Last week, my tip was about keeping a research log. The research log is the document that will allow you to retrace your steps to find the document should you need to get it again. It is also important because it helps save time. Research logs save you from looking for the same record in the same place twice.
This week my tip is about creating a research plan. If the research log is the directions, the research plan tells you the destination. A research plan explains the purpose of your search.
Research plans can be broad or simple. It is a matter of preference. The important detail is that the research plan helps you focus your research so you accomplish your goals.
Most of my research plans have the same basic concept. I start out with an individual. The name of my research subject is my starting point. I want to know anything and everything I can find out about my subject. Each of the many things I search for become objectives toward reaching that goal. Standard objectives for any research subject are vitals such as birth, marriage, and death. I also attempt to locate the person at least every decade on census records possible.
As an example, let us say that I have a project that requires me to look up information about a man who lived Bay City, Michigan. This is just a random name I picked. We’ll say this person was my imaginary client’s grandfather. His name was Stanley Burton.
My research plan goal is learning about Stanley Burton. The events of his life then become objectives. The first aim on my list would be the first search on my research log. I used a broad search because I used a fictitious name. I wanted to get results. Here I used a general search of the name Stanley Burton and the city and state. The first fact I need to check off on my list is a record of birth. My imaginary client has a guess on his grandfather’s age but few concrete details.
The first result is a man named Stanley Burton born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1901. It is his birth record. If I had a family tree for my client, I could confirm or discard this record as a match based on the listed parents. Without further facts, I could sit this record aside and look further for information on this person later to determine if it’s the right or wrong person.
There are a few results that come back in Ancestry.com that I might need to investigate if I lacked further information. For simplicity’s sake, I will say I know my research subject’s father was born in England. That gives me a strong clue that the birth record I found for Stanley Burton born in Detroit in 1901 is the target of my search. From that point, I would probably research this subject for further vitals. It might pan out to be the wrong individual after more digging. Or I could discover definite proof it is the correct person.
With the case of Stanley Burton born in 1901, my next step would be to locate the 1910 census. That would be aim two on the list. I’d hope to find Stanley, age 9, living with his parents listed on his birth record. I’d move on to the 1920 census, 1930 census, and so forth. Because of Stanley’s age, I would probably also check for military records from both the world wars.
Each record I searched for would become a new entry on my research log, and every detail I discovered would fill in a blank on my research plan. It might even add new objectives as I discover more information about his life. Perhaps Stanley served in the military during World War II.
With the use of a research plan and a research log, staying focused and organized becomes a much easier task.
**Disclaimer: I picked the name Stanley Burton out of a hat and just got lucky that he existed. I have done no research on this individual beyond a quick name search for a random name. **