Combat the Common Genealogy Challenges in 2017!

Come on in 2017, we are ready for you!

It does not matter who or where in the U. S. you are researching, you need to know the fundamentals about genealogy research, records & resources. Most importantly you need to be able to ask questions, manage your files, documenting your resources and share your findings

 First, you need to be organized, if not you’ll become frustrated and quit, or duplicate research you’ve already doneYou will become successful in collecting pieces of paper and we don’t want that. Everyone has piles, stacks, bags and boxes in their house full of papers, photos and what ever.  It’s a good idea to have a system in place the helps you record, document, store and retrieve information. Some use file folders, binders or boxes. Select one and be consistent. An easy way is to just alphabetize your file folders with the surnames of heads of the family, then as you move along in your research you will hopefully develop a good method that not just you, but others can follow. 

Here are some things to think about and it doesn’t matter if you are new to research or experienced, the basics always count. The basics are your foundation. 

● Who, What, When, Where, and Why-things I need to know about my ancestors
● Has someone in your family already completed some research, have you checked the HOUSE REPOSITORY? Get with others and share information as pictured below. We are all researching Jefferson County, Virginia/West Virginia seeking free and enslaved ancestors. (Photo taken at Clarmont, Charles Town, WV, July 2016)
● Do you have the time? Have you considered the costs?
● $$$$-Costs-yes there is costs to doing genealogy research-not all can be done online.


One of my Murphy Rules is also to first:

  • Write down what I  know
  • Set your goal on what I don’t know
  • Make a list of who or what might know-what I don’t know (could be an individual or a record/resource)

We have to do our due diligence to obtain information. There are no magical tricks that makes information or records appear. We have to dig and keep digging for them. I came up with another “Murphy Rule” to follow when doing your genealogy research-Follow:

• the Money

• the Land

• the Water, and

• the Faith of the people (which includes doing research on the community)

Task for you: take each one listed above and ask yourself “why” I would suggest you follow that information in a community.

As an experienced researchers and family historian we will face challenges when researching, everyone will, no matter what level. It is not just African or Native Americans or people of color that presents unique challenges. There are some common genealogy research challenges that you should be aware of and make sure you are not the one creating them. Listed below are some of the most common genealogy challenges I have faced. I am sure you probably could add a few more, but this is what I have faced so far.  

● Records destroyed
● Denial-don’t want to know, it’s the past
● Don’t want to share the information
● Received information that is not the truth or reliable-questionable Oral History
● Do you really have a brick wall/challenge?
● If doing slave research and they were sent/sold to the deep south
● You don’t know what you have-no analysis was done on the records (SO WHAT! basics, ask some questions, question the documents, see the gaps and conflicts)

 ● Records not recorded/written, not recorded into public record

The NOT’s are sometimes the challenges or brick walls we create such as: 

● Not understanding the Genealogy Proof Standard (GPS)
● Not aware of Friends, Associates and Neighbors (FAN) principle by Elizabeth Shown Mills. 
● Not using Cluster Research methods
● Not having a Goal or Timeline to build a Research Plan 
● Not using Google as your friend to access tips and leads finding others researching the same area or ancestors 
● Not tuning in to the FREE resources like social media (Facebook, Twitter) and weekly blogtalkradioshows and podcasts, etc. (Research at the National Archives and Beyond (–angela-walton-raji), Legacy Family Tree Webinars ( and, etc.)

If you are focusing on a specific state and county and you know the time period please “GET A MAP”. Do it for me, it is really critical to have a map or photos of the counties of the areas you are researching. It’s a good tool when dealing with some brick walls. There is nothing better than putting a map on the wall, sticking pins on locations and tracking the movement of your ancestors. You now have a visual and sometimes it will make you question what you are looking at and you will have to seek some more information and records to resolve the conflict. Everytime I walk by this chart, I try to write down another source to research.

research plan william michael murphy 2015

Also, you need to know what Records are available and what Law is on the books at the time. Having some knowledge of the law will help you. The Legal Genealogist ( does a good job emphasizing how critical the law is when doing genealogy research.

It is important to understand when researching African Americans that you understand how they were identified in the records. Some records will have codes, C or Colored, B for Black, I for Indian, etc. These identifiers will show themselves in public or private records, family bibles, legal documents and so forth. I have listed some of the most common identifiers I have seen in my research when researching African Americans. Can you add more for your ancestors? 



Free Mixtures

Yellow, high Yellow

Free Negroes





Free Negroes chargeable with tax


Free Blacks chargeable with tax

Free persons of color (FPC or FPOC)

Person(s) of Color



Very Black

To sum all this up get a few good books that are your “go to” for keeping you grounded and focused on good genealogy research techniques. There is no magic, there are no popping out of the box for genealogy research. It takes hard consistent work, setting a goal, planning your research, asking questions and using some of the things I noted to be successful. You also have to realize that there will be some ancestors you will not find anything on them, that you have to accept.

Attend the Institutes like the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI, pronounced Maggie) ( (MAAGI Coordinators are pictured above, Left to Right: Shelley Murphy, Janis Minor Forte, Bernice Bennett and Angela Walton-Raji) I believe Institutes are the wave of the future for genealogy researchers. You will learn the methods and strategies to get some movement on your genealogy research. It’s not just for African American researchers, it’s for all. Join us, hear, learn, share and tell the stories.

Some of my favorite things regardless if I am looking for people of color or not, I follow the basics and use the basic standards and stay focused.


  • Black Roots by Tony Burroughs
  • Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val D. Greenwood
  • Finding a Place Called Home by Dee Parmer Woodtor

Joining a genealogy groups, societies, etc. (several groups)

Tune in to the “free webinars”, read the Blogs, you never know where your new tip might come from.

Read the society newsletters, books, quarterlies, visit websites, etc.

Social Media-a gold mine-Facebook and Twitter, get on it! Associate with those that are doing research. If there is not a county genealogy page on Facebook, start one! People interested in the same county will come…watch it grow.

Thank you for reading, I hope this helps you. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them. If you need more information on MAAGI, email me or simply just register to attend.



About familytreegirl

Shelley Murphy, aka “familytreegirl”, a native of Michigan residing in Central Virginia, Shelley has been an avid genealogist for over 25+ years researching the Davis, Marsh, Goens/Goins/Goings, Roper, Boyer, Worden, Cureton, and Murphy family lines. She is a Coordinator and faculty for the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI), presents Genealogy 101 workshops at the local community college, state and national genealogy conferences. She holds a Doctorate of Management in Organizational Leadership and works as an adjunct professor for Averett University. Murphy is known for her inspiring and interactive “Getting Started” Methods and Strategies for genealogy research, “Time and File management” along with interesting problem-solving methodology lectures. Shelley currently has 20+ publications with Charlottesville Genealogy Examiner and the Central Virginia Heritage, a publication of the Central Virginia Genealogical Association. She is an instructor for the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI). Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership, Adjunct Professor, Professional Genealogist. Volunteers for American Red Cross as a Disaster Services Instructor, facilitates financial education workshops for the last 8 years, and former licensed Real Estate Broker
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