I am a little embarrassed to admit this to you, my genea-friends.
Sometimes when I am researching my genealogy, I find myself wandering down rabbit trails.
Repeating previous research.
[Hopefully you won’t judge me!]
When I find my research heading down rabbit trails, that indicates one thing:
I am researching without a plan and that is not a good thing.
I’ve learned to stay off those “oh, so tempting” rabbit trails by creating a genealogy research plan BEFORE I began my research.
Why You Want to Create a Genealogy Research Plan
When I mention creating a research plan, your mind immediately went back to high school and those dreaded term papers and outlines. Let all that dread go, because a research plan will:
- Help you stay focused (and off the rabbit trails!).
- Help you organize your research.
- Help you be efficient with your research time.
- Help ensure you do not miss potential clues in the research.
Think of your genealogy research plan as a framework or strategy for your search.
What Should Go Into Your Genealogy Research Plan?
All genealogy research plans have a few common components in them. Let’s take a look at 4 of those elements.
1. Your Research Question
You can also think of this as your research goal.
What is it you want to learn from your research? Are you looking for evidence your ancestor in a time and/or place? Are you attempting to solve a family history mystery? The more specific your goal, the more focused your research will be.
If you are not clear on what you are researching, I guarantee you will end up going down rabbit trails and have little to show for your research efforts.
Here are two examples of research questions:
- Who was the father of Emma D. [Thomas] Howard (b. 1858 in Moore County, NC)? or
- Is the John White of Surry County, NC (in the 1820’s) the same John White from Caswell County, NC (early 1800’s)?
Writing your research question (or goal) on your research plan will keep you focused.
Tip: Keep your research question or goal where you can easily see it as you research. I personally, write the goal on a sticky note to put beside me each time I sit down. Physically writing the primary research question before each research session, helps me get focused quicker.
2. Types of Records to Search
Now that you know what you want to know, what type of records do you need to research?
You may need to first research what records are available for the time period and location where your ancestor lived.
In the first example above concerning Emma Thomas Howard, the records needing to be searched include Emma Howard’s death certificate (Lee County, NC), census records for 1860 and 1870, and North Carolina marriage records.
In the second example of John White, records to be searched could include census records 1790-1830, land records of Surry and Caswell Counties, court records of both counties and will/probate records.
3. The Location of Records
Where are the records you need to research located? How are you going to access those records?
Are the records online? Do you need a subscription to a genealogy database to access them? Can you access subscription based genealogy record databases from your public library?
If the records are not online, in what repository are they located? Do you need to order the record on microfilm?
If you need to research on-site at a repository to research the needed records, schedule the visit on your calendar. (Don’t forget to take your research plan when you go!)
Knowing the location of the records you need to research helps to further organize your genealogy research time. You will be able to plan your online research from home and your on-site research to fit your time.
4.Further Clues to Follow Up
As you research you will likely find information and clues to follow up on. Make a note of this information for later, but stay focused on your current research plan. Yes, I know how tempting it is to follow that clue at the expense of your current plan! Resist!
Your genealogy research plan is your guide and does not have to be overly complicated. You may find your answers quickly or you may still be left with your original question. That’s okay. You will will be clear on the records you have already searched and what information those records hold (or don’t hold).
Go back and amend your genealogy research plan and begin again.
Download this genealogy research plan template to use in your next research project.
Or…try this spreadsheet version of the Genealogy Research Plan. (Click “File” in the upper left hand corner. Choose “Make a copy” from the dropdown and you are all set.)
Watch the Research Plan in Action!
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