The National Institute for Genealogical Studies


The National Institute for Genealogical Studies - LEADERS IN ONLINE GENEALOGY EDUCATION

Your Ancestors Network

Patterns and Relationships of our Ancestors  

Analyzing your ancestor’s network can be challenging. There are usually many people and often times, they are interconnected. Additionally, there are many different variables at play so you may be on the lookout for something specific for one question you are trying to answer. As you explore your ancestor’s  FAN Club (Friends, Associates, and Neighbors), be sure to keep track of your discoveries by making notes to yourself.


  • Are there people in your ancestor’s network, not identified as family, that have the same surname as that person? 
  • Does the same person keep appearing as an associate over a long period of time or as a neighbor across two or more locations? 
  • Do you see clusters of associates and neighbors that share a surname? 

The people identified from the questions above are usually the ones that deem further research at a higher priority. This does not mean you want to discard the others that do not fit these criteria. Of course, if after researching the “high priority” people you still have no answers, you will want to move on to the other people in the FAN Club.

In addition to exploring patterns to figure out who requires further research, the FAN Club may reveal the possibility of two or more people merged into one. Learning to analyze your ancestor’s patterns and relationships is part of our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course. 


Comparative Timeline 

Comparative timelines can be used to compare two or more people/families. For example, the objective may be to determine the migration of two separate families joined together by marriage. A timeline showing both families will help to focus the research.


Unlike a basic timeline, a comparative timeline shows each year, whether there is an event or not. Constructing a timeline whether simple, detailed or comparative, can help illustrate gaps of time. The timeline can help determine where to look for records. 

You can take comparative timelines a step further by adding additional family members or associates to the mix. For example, you could follow, and ultimately compare, children, siblings, in-laws or even neighbors, to see if other connections can be made.   

A comparative timeline is also useful when trying to sort out identities. Sometimes we run across instances of name changes or aliases, and of course, we all have those female ancestors with unknown maiden names or parents. A comparative timeline can help you track each of the individuals to see if any fit the pattern to be your ancestor. For more information on Comparative Timelines and our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course.

Basic Timelines

Building a Basic Timeline 

More often than not, you will want to create a basic timeline for your problem ancestor. Start with information about all of the events in their life, including their birth and death dates, any marriages, birth and death of any children, the death of a spouse, and death of parents. You might also want to incorporate relevant information about the locations you are working with, for example, boundary changes.


You may choose not to indicate the source to begin with or you may use footnotes to cite the source. Creating footnotes in a spreadsheet program cannot be done with ease so you may want to include a short source reference instead.  

One of the other uses of a timeline is to help illustrate instances where two people may have been combined. You can usually see this by just looking at the dates and locations and notice that something does not quite add up. 

In addition to helping solve tough genealogy problems, this type of basic timeline is a great tool to keep handy when doing research. There are multiple ways to approach timelines and with our Skills-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course you will learn more.  




Analyze Data

Your Data  

Based on your research log and evaluation log, you will want to take some time to analyze your findings.  Some of the important things to keep in mind while analyzing your data are: 

  • Is the record for the right person/family? 
  • Is the record original or derivative? 
  • Are there other records that need to be checked? 


Look for clues that can lead to other record types.  For example, if you find a civil marriage record that indicates a couple was married by a minister, try to determine the church the minister served so you can look for the marriage and other records of family events.  

You may need to do additional analysis to make your determinations, our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls” course will help with this.  

Research Gaps

Previous Research  

Sometimes we get so caught up in the thrill of the hunt for our ancestors that we might not always practice good research techniques.  We find a document, pull a few bits from it, put it aside, and move on to the next search.  This is why reviewing the research we have already done should always be the first step when trying to break down a brick wall.


Many brick walls can be solved simply by reviewing what we have done and identifying gaps.  Oftentimes, the records we already have contain the missing link and can help us solve our genealogy mystery.  Another reason we should take the time to review our research is because many of these brick walls probably were established when we were new to genealogy.

Even if reviewing our data does not demolish the brick wall, it will help us develop a road map for further research.  You should keep in mind that genealogy research is cyclic and as such, the process of evaluating and analyzing sources should be repeated until a conclusion is reached.

With our “Skill-Building: Break Down Brick Walls  course we will look at multiple approaches you can use in reviewing your research.

Research Reports

Creating Your Research Report 

The process of writing a research report is a great way to capture your analysis and collect your thoughts.  Although your report does not have to be a formal document, you will want to include your name, the date of the report, and the research question.   


Sometimes we find that we have completed an exhaustive search, but perhaps misunderstood a key point in a record, missed a relevant piece of data, or had not properly analyzed all of the data as a whole.  Seeing our research in a different perspective may have been the key to solving our problem.  If you feel that you have reached a solid answer to your question you should include a section in your report that contains your conclusion.

If a conclusion is not reached, you should include a section in your report that outlines your research plan.  In some cases, this will be a simple task of filling in obvious gaps such as a missing census year or other typical genealogy records.  When developing your research plan, think about what sources might answer your research questions. 

Once your report is complete, take a moment to review what you have found against your individual summary and family group sheets.  Be sure to follow through on your plan and do not forget to record your findings in your research log.

Our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls” course will help you in developing these reports and research plans.    

Your Ancestor’s Locations

Your Ancestor’s Locations 

It is extremely important to learn about the location(s) our ancestors lived. We need to be aware of when certain jurisdictions were formed, what records were kept and when, which jurisdictions were responsible for keeping specific records, and what records are currently accessible.


Keep in mind that jurisdictional boundaries may have changed over time, so it is important to keep track of what jurisdictions a location was a part of during the time the family resided there. Therefore, the use of historical and modern-day maps is essential. For example, the area now known as the City of Auburn in New York was a part of Onondaga County until 1799 when Cayuga County was formed.

Another problem we run into is location name changes. Consider the city of Auburn, New York as an example. It was originally known as Hardenberg’s Corners situated in the town of Aurelius. In 1805, it became the Cayuga County seat and was renamed. We also need to learn about the history of the location. In the United States, local histories can provide a wealth of information. We can often learn about what types of groups settled in a location, where they came from, and if they later dispersed, giving us wonderful clues for further research. There are a variety of recourses available to help us learn about different locations.

Finally, we need to understand the laws that were in place for the time period and location we are studying. This includes such things as the minimum age for marriage and if parental consent was allowed for those underage. Of course, keep in mind that the law is always changing; what may have been the legal age for marriage at one time, maybe different fifty years later.

What do you need to know about your ancestor’s location? To find out, check out the course Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls which offers tips and techniques you need for researching your ancestors.

Mapping Your Ancestors

 Mapping Your Ancestors 

Geography is an important element in your family history research. Did your ancestor contend with mountains, valleys, or waterways? The best way to answer these questions and potentially uncover new research avenues is to take a look at maps, particularly those contemporary to the time periods with which you are researching.


  • Physical maps are most helpful in determining a person’s location relative to their surroundings, including boundaries, roadways, railways, waterways, and sometimes places of interest, such as churches and schools.
  • Political maps can help determine neighboring jurisdictions and that may contain records about your ancestors.
  • Plat maps, in most cases, are sketches that depict property boundaries of a particular area. Many of these maps also include a variety of physical features, such as roadways, railways, waterways, schools, churches, cemeteries and landscape elements. Plat maps may also indicate the landowner for each parcel.
  • Topographic maps are helpful for learning the details of a location’s landscape. These maps are helpful for determining if land features such as waterways, mountains, or valleys may have influenced your ancestor’s decision to attend a church or register a birth in a different place than you would have expected.

As with many resources, there are various ways to find and access maps. With our Skill Building: Breaking Brick Walls Course you will learn more ways to use these maps.

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