries like France, the Azores, and Ireland are putting their own records on the web for free. States like Hawaii are digitizing their archives, too. These are records that used to be available only by mail or a visit to a deserted floor of a library where little boxes of microfilm are covered with dust. It’s not all online, mind you, but there’s more today than their was a year ago or 10 years ago.
There was a time when I thought I would not be able to go further with my Azorean roots because I could no longer go to the Family History Library. 15 years later, the records came to me. I can go to the website, pull up a parish, and search church records for Sao Miguel Island at 2 am if I so desire. Sometimes I do.
Only a small fraction of what is out there has been put online. But, every month there are new record sets to research. Giving up won’t get your anywhere. Patience and tenacity are the key. Keep researching, keep looking for new resources. Eventually the records you seek will become available. Then, you’ll be glad that you kept going.
That’s my pep talk. If you don’t know where to start, educate yourself, ask people with experience your questions , and create a research plan. Look at your charts, find the holes in your pedigree, and write down what you want to find. Then, when the records become available, you’ll be ready!
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com