Advanced Genealogy

I'm sure you're finding it hard to believe that you've made it this far in your genealogy research. Congratulations!

Now that you've mastered the basics and moved along as far as you could, what to do now? What are the next steps?

Researching Genealogy in Foreign Languages or Countries

Probably, you've gotten to a point where records are in the languages of your ancestors, which, no one in the family reads or speaks any longer. Or, perhaps you've exhausted all the trails in the U.S., and all that remains is research in your family's homeland(s).

Let's first tackle the problem of records in foreign languages. You might hunt around in your city to see if there is an immigrant neighborhood whose residents are from the same country as your family. Often, you can find people who still can read and speak the language, and can help you translate the contents of records. You might even find people who might know of your family. If the residents have moved on, you might try the local church in the area, as often people return to churches with services in their native languages, even after they've moved out of the neighborhood.

Large cities often have translator services. You might be able to hire them to translate for you.

If the search must now be taken abroad, you can hire a professional genealogist. Remember to check their references. Professional genealogy researchers often have access to resources no one else can get, and in a foreign country, it helps to have someone who's familiar with the language and record keeping traditions of that country.

Numbering systems

At this point in your research, you might start encountering the various systems for tracking genealogy. There are several used worldwide, and, if you are reading records from afar, you might encounter them. In addition, most genealogy publications will have articles that use one system or the other in their articles, and, if you are thinking of writing for one of them, you'll need to be able to write to their conventions. Here's a brief overview of the main ones.

One other quick note: genealogy numbering systems generally fall into one of two categories, ascendancy and descendancy. "Ascendant" systems start numbering from a person, and higher numbers are assigned to that persons ancestors. "Descendant" systems start numbering with a person, and the higher numbers are assigned to the person's children. So, in ascendant systems, if you are number one, your parents would be 2 and 3. In descent systems, if you are one, your children would be 2 and 3.

Ahnentafel — This is an ascendancy numbering system. It is also known as the "Sosa-Stradonitz System." In this system, you would assign yourself the number 1. Then you would go backwards in your lineage, counting your father as number 2, and your mother as number 3.

Going further back, your paternal grandfather would be number 4, your paternal grandmother would be number 5. Your mother's father would be number 6, and her mother would be number 7. In this system, all the males in your family would have even numbers and the females would be the odd numbers (well, except if you, the origin point of the numbering, are a male, you would be the only "odd" male in the numbering).

In this system, a person's father's number is always twice the person's number. The person's mother's number is twice plus one. Your maternal great grandmother, for example, would be 15 (2 times 7 plus 1). This method is used worldwide. It was first used in 1676 by Spanish genealogist Jerome de Sosa, and then popularized by Stephan Kekule von Stradonitz who used it in his 1896 Ahnentafel Atlas.

There are a few drawbacks to this system, especially if your genealogy research includes collateral lines. For example, what number would you give your sister? Or your father's brother?

Register — The Register system was developed by the New England Historic Genealogical Society of Boston, Massachusetts as a method of displaying research in their publications. It is a descendancy numbering system. In this system, the first person in a genealogy is assigned the number 1. His or her children are indented in a list, in birth order, beneath that person, and identified by lower-case letters (a, b, c, etc.).

The children whose lines are followed in the genealogy are also given an Arabic number, which is written to the left of their birth order letter. The chief advantage of this is that it looks like an outline, and it's pretty easy to follow all descendants of the starting person. However, one difficulty of this system is that spouses of the numbered individuals don't get a number. Also, children without children of their own, are also not assigned a unique number. In this system, it is very difficult to add previously unknown relatives, as it puts the numbering system out of wack.

Record — The National Genealogical Society uses this system in its publications, it was developed by the society. This is a descendancy numbering system. and it offers several improvements over the register system. The most significant is that all children in the descendancy families are given a number, whether or not they have any children.

Henry — The Henry system is also a descendancy numbering system, reportedly named for the person who used it in a personal family genealogy. The Henry system assigns the number 1 to the individual who starts the line, just as in the other systems. In this system, the oldest child of person number 1 is given the number 11, the second child the number 12, etc. In the third generation, the oldest child of person 11 is assigned the number 111, the second child of that person is 112, etc. Number 12's oldest child is 121, the second child 122, etc. One of the advantages of this system is that the individual digits represent generations and the specific numbers represent birth order within that generation.

This numbering system is handy in that, each number reveals considerable information about each person in the genealogy, and it is very easy to trace that person's line back to the individual assigned the number 1.

However, this system can run into problems in that, like some of the other systems, spouse are not numbered, and in the case where there are more than nine children in a particular family, even if, in those cases, you use the hexadecimal numbering system (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, etc.).

d'Aboville — Another descendancy system named for the person who developed it. This system is the same as the Henry system, with one notable difference. Instead of putting the numbers together, a period (.) is inserted between the generational numbers. Again, the number 1 is given to the individual who begins the list. The oldest child of this person is represented by the number 1.1, the second child as 1.2, etc. In the third generation, the oldest child of 1.1 is assigned number 1.1.1, the second child 1.1.2, etc. Number 1.2's oldest child is 1.2.1, the second child 1.2.2, etc. If this last individual had fourteen children, the youngest of these would have the number This improvement to the Henry system means it is possible to track larger families, but spouses still haven't got an identification number.

Conflicting Sources

In the course of your research, chances are you will come across sources that differ in their information about the same "fact." The first thing to do is remember the differences between primary and secondary sources. (If you need a refresher, jump over here for a moment. Don't worry, We'll wait for you.)

Identifying a source as primary or secondary is not a reflection of its accuracy. Secondary sources can be correct and primary sources can be wrong. However, a primary source is usually the more credible resource, especially when there are two or more primary sources that corroborate each other.

In some cases, you may not be able to determine who provided the information and therefore not know for certain if it is a primary or secondary record. You may have to make a "best guess" based upon your judgment in weighing the validity of the document and the information.

This situation is a key reason why having multiple sources really helps. Analyze as many records as possible, to get the clearest picture of the information. And, if you've properly identified your sources as primary and secondary, you can chart each discrepancy, until the day you might find a definitive source that can settle the matter.

One last tidbit, never change a source to "correct" it. If you are lucky, and figure out the reason for the conflicting information, simply make a clear notation in your records. Simply keeping track of the different pieces of information is an important contribution to the research. Return to Genealogy main page