Genealogy: Detailed, exhaustive research will yield success in genealogy pursuits

10-15-2014 7-54-06 PMBy Barry J. Ewell

Genealogy is a skill requiring preparation and planning, detailed and exhaustive research, and careful correlation, analysis and reporting.

Preparation and planning
Develop a research plan based on analyzing and defining the research problem you seek to resolve. Preparation and planning requires that you place the problem in its legal and social context, identify related and associated individuals, and identify relevant resources, tools and methods, as well as the pros and cons in the use of those resources.

Use all relevant finding aids and sources, recognizing that differences exist in each source. To be thorough, examine each record or record set for flaws, quirks and strengths. As you identify information, create a complete citation, noting the source of the information and when you accessed it. Look for clues, placing all new information into geographic and legal context. You will extract as much relevant information from that source as you can, looking for key details that might require an immediate revision of your research plan and marking anything that needs subsequent study. You’ll conduct follow-up research on all family and associates whose records might shed light on the person of interest.

Careful correlation, analysis and reporting
Correlate all pieces of information that you find — no matter how small — looking for connections and patterns. Summarize your findings and analyze what you’ve learned. Does your analysis warrant a conclusion, or does the information lead you to expand your original plan? Prepare a conclusion or proof statement for ongoing research and reference.

Stay focused on the research you start
Once you have a clear picture of the specific individual, couple or family group, it’s time to define your objective. Do you want to prove a statement? Do you have a question to answer? Do you have a theory or hypothesis you want to test?

It’s a good idea to create a brief timeline of events for your ancestor to help you determine what questions you still need to answer and what information you hope to find, such as date of birth.

At this point, you are able to build your research plan. This plan identifies what you want to search, where you will search and what resources you will search.

As you follow the plan you’ve created, keep a research log, which will keep you focused on your goals and help you document where you’ve been and where you want to go.

Remember the power of one
It’s very easy to start researching one line of thought, become interested in another, and change direction, all in a matter of a few minutes. Soon you’re surrounded with papers, documents, names, dates and locations and are left with a head full of swirling questions.

You will find your research more productive if you clearly identify your research goals, develop a research plan and focus on their completion. The following are a few ideas for keeping your research on track and manageable.

Focus on specific sections of your genealogy at a time. This can include the following:

  • A specific family line or surname
  • A specific time and place
  • A specific family unit
  • A specific question to solve

Make an appointment with yourself
If you have a hard time finding time or are spending too much time doing research, schedule time with yourself. Make your appointments start and end on time. There is something about a deadline that helps keep you on track.

Once you have focused on a specific area to research, create a log to help you develop a big picture of what you have and where you want to go. Keep the log up-to-date — it will save you time and energy. Note when and where you viewed the information. The log can include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Who you have talked to and information provided
  • Information you have found and citations
  • The questions you still seek answers to
  • Thoughts of where to research
  • The answers you have found
  • Ideas and assumptions you are making and why

Keep a to-do list — a plan as to what research you seek to per¬form. Organize the plan so the most important research gets done first. Often you find that when you focus on top priority research, many other items on your list are completed also.

Group your to-do items by the source you will use to conduct research.

Create a ‘future research’ file
As you are conducting your focused research, you will always come up with ideas for research you want to conduct that is outside the focus of your current line of inquiry. Record it — whether it’s an idea, a paragraph, a printed document, a photocopy or whatever else — put it in the file, and forget about it until you are done with the task at hand. You can then go through the file at a later date, organize your notes, and start the next task. Don’t be surprised if you begin doubling your accomplishments.

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