23/12/2013 07:16 GMT | Updated 22/02/2014 05:59 GMT

In Genealogy It Is Not Who You Know, but Who You Don't Know

In politics, business, other pursuits, and it seems life in general, the old adage "It's not what you know, it's who you know" holds very true. However, all of us here at Onward To Our Past® believe that in genealogy it should be altered slightly to this: "In genealogy it's not who you know, but who you don't know.

Let me explain.

As we work on our genealogies and our family histories we all have our 'go to' resources when we are in need of help. Perhaps they are elders in our families. Maybe they are cousins or aunts and uncles. They might be databases and services such as,, and the like.

But, at least personally, my biggest breakthroughs, most significant finds, and most amazing discoveries have all come from not who I already knew, but from new associates, allies, mentors, and researchers who I had never known before I employed my system of casting the widest net possible whenever I hit a bumpy patch in my work.

Rather than simply going back to those resources I already knew, I changed it up and looked outward, past those known resources, and spread my efforts farther out into the winds with the possibility of having someone new offer their input, ideas, suggestions, critiques, and connections. It has paid off handsomely!

So my advice is this:


Be sure to cast your genealogy net far and wide and remember your genealogy net is not only electronic!

As I said, some of my most profound discoveries have come from unlikely places and often not from online sources. So remember that while you may 'know' loads of resources, there are far more you may not know. So be sure to set your genealogy gathering efforts broad and wide. For example:

Be sure to let everyone you speak with about one aspect of your genealogy work, other areas you are also interested in. Recently while I was speaking with a woman I had just met about one aspect of a totally different genealogy project I was working on, I mentioned my new eBook on the first Bohemian immigrants to Cleveland, Ohio and she said she happened to have a newspaper clipping that was a feature story on 'the first Bohemian baby born in Cleveland', an item that has proven to be an invaluable addition to my eBook.

Don't hesitate to call on others when clues lead you to offline resources. I happened to discover a very interesting story about a Cornish 'Battle of Culloden' in the holdings of the British Newspaper Archive. I knew from a family will that the property of Culloden in Camelford was in my Phillipps family so I was intrigued. Luckily the 'Battle' resulted in a Court case so I called in assistance since the records for the court are on a roll of records so large it took two staff to bring it out from the Archive at Kew. A wonderful researcher transcribed it for us and now we have many additional clues from a resource that likely will never be online.

Look at books, books, and more books. Personally I think it is wonderful that there are resources like Google Books! However, remember that only a tiny fraction of the world of books in online and that often the more esoteric the genealogy subject matter the less likely they are to be available in a digital format. For years I was searching for more information on my great grandfather when I was directed to a source I would have never considered. The title of the book is "History of the Order of Knights of Pythias". Published in 1892 this book about this fraternal society happened to hold not one, but two photographs of my great grandfather, which happen to be the only photos we have ever seen of him!

So remember .... It may well be who you DON'T know that can help you the most in your genealogy and family history! Cast your genealogy net far and wide and see what you catch...and be sure to have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday season!