Genealogy Tips · Researching your family history

Where to focus your research

Anna Matthews in her post Saturday Night Afternoon Fun – Ancestor score (on her Tripping over my roots blog) asked the question:

“I enjoy learning as much as I can about my relatives, which includes their siblings, family groups and even their friends. But if my goal is to learn who my direct ancestors are, should I spend less time on these cousins and siblings until they are needed to identify direct ancestors? Or should I research as I have been, learning as much about each ancestor as I find them?

It is an interesting question. Time, money and energy are finite. Where should I apply mine this year?”

Until I started the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge, I had also spent a lot of time researching the extended family, rather than direct line ancestors.

When I first started researching, it didn’t take very long to trace my family back to their arrival in Australia.  Since this was prior to my access to the internet, I had limited access to overseas records, so it made more sense to research my ancestors’ descendants here in Australia.

Even now, after having had access to the internet for 16 years now, on some branches I still haven’t made much headway.  On other branches, I have been able to trace the family back in the same parish to the 1500s when parish registers were first kept.

During the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge, I did find more records for the ancestors I already had information on, and I have managed to go back one or two more generations for some of my branches, but overall I haven’t made much headway finding my direct line ancestors.

Deciding where to focus your research shouldn’t be influenced by how your ancestor score compares to others.  It is dependent on which records are easier (and cheaper) for you to access.  If you have limited access to records for direct line ancestors, and easier access to records for relatives and friends, then it makes sense to extend your family by focusing on the relatives.  However, if you do have access to records for your direct line ancestors, then you should focus your research on them, and research the relatives and friends only as needed to identify the direct line ancestor.