Or as they say in genealogy, known to unknown. When you begin your genealogy search, they tell you to take what you know, and start working backwards from there. Don’t start with your curmudgeon grand-great Uncle who was a favorite topic during family get-togethers! Start with yourself and go back through your known acestors. Set them down on paper, or in a good genealogy program.

But have you ever thought about what you do with those individuals you list–when you start searching for their records and sources? Bet your first reaction is to go for the birth certificate. But the same principle applies to individual research too. Start with your ancestors’ death certificate or the last thing you know about them. Then work back from those facts and sources.

Why? Because it’s not as easy to get lost or go down a wrong line. Plus death certificates contain marvelously helpful info. Of course there’s the when, where, how they died and where they were buried answers. Perhaps an occupation is on the document.  Often the parents’ names are listed. Sometimes their place of birth. Whether the deceased was married, windowed or single is usually noted. Important: take note of the informer’s name. Sometimes it’s a spouse, sometimes a child. It could be a neighbor who barely knows them. Now how much do you think that neighbor really knew about the deceased? Even tho it’s on a primary source record, the informer could be considered below secondary.

Reminder: Use the real death certificate for your facts, not a transcription, not an index. And especially not what you find online in someone else’s tree, unless it is well documented, and you can view the original source thru their tree. Bad info is copied. Then someone else duplicates it and pretty soon you have 12 trees with all the same info…must be right, huh? Nope. Just because you’ve found undocumented facts that match 12 times, does not make it true.