Family History

The Preliminary Survey Begins

According to Val Greenwood, in his book The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, when searching for information on an ancestor, we must first start with what other’s have done. This is called the preliminary survey, or secondary research. The purpose of this review of others’ work is to:

…find the answers to three significant questions:

  • What is already known about our ancestral families?
  • What research have others already done on those families?
  • What level of trust can I place in this information? [1]

Since my goal in this first, hopefully of many, research projects is to be thorough, I am starting with the basics, as instructed. I began by searching the big sites where I know people add public family trees. I searched Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, FindMyPast and WikiTree. This is a bit of what my research log looks like at this point.


At this point I’m not terribly worried about citing the sources as this is still preliminary research, of which I am using as a “jumping off point”, but not as a definite source. I’ve listed the search criteria that I used and if I found any possible results, I linked to them directly. In Sidney’s case, I had found prior records listing her maiden name as Modglin so I included those in the searches for her, but I’m not going to include that as her maiden name in my tree in RootsMagic until I have confirmed this via records.  But, I also don’t want to miss any research that others have done because I’m only searching by her married name in my prelims.

So far, I haven’t really learned much more about her. Most of the other trees just have the same basic information that I had found previously and have linked via shakey leaves to her children, some of whom are duplicated and incorrect. However, I did find a couple of names for potential parents, so I’ve made sure to highlight those searches to revisit later when I am in the Primary Research stage of the process and actually looking for documented records.


I’ve gotten quite a bit of information out of the book mentioned above, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in family history – from novice to pro. Val outlines the steps in the research process in a very concise way and has mentioned searching for records in ways that would’ve never occurred to me. The book can be found on Amazon (, but I checked it out of my local library.

[1] Val D. Greenwood, author, The Researcher’s Guide: to American Genealogy, 4th edition (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2017), 57.

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