Genealogy research is a fun and exciting hobby that you can do on your own or with family members. It costs very little to get started, too.
You can find tons of free information available online to help even the most beginning genealogy enthusiasts find ancestors quickly.
If you feel like you’ve hit a brick wall in your research or you’re just tired of the same old genealogy research sites, try these 10 brilliant genealogy hacks. They’re sure to brighten your day and enrich your family tree.
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Middle Names/Maiden Names
Women’s maiden names commonly create brick walls in genealogy research.
Make note of anyone in your family tree with an unusual middle name, or even first name. Remember that many folks go by their middle names, so you might not know right away whether a name is someone’s first or middle.
That unusual name might be someone’s maiden name, whether it’s their mother’s, grandmother’s or even further back. Not only can these names help with researching female lines, but they can also help you spot whether someone belongs in your tree.
The name Preston appears in my mom’s family, on her dad’s side, generally as someone’s middle name. If I see someone with the right last name and Preston as his first or middle name, I know it’s a relation.
To stay up-to-date on anything new that Google indexes regarding various last names in your family tree by signing up for free Google Alerts. You can choose how often you receive alerts, and you can sign up for as many of them as you’d like.
One of the best hidden gems of genealogy research is Google Books. You can search through a giant collection of scanned books, many of them very old, which is absolutely perfect for genealogy research.
If I search for a last name plus a county in Pennsylvania where my ancestors lived, I can sometimes find entire sections of books devoted to my relatives! There might even be books available with the ancestry of someone in your family tree.
Check With Your Local Library
Some libraries offer free access to paid genealogy sites like Ancestry.com. In my city of Raleigh, NC, one city library offers this service, plus additional research tools of interest to genealogy hobbyists.
As a library card holder, I can also access HeritageQuest online for free. This site offers old U.S. census documents, research books and more.
Let Chrome Interpret Foreign Language Sites
One challenge in my own genealogy research has been looking for relatives on my dad’s side. All four of his grandparents were Polish immigrants, which makes going back any further than them extremely difficult.
Nowadays, I can more easily navigate websites written in Polish. I use Google Chrome as my browser, and it offers to translate any pages that aren’t written in my native language.
Note Taking Applications With Web Clippers
Evernote is an extremely popular note-taking application that lets you access your saved notes, pictures, PDFs and more using your web browser or on your computer or phone. Among its cool features is the clipping tool, a browser plug-in that lets you easily save a webpage, minus the ads.
For example, as you’re browsing a site, you can save pages that you come across that might be interesting, then go back to them later for further research. You can sign up for Evernote free at this link.
Microsoft’s OneNote is also free and has many of the same features. It also has fewer restrictions than Evernote, which limits the number of devices you can use it on without buying the paid version.
Talk to Elderly Relatives and/or Their Friends
Have you been researching your family history but never talked to your elderly relatives? You could miss out on a gold mine of information, especially if that person passes away and takes decades of memories with him/her.
If your grandparents and their siblings have already passed on, you might be able to find friends of theirs who are still alive. These friends might also know of more distant relations that you don’t even know about. Most people love to talk about themselves and their friends and family members.
Explore Graveyards Virtually
If you don’t already know about Findagrave.com, check it out as soon as you can. It’s one of the best free genealogy sites available in terms of the amount of information available and how easy it is to use. You can also add your own Findagrave memorials.
Your ancestors probably weren’t famous, but a last name in your family history might still have a listing on Wikipedia. This can be helpful in helping you figure out what country your ancestors came from.
It’s possible you might also find some distant relations on Wikipedia, since you don’t have to be extremely famous to be listed there. Many people are listed on Wikipedia who weren’t really famous to the general public, but made significant contributions to society in some way.
Another way to find out where your ancestors came from costs a bit of money. Ancestry DNA can help you pinpoint where in the world your genes came from.
Most genealogy software will let you save pictures with the people in your family tree. Taking screenshots on your computer, phone or tablet can help you capture images you find online so you can attach them to your genealogy records.
How about you? What are your best genealogy hints and hacks? Read more of my genealogy posts here!
This post was originally written in April 2017 and updated in April 2019.
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