So far this year, I’ve discussed the basics of sound genealogical research using the Genealogical Proof Standard. Now you’re ready to research! Do you have a research plan? When you sit down at your computer do you just open up a database (Ancestry, FamilySearch, FindMyPast, American Ancestors, etc.) and type in a name? If so, you’re probably just surfing rather than researching. Research starts with a question. Sometimes you might start with a general question…where was my ancestor from in Ireland…and realize that it is too general. What do you know about your ancestor that will help you identify him or her in Ireland’s records. Do you have at least the name of the county? Do you know the names of his parents (especially his mother’s maiden name) or the names of any of his siblings? Those kinds of corroborating details are what will allow you to identify your Michael Daly from the many that appear in the records. So maybe your research question is who was the mother of Michael Daly?
Once I have a question in mind, I write it down at the top of my research plan. Next, I write down everything I know about the individual that might help me define the problem. Do I have a hypothesis…write that down, too. Now list the types of records that might answer the research question. Keep in mind the following:
• Who are you looking for?
• What type of event?
• When did they live?
• Where did they live?
• What else do you know about them?
Next list the records that might answer your question. Keep in mind, these records might not be online. Here’s an example of a research calendar to find the death date of Robert Shaw.
To this point, I have not done any research. Once the list of tasks is done, I begin my research. Instead of typing in “Robert Shaw” on Home Page on Ancestry, I go to the Card Catalog and type in Pennsylvania to see what databases are available (on FamilySearch, click on the map and select Pennsylvania). Rather than searching all of the databases and getting thousands of hits, I select the specific database that will answer my research question. Make sure you read the description of the database to make sure it covers the time and place for your ancestor. And remember, do an exhaustive search…don’t stop with the first record. There may be additional information in other records or (oh no!) conflicting information.
As you work through your research plan, note the results of your searches and add to your plan additional items for which you may need a follow up. If you analyze each document or result, it will likely lead you to your next research question. This is an iterative process that can help you break down those brick walls.
If you’re interested, you can get a copy of my Research Plan here. It is available as both a .pdf and a .docx
I’m at my ‘’happy place,” the Family History Library in SLC! I’ve got a couple of days to research before attending RootsTech. I’ll be lecturing on “Jumping the Pond” at 3 pm on Friday. I’ll also be in the Exhibits area doing mini lectures for GenealogydotCoach on Thursday at 1:30 and Friday at 11:30, and at Genealogy Gems at 5:00 on Friday. Stop by and say hi if you’re attending.