As we go back in time in genealogy research, records are fewer and more are on paper rather than online. To make sure I find and examine all the possible genealogy records, I write up a research plan.
My research plan is consists of three steps:
Step 1: The Research Question
The first item I write in my research plan is a research question. What am I working to accomplish in my research? I am myself these four questions to craft my research question:
- Who am I researching?
- When did he or she live?
- Where did he or she live?
- What do I want to know about him or her?
This question identifies which William Curry in Pennsylvania is my focus because I named the time and place he lived. When I contact archives or courthouses for documents, I can copy and paste this question in my emails. They likely have multiple William Curry’s in their records too!
Step 2: Write the Possible Answers
It sounds odd to write the answer to a research question before doing the research, doesn’t it? Writing down my best guess or guesses helps me focus my research. While researching I have names and places for focus, rather than doing blanket sweeps of all surnames.
I may prove myself right. And if I do with the first 2-3 records I find, I make sure to try to prove myself wrong. I want to be sure my evidence all works together for one answer to my research question.
Step 3: List Records to Search
The records I want depend on my research question and the time period and place I am searching. In the specific case of William I. Curry, I’ll be focusing on Clearfield and Centre counties and records that show a parent/child relationship.
What records show a parent/child relationship? Here’s my go-to list of government records:
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates
- Marriage licenses
- Probate records – will or intestate filing
- Land deeds
- Application for a Social Security Number (form SS-5)
- Military pension records
In addition, many non-government or private records can help:
- Previously published genealogies
- County biographies
- Newspaper articles
- Religious records
- Cemetery and burial records
- Institutional records
- Court cases – civil or criminal
Which ones go on a research plan depend on the particular situation. I cover this in even more detail in Podcast Episode 45: Making a Research Plan.
For Podcast Inner Circle Members, see my complete research plan for William I. Curry, get a blank Research Plan Template, and view a how-to video on completing the Research Plan Template.