Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Think - Plan - Execute

Partial image of 1800 US Federal Census from
Charleston, Montgomery Co., NY
showing Wm Edwards on the bottom
Image Source:

This past weekend I was reading some genealogical books and journals. I like to read books on methodology as well as peer reviewed journals in order to get new ideas on how to solve my old problems. Sometimes it's not even the specific topic but just the jogging of my mind that gives me ideas.

As I was reading, I suddenly thought about how I could expand my New York brick wall research in a productive way. At the start of 2012, I published my genealogy goals on my blog. One of them was to tackle my brick wall ancestor, William Edwards, of New York.

Previously all my research had focused on my ancestor and his descendants. During my reading this weekend I realized it would be worth the effort to broaden my reach and focus on FANs - friends, associates and neighbors. In other words I could do a little cluster genealogy research.

Thinking it through

My process when starting research is the same each time. I like routine and strive to find efficient and successful tactics. I tackle research with a Think - Plan - Execute approach. First, I get an idea about how I can tackle my problem and then I think it through.

In this particular case, I realized that the main piece of information I have on William is the 1800 US Federal Census which shows his arrival in Charleston, Montgomery County, New York. This is the area where the family would settle. My ancestor disappeared after 1808. The more I considered my problem, the more I realized that I should be taking a closer look at the neighbors that appear on the census. Even though my ancestor disappears in 1808, perhaps these gentlemen stayed on the land for many years and left records behind.

I got an idea that I would research five neighbors before and five neighbors after William Edwards as they appear on the 1800 census. Perhaps if I looked at the land records of these men I could find a reference to my ancestor's land even if William was no longer living. It seemed like a good strategy to potentially open up some new leads. Then I decided I should probably check census records for these men as well. Maybe I could determine how long they were in the area.

Of course, if I really wanted to expand the research I could add in all the early allied surnames. The people who had married into the family and developed long lasting associations.

Keep in mind that this is just one research goal. It doesn't go into all the past research I've done nor the other ideas I hope to do in the future.

One of the important parts of "thinking it through" is determining whether the plan is logical. Does it make sense? Will it lead to potentially to new information? Will that information be helpful in furthering the research? If you believe that it will then continue. If you're not sure, discuss it with another genealogist and get their feedback. In this case I think the exercise will be helpful to me so I will proceed.

This wraps up my process of thinking it through. It may not be complete (or successful) but it's a concrete idea that I can develop into a plan and then execute.

The next stage for me is to pull out my books and learn what records are available and where. I will arm myself with this information and create a research plan. After my research plan is complete I can move on to determining when I can execute my plan.

In my next post, I will take you on the journey as I develop the research plan.


  1. It's trying to read that old handwriting that boggles my mind! When I find a Census with clear handwriting, I bless the teachers!! I'll be watching to hear about your plan - it's very similar to what I try to do with challenges. If there's no logical plan, one is simply flailing around in history!

  2. Sounds like a great plan, Marian! Can't wait to see your research plan. You and I are both working on attacking one of our brick walls now, and documenting the progress from start to finish on the blogs. Hopefully we can both be successful. Fingers crossed!