The National Institute for Genealogical Studies


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

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.

Vital Records

Some Vital Record Alternatives 

You’re familiar with birth, marriage, and death records but what are some other record types that can help you discover information when the vital records can’t be found? 



  • Probate RecordsIf you know where a person died, check to see if there is a probate record.  Do not just assume there is no record-check. Even if there is no will, there can still be a probate file. One part of the file that can be vital is the “Final Distribution.”   This will tell you who the heirs and devisees are and where they were located at the time of the filing.
  • Funeral Home RecordsFamily members fill out paperwork at funeral homes detailing the life of the deceased.  In addition, the funeral home keeps a copy of the obituary published in the local newspaper.
  • Church RecordsChurch records can contain information about birth, marriage, and death.  Each church keeps different types of records so make sure to learn more about the church your ancestor attended and what records they possess.


There are many resources available in assisting you with your research that can found in our United States: Vital Records course.  

Project Proposals

 Client Proposals  

Many genealogy researchers charge for their services on an hourly basis.  This is simple to administer and easy for the client to understand.  However, some clients are uncomfortable with an open-ended expense.  One way to deal with this is to tell the client an upfront estimate of the number of hours expected for a given project.  As an alternative, some genealogists simple quote their clients a flat fee, which is fine as long as the anticipated work fits with the project quoted in the fee schedule.  


The proposal you present to the client does not have to state all the details of how you will accomplish the work.  Focus on what is important to the client – what they will get as an end product and what it will cost them.  If you do create proposals, review them periodically to see how effective they are.  Be honest with yourself.  

Review your past proposals to see what has worked best and identify what areas may need more work on your part.  One way to find out how accurate your time-based proposals are is to keep a log of the time you spend on each project.    

By taking our, Business Skills: Business Administration” course you will come away with the tools needed to create effective proposals for you, your clients, and your business as a whole.  

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.    

Brief History of Photography 

Brief History of Photography

The “idea” of photography dates back to the 10th century “camera obscura” and “pinhole camera” described by the Arab scientist, Abu Ali al-Hasan (or Alhzaen), author of The Book of Optics. The camera obscura was a large dark box with a hole in one end which could produce an inverted image opposite it. It is the forerunner of today’s cameras. All it lacked was a lens and means of fixing the image chemically.  

It wasn’t until 1816 that a Frenchman, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, began experimenting with chemically fixing mages. His first success was in 1822, and in 1826 he created the first photograph. That photograph required an 8-hour exposure time. He called the process “heliography.” After his death in 1833 his partner, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre continued working on the photograph process. In 1837 Daguerre succeeded in reducing the exposure time to 30 minutes. He dubbed his photographs “Daguerreotypes,” and in 1839 he introduced them in Paris and New York City. 

Photography: Clues Pictures Hold, Editing, digitizing and Various Projects

  The Daguerreotype photographic process was in widespread use from 1839 through the 1920s, and 21st century Daguerreian hobbyists still use it. It was at the height of its popularity from 1839 to 1858.  

Daguerreotypes or “dags” are laterally-reversed high-contrast images with very fine, crisp details. They are always case-mounted and sealed with paper tape. The image area is mirrored, so it is necessary to hold it at an angle to see the image clearly.  

Identifying antique photographs is just one of the many things you will learn in the Photography: Clues Picture Hold, Editing, Digitizing and Various Projects” course with The National Institute for Genealogical Studies.  

Social Security Records

Social Security Death Index  

You can view the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) online via many genealogy websites including, FamilySearch, GenealogyBank, Fold3, and Findmypast.  A person who died before 1962 is not likely to be on the SSDI.  If the date of a person’s death is known, and that person is not on the SSDI, it is likely the family never filed for the death benefit.  


From the SSDI, you can glean information such as dates of birth and death; place of last benefit; Social Security number; and what state the Social Security number was issued in.  Getting a copy of the application can be most helpful. These documents list the person’s date of birth, place of birth, parents’ names, address at the time of application and as a bonus, you get an original signature!  

Once you find the information for the person you are searching you can request a copy of the Social Security record from the Social Security website. Our United States: Vital Records course will teach you more about using the Social Security Death Index for your research.  


Marketing Management  

Constantly be on the lookout for great marketing strategies, even if the businesses are not within the realm of genealogy.  Some of the major elements of marketing are: 

  • Promotion/Displays 
  • Public Relations 
  • Pricing 
  • Newsletters/Surveys 
  • Advertising  
  • Networking  
  • Social Media 

Hopefully, your business plan includes a marketing plan.  But that is just a start.  As time goes on, it is important to re-evaluate your marketing strategies as part of your overall strategic planning process.  Depending on what sort of major business strategy you are planning, you may have to revise your marketing efforts.  You may decide as part of your strategic plan for the next five years to focus on a different target market than you had before.  You may decide to narrow down your target market on owners of family business.


Whenever you initiate a marketing strategy, set up a document that describes the ad, event, promotion-whatever it is- along with what it cost you.  Then add to your document any results that you experience from this effort. 

In the course, Business Skills: Business Administration you will discover ways of managing the process of turning a prospect into a client while evaluating the success of your marketing management.  

Vital Statistics in Newspapers

Vital Statistics in Newspapers

Vital records are the listings of births, marriage, and deaths recorded for a given town, county or state. The vital records that we seek are a relatively new record, in many instances not coming into existence until the 1900s.


When searching for births marriages, or deaths, the first place that we look is the officially recorded records at the town, county, or state level. One of the problems with these records is that as you go from the more local governments to the state, you will quickly discover that the certificates were not recorded for many years.

Newspapers can fill in gaps, either when the records were not kept or when there was limited information written in the earlier registers. Entries of birth, marriages, and deaths may offer additional information about the family. Unlike the vital records that often include only basic information an in a standard format, newspaper entries are sometimes full of information. Working in newspapers also means looking in a number of different places for the various announcements of birth, baptism, marriage, death, and burial.

With the United States: Newspaper Records course you will learn more about what you can discover in your research.

Financial Matters and Your Genealogy Business

Your Genealogy Business

Tracking money is not just mindless busywork. It has a purpose. Keeping track of money as it flows in and out of your business is a process that is key to providing you with the necessary information on how your business is doing which leads to better decision making. Managing your financial resources will involve the following aspects of money management:

  • accounting/bookkeeping/budgeting
  • profit/loss
  • cash flow
  • tax reporting
  • break-even analysis
  • credit and collections

For a small sole proprietorship, weekly bookkeeping and periodic budgeting can be a simple process, and many small business owners do very well using just a spreadsheet to keep their financial records.


Accounting reports are useful for reporting and planning purposes. The basic financial reports useful to an owner of a small genealogy business include:

  • Balance Sheets– This is a very basic look at your business ownership at a particular point in time, usually at the end of each month.
  • Profit/Loss Statement– This covers a specific period of time, such as one month, one quarter, or one year.
  • Budget– This serves as a guide for your activities.

If you have ever had a month – in business or even in your personal life – when you did not know where you would get the money to pay the bills, you have an understanding of what cash flow is. In a service business such as genealogy research, cash does not always flow smoothly. Genealogy research projects can take extended periods of time, sometimes six months or more.

Project Management 

A significant portion of your income may come from projects that you complete for your clients. In order to be adequately paid for your work, it is necessary to keep whatever records are necessary to enable you to invoice your clients. Depending on how you charge your clients, you may need to keep track of your time and/or expenses, or simply charge per project as you deliver them. When you complete the work, something should trigger you to issue an invoice.

Financial administration involves many aspects of managing money as it comes in and goes out of your business. Through the Business Skills: Business Administration course you will gain a better understanding of the financial matters in your business.

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.

%d bloggers like this: