Three Steps in Making a Research Plan

As we go back in time in genealogy research, we find fewer records.It makes doing genealogy in Pennsylvania difficult. To make sure I find and examine all the genealogy records available, I write up a research plan.

Three Steps in Making a Research Plan
Photo by Hal Gatewood / Unsplash

As we go back in time in genealogy research, we find fewer records.

And it's not just quantity. We also discover more records are on paper rather than digital and online. It makes doing genealogy in Pennsylvania difficult.

To make sure I find and examine all the genealogy records available, I write up a research plan.

My research plan consists of three steps:

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 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?

My question from Podcast Episode 45 is “Who are the parents of William I. Curry born in 1861, Clearfield County and died in 1950, Blair County?

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: 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 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.

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
  • Census
  • 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

Making a genealogy research plan can be complicated, especially when you don't know the local repositories. If you need help, leave a comment and I'll make recommendations.

© 2019–2022 PA Ancestors L.L.C. and Denys Allen. All Rights Reserved.