Genealogy research can seem overwhelming, but with a solid plan in place, you can make significant progress towards uncovering your ancestors.
In this article, I will discuss how to make a genealogy research plan in just three simple steps. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced genealogist, these steps will help you stay organized and focused as you delve into the past. From setting goals to identifying sources and creating a research log, I'll cover all the essential elements of a successful genealogy research plan.
Step 1: The Genealogy 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 ask 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 Possible Answers to the Question
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 on websites.
If there is an existing family tree online or at a genealogical society that answers my research question, I write it down. I want to make sure to prove or disprove these family trees with actual evidence. (It's often the case that published family trees have few to zero records attached.)
Step 3: List of Records to Search
The records I want to research depends on my research question. I must take in account both the time period and place I am searching to know what records are available.
In the specific case of William I. Curry, I’ll be focusing on Clearfield and Blair Counties and records that name a parent and child relationship between 1860 and 1950. This is the list of government records that name the parent of a child, or the children of a parent:
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates
- Marriage licenses
- Census records
- Probate records
- Application for a Social Security Number (form SS-5)
These government-made records below sometimes identify parent-child relationships, but not always:
- Land deeds
- Court cases – civil or criminal
- Military pensions
- Institutional records
In addition, many non-government or private records can help:
- Previously published genealogies
- County biographies
- Newspaper articles
- Religious records
- Cemetery and burial records
This is a long list of records to research! My Notion Template Genealogy Research Plan & Log is what I use to both plan my genealogy research and log the results. You can also keep your list of records to search in a spreadsheet or even a piece of paper. The important part of this step is to have a list and check it off as you go.
If you will be researching on-site at an archive, be sure to prepare yourself with my article on What to Bring for Genealogy Research in an Archive. And to research remotely, check out my article Successful Genealogy Research Requests by Mail.
It All Comes Back to the Genealogy Research Question
Making a genealogy research plan is essential to stay focused and ensure all records are researched. It's as simple as answering Who, Where, When, and What about the ancestor, then following a list of records to research. Following the three steps in this article is what I do every time I research family history.
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