Genealogy Case Studies

Reading case studies of research published by expert genealogists is a great way to learn first-hand from their experience.
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As you sift through the records of your own ancestors to build your family tree, you may find yourself with questions:

  • What other records can/should I search?
  • What else can I learn from this record?
  • How do I pull all of these little clues together?

The answers to these types of questions generally come through knowledge and experience. What is so eye-opening about the research of others, especially if the individuals or places in question have nothing to do with your own family? There is no better way to learn (aside from your own hands-on practice) than through the successes, mistakes, and techniques of other genealogists. A genealogical case study can be as simple as an explanation of the discovery and analysis of a particular record, to the research steps taken to trace a particular family back through several generations. Each one, however, gives us a glimpse into research problems that we ourselves may face in our own genealogy searches, approached through the eyes and experience of leaders in the genealogical field.

Genealogical Case Studies

Elizabeth Shown Mills, genealogist, is the author of Historic Pathways, a website packed with decades of her case studies. Many of the case studies are organized by type of problem—record losses, cluster research, name changes, separating identities, etc.— transcending the place and time of the research, and of value to all genealogists. Read her work and read it often. It will make you a better genealogist.

Some of our favorites include:

Michael John Neill has presented numerous case study examples online over the years. Here are a few of his favorite case studies.

Juliana Smith brings humor and passion to everything she writes. You can find many of her examples and case studies in her archived Family History Compass column and 24/7 Family History Circle blog at Ancestry.com, as well as on the Ancestry.com blog.

Certified Genealogist Michael Hait has published an ongoing series of genealogical case studies related to his work on the Jefferson Clark family of Leon County, Florida.

More Case Studies

While online case studies provide a wealth of knowledge, many tend to be short and extremely focused. If you're ready to dig in even further, most of the in-depth, complicated genealogical case studies are found published in genealogical society journals and, occasionally, in mainstream genealogy magazines. Good places to start are the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ), the New England Historical and Genealogical Register (NEHGR) and The American Genealogist. Years of back issues of NGSQ and NEHGR are available online for members of those organizations. A few excellent online examples by authors such as Elizabeth Shown Mills, Kay Haviland Freilich, Thomas W. Jones and Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens, can also be found in the Sample Work Products provided online by the Board for Certification of Genealogists.