Saturday, July 28, 2012
When to Start a Research Plan
I have a certain process for starting a genealogy project. I wonder if your steps look anything like mine.
When I start a new research project typically the first thing I do is a quick fact finding mission. First, if the time period allows, I dive into the US Federal Census records. That, at the very least, will give me minimal information between 1790 and 1940.
My goal with a quick fact finding tour is not actually to do genealogical research. Research, to me, is intentionally going forward to find facts that related to my research target, recording the source and then analyzing what I have found and seeing how it impacts what I already know. The fact finding tour, on the other hand, is like browsing a book. I just want to get a sense of what is ahead of me.
Diving into the census records gives me a idea of how many records will be available for a particular person or family. I'll discover if they came from a large family or a small one. And I'll be able to tell if they moved around a lot or how recently they came over from the old country based on birth locations. It will also give me a sense of how many other people there are of that time frame with the same name in the same general location. Combined together these clues give me a sense of what direction I should focus my efforts. If the information gathered is minimal and the effort looks particularly challenging then I might do a broad wide-open search on Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org.
Next I process the clues that I have found. I can do this anywhere - on the beach, in the shower, in the car. This is the seed of my research plan. I think about what I have learned and what information is missing. If I have noticed large gaps I start to process in my mind alternate record sources that could provide me with the same information. If I can't think of any then I will make a mental note to use some sort of research guidance such Ancestry's Red Book, the FamilySearch Wiki or the online card catalog of a repository local to the project.
When I am done with the mental process, the "thinking it through", is when I sit down and write a research plan. I create a master research plan which is a "brain dump" of all the specific tasks I think will lead me to the answers that I need. I note the task, the source or sources of information and where I can find the information. Also, at this time I access the various forms of research guidance to get the specifics of where I can find the information I need if I don't know it already. It all goes into my research plan.
Once I have finished my research plan, phase one anyway (it may change as I find new information) then I am ready to begin my research.
Does your process look anything like this? If not, how to do you go about starting a research project and when do you create your research plan? My way isn't necessarily right. It's just what works for me.
Posted by Marian Pierre-Louis at 10:59 AM