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Judy Webster's genealogy tips & indexes
for local, interstate & overseas folk in Queensland's historical records

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Genealogy Basics

This page has general advice for genealogy and family history, with tips on research techniques, using email effectively, privacy issues, recommended reading etc. Some of the links open in a new tab/window.

  • The vast majority of archival resources will never be on the Internet, so use it only as a supplement to (not a substitute for) original records and traditional research techniques. What's on the Internet (unless it is a digital image) may be an incomplete or inaccurate transcription.

  • Indexes are merely finding aids, and every index contains errors. You must always inspect the original source to check for accuracy and obtain extra details. Learn about the traps to avoid when using indexes.

  • Research *siblings* and other relatives of your direct ancestors. This strategy will overcome many 'dead ends' in family history.

  • Read books, journal articles and published conference papers. The more you read, the less likely you are to waste money, and the greater your chances of success. Some suggested titles are listed below. If your local library doesn't have the book you want, ask them to buy it.

    • Queensland research:
    • Australian research:
      • Compiling Your Family History (Society of Australian Genealogists)
      • Family History on the Cheap (Shauna Hicks)
    • United Kingdom research:
      • Ancestral Trails: the Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History (Mark D. Herber). Usually available (with free shipping worldwide) from The Book Depository; or there may be a second-hand copy at Abe Books.
    • Other recommended reading:
      • See 'Suggested Reading (Genealogy and History)'
      • Google Your Family Tree (Daniel M. Lynch)
      • Planning Research: Short Cuts in Family History (Michael Gandy)
      • Into History: Guide to Publications (Ralph Reid)
      • Index to Journal Articles on Australian History (Crittenden et al)
      • Guide to the History of Queensland (Johnston and Zerner)
      • Directory of Queensland Local Histories (QALFHS / History Queensland).

    • Looking for an out-of-print book?
      • Under legal deposit laws, copies of a book published in Australia must be deposited with the National Library and the State Library in the State of publication. The laws also apply to most published family histories.
      • You may find a second-hand copy at Abe Books.

  • Work systematically back from the known (yourself) to the unknown. Do not make assumptions. Start by obtaining information from your parents and other relatives. Ask for dates and places, which determine where you need to look for certain records. Certificates, newspaper clippings, wills, photos etc may be held by other branches of the family (great-aunts, distant cousins etc.)

  • Record basic details on family group sheets and pedigree charts, and take them with you to libraries etc. Write dates as 9 Nov not 9/11 (which in some countries means 11 Sep). Write placenames in full, with State or county, and country. My favourite charts are available (free) via my Downloads page. A useful book is Keeping Your Records in Order: Family History and Genealogical Record Management System (Marie McCulloch).

  • It is essential to record, in detail, the SOURCES of all information. If you don't know where you obtained a fact, you can't assess its reliability, and you may not be able to find the source again later. In record offices, make a note of the creating department, series title, document title and date, and location number. For published items, note the author, title, publisher, date and place of publication, and library location. Read Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian (Elizabeth Shown Mills).

  • Join a Genealogical Society or Family History Society, at least for a year or two, and make good use of their journal, library and other member services. They often hold records that are not available anywhere else. Many Australian societies hold some overseas records. Church of Latter Day Saints Family History Centres can also help, especially with original census records and parish registers.

  • Attend seminars held by genealogical societies, special interest groups, public libraries, record offices etc. Check for announcements on my 'Talks' page or my Facebook page or in my genealogy newsletter (free).

  • Use the Australian gazetteer to search for place names and map locations.

  • Be aware of privacy laws, copyright laws, and the ethics of sharing family information. Never put addresses or personal details of living people on the Internet. Never reproduce information from family trees, Web pages or anywhere else without the author's permission.

  • Cemetery records:
    • Consult the books Cemeteries in Australia: A Register of Transcripts (Killion & Garnsey) and Specialist Indexes in Australia (1998 and 2006 editions). Those three books are in many libraries. They list some records that are not (and probably never will be) online.

    • Queensland Family History Society and Genealogical Society of Queensland both have vast collections of cemetery records (burials and headstone transcriptions). Some are now on Findmypast and Ancestry.

    • Additional records may be held by the Council, historical society or family history group for the relevant area.

    • Brisbane City Council's cemeteries database does not include crematoriums.

    • Toowoomba Regional Council's burial records include links to many headstone photographs.

    • Many Southeast Queensland headstone photos are online and indexed.

    • There are many errors in online transcribed data, so if a photograph of a headstone is not available, try to find and compare several different versions of headstone transcriptions for a particular cemetery.

  • Newspapers:
  • Be aware of what details are shown on Queensland certificates and on certificates for other States.

  • Before using overseas records, obtain as much information as possible from Australian sources. Many of our birth, death and marriage certificates give vital information such as birthplaces. Investigating the brothers and sisters of your direct ancestor may reveal the geographical area from which your family came.

  • Answers to some other frequently asked questions are on my FAQ and Research Tips pages.

  • Using email effectively: You are more likely to receive a helpful response if you observe a few simple rules.

    • Use a meaningful subject line with a surname, town or topic. Messages entitled 'research', 'my names', 'help' etc are often deleted unread. Something like 'Where are mental asylum records?' or 'HUDSON, Helidon Qld, 1880s' is far more likely to get attention.

    • Specify the time period and geographical area (including State/county & country) of interest.

    • To avoid confusion, use capital letters for surnames (eg Allan GEORGE).

    • If you say where you live (town, State/county, country) the recipient may be able to suggest sources available to you locally.

    • It is courteous to use proper punctuation, paragraphs and sentence structure. Long strings of lower-case text without punctuation are difficult to read (and annoying).

    • When sending the same message to more than one person, put only one address (preferably yours) in the 'To' field. Put addresses of other recipients in the 'Bcc' (blind carbon copy) field (not in 'Cc'). Addresses in 'To' and 'Cc' are visible to everyone, so for privacy reasons you should use 'Bcc'. When forwarding a message, remove any addresses from the message body.

    • Avoid using Hotmail or Yahoo addresses, because (in my experience) many replies won't reach you. A free email address from Gmail is much more reliable.

    • Use anti-virus software such as AVG, and update it every time you connect to the Internet.

  • Using the Internet for genealogy: A few suggestions to get you started.

  • Genealogy software:  Choose a programme that allows you to record your sources, create GEDCOM files, and omit living people from reports. One of the most highly recommended programmes is Family Historian.

  • Back up computer files frequently. USB flash/thumb drives and external hard drives are convenient, but they will eventually fail. Make additional backups on CD or DVD and archival quality (pH neutral) paper. Keep a copy of your photos, certificates, charts, computer files and research notes away from home (preferably in a different town) in case there is a flood, fire etc. I also recommend using the free version of Dropbox as 'cloud' storage for photos or documents that would be impossible or expensive to replace.

  • Learn how to use your Web browser (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, etc.) You can usually jump to the top of a Web page by pressing the 'Ctrl' and 'Home' keys at the same time.

  • One of the best Internet Search Engines for genealogy is Google. The Google box below is set to search my site.


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