I’m completing a 40-course certificate program in Irish Research through the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. I’m taking these courses to learn about specific Irish records but also to learn more about correct research methodology. I went to art school; we didn’t do research.
So, while it can be fun to go online, type in a surname and see what happens, it’s probably not the most productive way to go about things. It makes it too easy to lose track of both time and what you were looking for in the first place. And, more often than not, accomplish very little.
So as much as part of my brain rebels at the discipline of it, I have to admit that having a plan makes the research sessions more productive. In the past, I’d download whatever I found so I didn’t forget about it, put it in a folder, but then kind of forget about it. I didn’t really know what I did and didn’t have. I’ve looked for something months later only to realize I already had that record saved. I was collecting but not appreciating the collection.
So, what’s involved in setting up a research plan? You need a starting point which is a basic outline of the person you want to research with date and place of birth, marriage, death, and burial, places of residence, name of parents, spouse, children. What do you already know what separates them from others?
The next step is to have an objective/goal/question. The objective should focus on identifying an individual, proving a relationship or discovering actions (such as military service). Make it specific but allow some flexibility based on what you find. In other words, your objective could be to find a birth record for Mary Hamilton, born in Montreal, Canada, 1920. But be willing to look a few years before and after that date and other areas in Canada if you don’t find her.
Before you start clicking, think about the location and what records might be available for the area and time period. What’s online? Are there only indexes available or record images? What is locally held? Family Search WIKI has country and state guides that are really helpful. You can usually find out what records are available and where, plus lots of other information.
Make a list of the websites, archives, etc. you want to search. And now you can start clicking. You can ignore other records at this point; just focus on birth records. If something jumps out at you make a note or take a screenshot so you can go back but try to ignore it for now. You have a question that needs an answer.
The last step is to summarize what you’ve found, making note of any new questions or conclusions reached. Move on with the next question. Next month’s article will focus on using a Research Log to keep track of what, when and where you’ve searched.
Lynda Roddy Ozzauto President, NWSGS
The following are some websites that might be helpful:
https://www.legacytree.com/blog/developing-genealogy-research-plan https://www.amyjohnsoncrow.com (Amy has a podcast called “Generations Café” and a book titled “ 31 Days to Better Genealogy”)
https://lisalisson.com/how-to-create-your-genealogy-research-plan/ (Lisa has a blog called “Are You My Cousin?” with a video about research plans and a downloadable template)
https://familylocket.com/?s=research+plan (website of Diana Elder and Nicole Dyer, they have podcasts, forms and a book available titled “Research Like a Pro”)