Tag Archives: research plan

Beginning Concepts: The Research Plan

In genealogy, there are two things you really ought to keep track of to help your research be FOCUSED and effective. Several weeks ago I wrote about how when we all begin, we are collectors of family history information, but eventually, we have to get focused to solve any of the “brick walls” we encounter. Two things that help you be focused are utilizing a research PLAN and a research LOG. In my world, these are the same document. I lovingly call them my Research PLOG (patent pending).

Different researchers have different techniques. Look around at what others have to say on the topic if my system doesn’t work for you or make sense for how you work. The main message here is to do it!

I’ve written about research plans twice before:

Both of those previous posts come from the angle of preparing for a research trip. However, you don’t have to be going on a trip to create a plan. It will make your time at a repository more efficient and effective if you have a pre-planned list of what you want to look at when you arrive. But we have all been stuck at home for a year, and it looks like we will be for a bit longer. Have you been planning your research before you do it at online “repositories”? I know I have not been doing it enough. I have an idea of what I want to find, I go look for it, I don’t find it, I move on to the next thing… but months from now, I am not going to remember that I did that search and will do it again. And if I don’t utilized my PLOG, I’ll do it again in another several months.

A research plan/log allows you to plan your research “attack” and record your findings so that you can review what you’ve done on a given project and NOT DO IT AGAIN! (I am sure I am not the only genealogist in the world who spent precious research dollars ordering the same death certificate twice…or three times?) A research PLOG, if used correctly, can save you time and money. I wish I had learned about research plans and logs earlier in my genealogical journey!

Of course, there are databases that are constantly growing, that you should go back and search again at a later time. Be sure to note in your log what years those databases covered at the time you looked at them (we will get into more on this later). Also, a caveat to using a PLOG correctly…you have to review it before you start in on another research session. This is where I find myself failing many times. I just don’t take a moment to read my log for a given project. So, it’s like I never logged anything if I don’t go back and review it!

Now that I’ve convinced you that you need to start utilizing a log, next I will get into the nitty-gritty of what my research PLOG system looks like.

Beginning Principles: Important Repositories

Undoubtedly, the most important repository for you is the one that holds the records you need. I gave some tips on finding records in previous blog posts such as “Accessing Archives from a Distance.” This post is simply meant to highlight some of the important onsite repositories for beginners. “But we are in the middle of a pandemic,” you say. And I say now is the perfect time to get your game plan ready. We can visit all of these repositories virtually and create a research plan, which I will discuss in more detail in a future post in this series, but you can read a previous post on the topic here.

Top repositories for beginning genealogists:

  • Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah – This is the largest collection of genealogical materials in the world. Much is being digitized and can be found on their website. Some is “locked” due to contractual obligations and requires you to be in the library or at a local Family History Center to access. They have a huge collection of books on site. This is an important repository simply because of the geographical reach one can get from working on site. You can work on several projects at once while at the FHL.
  • Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana – This library is possibly the second largest collection of genealogical materials in the U.S. As the creator of PERSI (the PERiodical Source Index), they hold over 8,000 titles of genealogical society journals, on site, in addition to many other genealogical books and materials from all over the world.
  • Your State historical society or genealogical society library – Find out where your state’s historical and/or genealogical society is and whether they have a repository. Their collection will most likely be tailored to the state you are working in.
  • Any large genealogical collection in a city near you – Many cities have large libraries, and many of those libraries have a genealogy or local history collection that focuses on that city and region.
  • Local public library with a genealogy/local history collection in the area of your research – When you are working in smaller, rural areas, finding a small public library will often be the treasure trove you need. Small public libraries have the granular focus of collecting and saving information for that area.

Get online and find the catalog on the website for each of these locations. Pick a research project and start searching the collection for sources that might be useful for your goals. Then create a research plan. Someday the pandemic will lift and we will be able to travel again. I hope you come away with a ginormous amount of research to do onsite because you will have filled your days with research planning.

Using Newspapers: Leads to Other Records

When you are researching in newspapers, the articles you find should lead you to other records. Well, unless the article is one of those from the gossip column that reported your ancestor went to the big city to go shopping last week. We are probably not going to find shopping receipts in our ancestors’ papers, but you never know! Articles, and obituaries in particular, can lead us to look for records such as: census, probate, land and tax, church, school, naturalization, ships’ lists, and … that list is nearly infinite. Here’s an example of what I mean.

Adam Brand obituary, Wood County Sentinel, Bowling Green, Ohio, 14 Nov 1889, p. 3

This obituary for Adam Brand states that he was “born in Hesse, Germany, and followed his sons to this country 21 years ago…” Since the paper was published in 1889 that means he arrived in the U.S. in about 1868. There are some other clues:

Frederick J. Brand biography, J. H. Beers, Commemorative, Historical and Biographical Record of Wood County, Ohio, (Chicago, Illinois: J.H. Beers and Co, 1897, p. 862.

In the biography of Adam’s son Frederick, Adam was “a shoemaker by occupation” was married to Catherine Hof, and his parents (Adam) came to this country in 1868.

These clues from the newspaper (and a corroborating biographical sketch) led me to ships’ passenger lists.

“New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 19 June 2012), manifest, S. S. America, 1 June 1868, [no page numbers on manifest], steerage passenger 228, for Adam Brand, age 63.

I know you can’t read that… here’s a zoom-in on the folks in question:

Adam Brand, 63, m, shoemaker, Ersrode
Anna Brand, 60, f, Ersrode
Catherine Brand, 14, f, Ersrode

Adam’s wife’s full name is Anna Catherine (as is his daughter’s). The clincher here is that his occupation is that of a shoemaker, corroborating the information I have from previous research. And they arrived in 1868, just as two other documents also reported.

So, go back through the newspaper articles you’ve found. What other records could they be leading you to? Make a list. Turn that list into a research plan. And then get started!

Accessing Archives from a Distance

I’ve tantalized you with what you might find in an archive in previous posts here and here. And I’ve given you some tips on how to find a collection that might apply to your personal research through the use of ArchiveGrid. Now, what happens if you find a collection in a repository that is far, far away?

You have three options:

  1. Create a research plan or list, saving all of the information you need to access that collection someday when you are nearby. I do this quite a bit for areas I think I might be visiting in the next 1-3 years and if it is on a personal project that is not time-sensitive. Save the URL to the collection, repository name, address, hours, and so on. I use Evernote for such a task. I have notebooks for various locations or repositories titled “Family History Library,” “Ohio Research Trip,” or “Washington DC.” And I just drop notes in there to access later. A word processing document, spreadsheet, or even a spiral notebook would work as well.
  2. Hire an on-site researcher. Many repositories have lists of proxy researchers because they do not have the staff or resources to do research for individuals. If a repository does not have such a list, check the directories for the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), or International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGEN). These directories allow you to search by location or by specialty. You might also consult with the state or county genealogical society for the area of interest as well. You might also find a cousin, hobbyist genealogist, poor college student, or some other person who would be willing to go to the repository for you.
  3. Ignore it. Now, I don’t recommend this one, especially if you are interested in not only the coolest possible finds out there, but also in conducting “reasonably exhaustive research.” I would at the very least put items in a list and get to them eventually.

I hope this series has convinced you to visit archives and manuscript collections. And if you weren’t sure about how to even go about it, I hope I gave you some helpful tips to quell your anxieties. Where else would you find a petticoat worn by Lizzie Johnson from 1865-1870? (The answer, of course: at the Southwestern University Special Collection in Georgetown, Texas.)

BCG Putting Skills to Work 2018

I’ve been in Grand Rapids, Michigan since Tuesday when I attended the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) Education Fund’s “Putting Skills to Work” class. What an excellent day! The time was split between two classes.

Connie Lenzen’s class “Planning and Executing Reasonably Exhaustive Research: Or How to Ensure a Successful Hunt” discussed research questions and plans. I have to say that I was quickly reminded of what I should be doing everyday. I get so excited for the research that I forget to focus, slow down, and set forth a path for my search.

Tom Jones made us think about “Citing All Kinds of Online Sources.” This class focused only on sources you find online and really made us look at all of the layers that an online source might have. The original source, the microfilmed version, the scan of the microfilm, an original digitization in color, previously published or not, and so on. We worked through many example citations as a class and discussed each of the parts.

The level of interactive instruction that one gets at a BCG “Putting Skills to Work” class is incredible. If you are interested in certification, are already on the clock, or are already certified, it doesn’t matter. These classes are wonderful examples of hands-on, lecture with discussion with exercises, types of classes many of us enjoy and will benefit for our own continuing education.

The BCG Education Fund’s “Putting Skills to Work” occurs on the Tuesday before the National Genealogical Society Conference every year, so you will want to adjust your schedule accordingly. Next year’s schedule was announced at this years’ class, and will take place in St. Charles, Missouri on Tuesday May 7, 2019:

  • “Meeting Standards with Twenty-First Century Research Reports” with Melissa Johnson, CG
  • “Evidence Analysis: Theory, Practice, and the Real World” with Nancy A. Peters, CG, CGL

For more information on the BCG Education Fund, visit bcgedfund.org.

Genealogical Preparedness – Part 4 – The Research Trip

Films in a Family History Library drawer
Films in a Family History Library drawer, photo by author, October 2015

I mentioned previously that I had the opportunity to attend the British Institute in Salt Lake City. Following that week, I stayed another week to spend coveted research time at the library. I was so busy leading up to that trip that I didn’t have time to prepare. I spent a lot of time while there doing things I could have done at home. That week in the library reminded me of all of the things I should have done but didn’t. I have written before on planning for a research trip beginning with this post. I did not do most of the things I mentioned in those posts. This trip was a reminder that I still need to practice what I preach.

I did not REALLY have a research plan in place before I left. That’s not to say I didn’t have some shred of an idea of what I wanted to accomplish that week or that I didn’t know at least some microfilms or books I wanted to look at before I got there. I have what I willingly call a “half-assed research plan” system using Evernote. When I find something I want to look at next time I’m at the library I do one of two things. I either make a completely new note in my “FHL Research Trip” notebook with a screen shot or a link. If I am really on top of things I will even make a note about what exactly I wanted to find in that book, which surnames or individual, or even topic. Usually not though. Or I may add it to my ever helpful checklist notes that may fall in my surname notebooks under a useful note title like “Dimick – To Do” or I have a master checklist in the aforementioned “FHL Research Trip” notebook that is usually less helpful than the notes in that it is usually a film number, usually the title of the film and MAYBE what I’m looking for… again, usually not. Why do I always believe I will remember what I wanted out of that film or book when I get to it?

So, I spent precious library hours using the online catalog that I could have used from home and created a REAL research plan before I left the comfort of my slippers. (I’ve been known to wear slippers at the FHL on particularly snowy and cold days.) I spent time in my hotel room on terribly slow internet doing online research filling in gaps needed to even decide which films or books I wanted to look at. I even did the whole go-to-the-section-in-the-stacks-and-pull-out-all-of-the-relevant-books system.

I’ve regrouped since that trip and set up better templates in Evernote for future research trips. Cyndi Ingle of Cyndi’s List has graciously posted some great Evernote templates on her website for organizing research and creating research plans. I’ve downloaded and customized some to meet my own needs and preferences. I’m working to go through my old “half-assed research plan” system of notes to add them to the new template, trying to figure out what some of those notes are even about.

While I won’t say that trip was not successful, I cannot help but wonder how much more I would have gotten done if I had somehow been more prepared. We’ve all probably been there. Too busy to get a research plan ready. It doesn’t make us bad genealogists, but reminds us about why we should be planning in the first place and perhaps renews our energy for doing that prep work.