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From the Beginning: Where should I look for sources?

gg - where should I look for sources

Sources are any item we use to draw conclusions about our ancestors.

Usually when we talk about sources we are looking for birth, marriage, and death records, church records, census records, military records, court documents, wills, land records, newspaper articles, journals, compiled histories, interviews, photos, artifacts and so on.


So where do you go to find these treasured bits?

When I research I follow this pretty simple model:

  • Look at the information I already have.
  • Talk to family members to see if they know more.
  • Check my top 5 websites –,,,,
  • Google the person I am searching for with quotation marks around their name.  Like this, “Francis Cyprien Duval”.
  • Google the location – read a few articles.
  • Look for location specific websites.  I use google and regularly for this.  When I find a website or online collection that fits the location and time period I use that resource.  For example, I do a lot of Scottish research and I use the website  This a great website specific to Scottish research.
  • Check online trees to see if anyone else has researched the person I am researching.  If I find someone I make contact.  Don’t trust those trees.  Use them as a guide – not as gospel truth.


If I still need more info and I haven’t found it yet then I:

  • Check the FHL catalog to see if there is a book, film, or fiche I can view that is not currently online.
  • Talk to other genealogists to see if they know someone familiar with that location who might be able to give me pointers.
  • Check google books for a mention of the person or place.
  • Identify the church the person attended and contact their registrar or clerk.

If I still need more then I give it a rest.  Often a bit of time will help.  When I come back to the problem usually one of two things happens.  Either I look at it with fresh eyes and see something I had missed before OR a new record collection has become available and it contains exactly what I need.

So far this method has served me well.  I only have one true stumper that has not yielded to this method.  I’m still working on him.  I’m going back through my steps and picking up more bits of info.  I’ll solve it yet no doubt.

So beginners, give these tried and true websites a whirl and see if you can’t find the sources you are looking for.

Best of luck and happy searching!

5 thoughts on “From the Beginning: Where should I look for sources?”

  1. Great post! Not to mention going back to talk to family members after you’ve found things. I’ve often told my parents things I have uncovered and it jogs their memories about other important bits of information! I’ve come across so many people who are all gung ho about stuff and don’t talk to relatives and then way down the line share their work only to find they went wrong early on because they didn’t have all the information!

    1. Definitely! It’s amazing how much information can be overlooked/forgotten the first time or two you ask a family member. Then when you add something new to the conversation the memory jogs can be pretty awesome.

      1. My Dad’s memory can be pretty appalling at times. When I first started doing our tree he was telling me about his maternal grandfather Albert and how he had one sibling, Sarah. When I located him on the 1901 census and showed him he had a few more than just Sarah he was all ‘I had no idea, I thought he was an only child.’ Cue me saying “Mmm but you said he had a sister Sarah?” Dad ‘Oh yes, and I also remember an Aunt Harriet too…’ Sometimes I am left a little speechless. Not to mention all the family members who seem to be known by their middle names, I spent ages looking for the birth records of some of his cousins and gave him some possibilities only for him to be all ‘Oh yes, Trevor was really called John Trevor, and Ena was really called Gwladys.’ Thanks for telling me at the time when I asked lol!

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