The National Institute for Genealogical Studies


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

Research and Collaboration

Collaboration and Brick Walls

Many of us tend to work on our genealogy research alone. It is an independent activity where we can lose ourselves for hours on end. In some cases, family members actually work together to solve a common research problem. It is these situations that can benefit us the most.

Photo by Gena Philibert-Ortega. Used with permission.

But what can we do if we do not have someone in our family that shares our passion? There are several different options available.

  • Society Meetings & Conferences

Folks who attend these meetings and conferences are just as interested in genealogy and are probably willing to listen to the story about great-aunt Elsie, of which your children and cousins have grown tired.

  • Social Networking Websites

There are many popular websites that allow you to “friend” or “follow” other people, from family, friends, coworkers, etc. to others who share similar interests (such as genealogy!).

  • Message Boards & Mailing Lists

Although these tools have been around for ages, they are still popular among genealogists and are a great place to ask brick wall questions.

  • Online Family Trees

Having your tree online makes it possible for cousins or others researching your family to get in touch with you.

  • Blogs

Blogging also lends itself to reaching a broader audience than a genealogical publication, and, because it is online and searchable, you stand a good chance of attracting others.

Remember, it may take multiple strategies to find the answer to your research question. Sometimes you just need to step away from a research problem. With our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course we will give you the tools and techniques needed to break down that brick wall.

Recording Your Information

Recording your information

The Pedigree Chart (or Ancestral Chart) will record your direct line ancestors’ information. In other words, you will record the dates and locations of births, marriages, deaths and burials from one father and mother to the next father and mother. While the potential is there for an endless number of ancestors, most of us in the beginning only have knowledge of two or three generations.

Genealogical Numbering Systems

The Sosa-Stradonitz genealogical numbering system is very common. This system assigns a number to ancestors, beginning with the descendant. So your pedigree charts start with the first line, labeled number 1. Number 1 is the name of the person whose genealogy you are doing. So, if you’re doing your own genealogy, your name will be on line number 1. The abbreviations used on the form to record places and dates include:

  • B for date of birth
  • M for date of marriage
  • D for date of death
  • P for place or W for where (location of above events)

The number 2 person on your chart, if number one is yourself, will be your father’s name and his factual information. Number 3 will be your mother’s name and her information. Number 4 is your father’s father, in other words, your paternal grandfather and number 5 your paternal grandmother. Numbers 6 and 7 are your maternal grandparents. Numbers 8-15 are your great-grandparents.  Notice that all the even numbers indicate your male ancestors and all the odd numbers indicate your female ancestors.

Taking our course Methodology-Part 1: Getting Started will help with you learn more the charts and reports used in genealogical research.

April 2019 Virtual Meetings

Month by arztsamui/Courtesy of

Have questions about your courses or your research? Virtual Meetings are a way for you to communicate with an instructor. These meetings are NOT mandatory, but a fun & interactive way to ask questions about courses/research. Below are the April scheduled sessions. Join us!
Wednesday, April 10th at 10:00 AM EDT – Analysis and Skills Mentoring Program – GENERAL with Gena Philibert-Ortega
Time zones:
Wednesday, April 10th – 10:00 AM Eastern; 9:00 AM Central; 7:00 AM Pacific; 3:00 PM in London, England;
Thursday, April 11th – Midnight in Sydney, Australia
(Note: “Enter as a Guest”)
Wednesday, April 10th at 11:30 AM EDT – Internet Tools with Gena Philibert-Ortega
Time zones:
Wednesday, April 10th – 11:30 AM Eastern; 10:30 AM Central; 8:30 AM Pacific; 4:30 PM in London, England;
Thursday, April 11th – 1:30 AM in Sydney, Australia
(Note: “Enter as a Guest”)
Wednesday, April 10th at 1:30 PM PM EDT – American Record courses with Gena Philibert-Ortega
Time zones:
Wednesday, April 10th – 1:30 PM Eastern; 12:30 PM Central; 10:30 AM Pacific; 6:30 PM in London, England;
Thursday, April 11th – 3:30 AM in Sydney, Australia
(Note: “Enter as a Guest”)
Wednesday, April 10th at 3:00 PM EDT – Methodology courses with Gena Philibert-Ortega
Time zones:
Wednesday, April 10th – 3:00 PM Eastern; 2:00 PM Central; Noon Pacific; 8:00 PM in London, England;
Thursday, April 11th – 5:00 AM in Sydney, Australia
(Note: “Enter as a Guest”)
Thursday, April 11th at 11:00 AM EDT – Eastern European Records courses with Lisa Alzo
Time zones:
Thursday, April 11th – 11:00 AM Eastern; 10:00 AM Central; 8:00 AM Pacific; 4:00 PM in London, England;
Friday, April 12th – 1:00 AM in Sydney, Australia
(Note: “Enter as a Guest”)
Thursday, April 11th at 5:00 PM EDT – English Records courses with Brenda Wheeler
Time zones:
Thursday, April 11th – 5:00 PM Eastern; 4:00 PM Central; 2:00 PM Pacific; 10:00 PM in London, England;
Friday, April 12th – 7:00 AM in Sydney, Australia
(Note: “Enter as a Guest”)
Friday, April 12th at 7:00 PM EDT – Methodology courses with Brenda Wheeler
Note: This session has been set up for the convenience of our students in Australia and New Zealand; however, all students are welcome to join in.
Time zones:
Friday, April 12th – 7:00 PM Eastern; 6:00 PM Central; 4:00 PM Pacific;
Saturday, April 13th – Midnight in London, England; 9:00 AM in Sydney, Australia
(Note: “Enter as a Guest”)
Wednesday, April 17th at 4:00 AM EDT – Australian Records courses with Kerry Farmer
Time zones:
Wednesday, April 17th – 4:00 AM Eastern; 3:00 AM Central; 1:00 AM Pacific; 9:00 AM in London, England; 6:00 PM in Sydney, Australia
(Note: “Enter as a Guest”)
Thursday, April 25th at 10:00 AM EDT – Professional Development courses with Gena Philibert-Ortega
Time zones:
Thursday, April 25th – 10:00 AM Eastern; 9:00 AM Central; 7:00 AM Pacific; 3:00 PM in London, England;
Friday, April 26th – Midnight in Sydney, Australia
(Note: “Enter as a Guest”)
Thursday, April 25th at 11:30 AM EDT – Analysis and Skills Mentoring Program-Part 3 – ARTICLE REVIEW with Gena Philibert-Ortega
Please follow the directions found in your course material and read the article.
Time zones:
Thursday, April 25th – 11:30 AM Eastern; 10:30 AM Central; 8:30 AM Pacific; 4:30 PM in London, England;
Friday, April 26th – 1:30 AM in Sydney, Australia
(Note: “Enter as a Guest”)
Saturday, April 27th at 11:00 AM EDT – Canadian courses with Kathryn Lake Hogan
Time zones:
Saturday, April 27th – 11:00 AM Eastern; 10:00 AM Central; 8:00 AM Pacific; 4:00 PM in London, England;
Sunday, April 28th – 1:00 AM in Sydney, Australia
(Note: “Enter as a Guest”)
Calendar of Virtual Meetings is at; top menu > INFORMATION > VIRTUAL LEARNING ROOM.
If you have not attended a Virtual Meeting before, read the Instructions at


Marriage Records 

The marriage certificate is the only civil record that actually records a union between two individuals, whereas other marriage records indicate that a marriage was “projected or planned.” So be cautious regarding which marriage document is being reviewed and understand the difference.


Information you will always expect to find on a marriage certificate: 

  • the name of the bride and groom 
  • the date of the marriage  
  • location of the marriage (at least the county in which the marriage was filed) 
  • the individual who married the couple 
  • name of the clerk who recorded the marriage with the county 

The type of information recorded on a marriage document will change over time and will vary from county to county and state to state.  

The US Federal Census can also help with finding a marriage record. What kind of marriage information can the census provide? While the 1850 to 1870 census doesn’t record marital status, it does note if the person was married within the year. The 1900 through 1940 census will provide the marital status “married, single, widow, or divorced,” the “age at first marriage” (1930), or the “number of years of present marriage” (1900, 1910).


Record Keeping 

In our modern society (the 20th and 21st century), marriage records are typically kept at both the county in which the ceremony took place and the state bureau of records. There is a central gathering point in each state, typically known as the Bureau of Vital Records or Statistics (or something similar).  

For most states, marriage records began being kept at the time a county was formed at the county level. These early records are not kept by the state, unless they have been transferred to the state archives.  

With our United States: Vital Records  course you will learn more about obtaining marriage records and the information they hold in your genealogy research.  

Friends, Associates and Neighbors

Your FAN Club 

FAN is an acronym that stands for Friends, Associates, and Neighbors. The “FAN Club,” coined by Elizabeth Shown Mills, represents a person’s network of people to whom they connect. You may also hear the term “cluster research,” which is essentially the same thing.


The idea behind using the FAN principle or cluster research is to identify and research the people involved with your ancestors, as those other people may have left a trail or clues that your ancestor did not. For example, you could be looking for the maiden name (and perhaps the parents and/or siblings) of a female ancestor. Studying the people in her FAN Club, as well as those in her husband’s, may provide clues or may even reveal the answer.

Oftentimes, the FAN methodology is implemented when all resources have been exhausted and there is still no answer to our research question. Instead of throwing in the towel, we turn to the people around our ancestor and explore their lives.  

Keep in mind that studying an ancestor’s associates will add more work to your plate, but the benefits are usually well worth your time and energy. With our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course you will learn more about applying the FAN principle to your research.  

Timelines are Important

Why Use Timelines 

A timeline is a visual representation of events in sequential order. Timelines are often used in genealogy to place an ancestor in a historical context giving us a better understanding of their lives and how they fit into the world around them. Timelines can help break down brick walls allowing us to see: 

  • Where a person was and when. 
  • Gaps in time where information is missing. 
  • Instances where two people of the same name might be combined. 
  • Possible scenarios (for example, finding a large gap in the birth of children during the Civil War period). 

But also keep in mind timelines are a great basis for writing biographies and genealogies, as well as a visual component to share with others.


Timelines are great tools to help us put our research in a different perspective. The visual nature of a timeline often reveals clues for additional research. There are three general types of timelines: basic, comparative, and historical.  

With our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course you will learn more about building your own timelines and how to use them in your research.  


Ancestors Associates

Tracking Your Ancestors Associates  

So how do you keep track of all your ancestor’s associates? First, you will want to create a list that represents each of the three categories of the FAN Club (Friends, Associates, and Neighbors). You should incorporate connection details and research notes and maintain this list as a master. Keeping this master list will pay dividends in the future when the same associates become a recurring theme in your ancestor’s life.


While a list is great (and a highly-recommended starting point), you may also want to create a visual representation of your ancestor’s network. Many people like to use the idea of a mind map when dealing with cluster research. The possibilities are endless, so experiment and find something that works for you.

It is also important to show connections between associates. When you see the same person involved in the life of your ancestor and his other associates, this could be a person high on your priority list to investigate. With our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course you will learn even more on the methods for tracking your ancestors’ associates.  

Analyze Your Timelines

Time to Analyze  

Once you have developed your timeline, take a step back and really study it. What does it tell you? Are their gaps in your timeline that need to be accounted for? Is there a new location you are not familiar with? And perhaps most importantly for brick wall busting, has the timeline revealed an answer to your question, and if not, do you have some leads to follow up on? You will use this analysis to record your thoughts and plan your next steps.


The timeline gives you a period of time to investigate and locations relative to the period of time. Put your analysis and plan of action in writing, this helps to keep all of your thoughts organized. As you uncover new items of information, be sure to update any timelines you have created and review and analyze them again with the new data.   

Also, keep in mind that timelines may identify other questions that either need answering or something you might want to explore to understand your ancestor better. The timeline can easily be your basis for developing a plan related to these new research ideas. With our Skill-Building: Breaking Down Brick Walls course you will learn how to develop these timelines and analyze your results. All helping you to break down that brick wall.  

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.

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