Genealogy Research

Survey Phase
By Lisa South - Certified Genealogist

Genealogy Research is done in two phases, the survey phase and the original research phase. The purpose of the survey phase is to find out what research has already been done by other researchers. Original research is exciting but it can be time consuming and costly, so a thorough search of the work of others is essential. The process for following the survey phase is very straightforward.

  1. Check home and family sources.
    • Go through the old records, bibles, and photographs in your home as well as the homes of other family members.
    • Call, email or mail your relatives and ask questions. Get as much personal knowledge as you can from living relatives (be sure to list the source of each piece of information). If there is a specific topic that your family is sensitive about, think carefully how or even if the question should be asked. When I took my first class in genealogy, my professor shared an old adage that I think is very important, "We should never hurt the living to find the dead. 
  2. Check the work of others.
    • Start with OneGreatFamily. Finding your ancestor at OneGreatFamily is a great way to connect with new and distant relatives, plus it can open significant new avenues of exploration.
    • Check out other on-line sites such as the Ancestral File at or Rootsweb's WorldConnect.
    • Find out if any books have been published about your family. The Family History Library Catalog, surname section, at a branch of the Family History Library or at is an excellent place to begin. Remember that all of these are secondary sources, so evaluate them accordingly. Consider the author's reputation as a genealogist, check the sources used etc.
    • Keep an accurate list of the sources you use - someday someone will be evaluating your work!
    • Try to contact other people who are researching your same line and share information. Putting your genealogy in OneGreatFamily helps others know what family lines you are working on. I had a person from New Zealand contact me after seeing my genealogy on-line. We had not known of each other's existence, but it turned out we were third cousins - my ancestor had immigrated to America, his to New Zealand. We have been able to share many family documents, pictures and stories that I could not have found any other way.

You should collect as much information as possible before beginning the original research phase, but the survey phase of genealogy should continue on some level throughout your research as you find new relatives, when new family sites go on the internet etc.

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