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From the Green Valley News, Sunday July 5 2009, page C2

Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

Planning for Research Success

Most of us wouldn’t think of going on a vacation without doing some advance planning, yet we often approach our research with little or no planning. Some advance planning can improve our research results dramatically.

The goal of research is normally to solve a specific problem pertaining to one or more ancestors. A research plan includes an analysis of information already known, an awareness of what’s missing, and the formation of specific research goals and methods to locate information needed.

After deciding on a focus person or family, review previous research to determine known life events and areas in which the subject(s) lived. A good method is to create a timeline to display a chronological list of known events and make it easy to recognize needed information. A written narrative or descriptive charts are also helpful.

An analysis of previous research will help reveal any inconsistencies or conflicts in accumulated data. If there are inconsistencies they should be explained or resolved by further research. When the subject has a common name it’s easy to collect records that actually apply to another person with a similar name. No one wants to waste a lot of time and money researching someone else’s ancestor.

Analysis also establishes the reliability of accumulated sources. Are they original or derivative sources? Was information provided by an eye witness to the event or someone who heard of it secondhand? Are facts based on family tradition or actual records? Does the evidence answer a question or is it necessary to find additional evidence?

Our experience and skills improve over time. Perhaps prior research was incomplete; records may have been overlooked or misinterpreted. A literature survey may reveal new resources available today. Study reference books, area maps, and county or state histories for clues to investigate further. Learn how to read early handwriting, how to plat land, or the intricacies of the probate process. Perhaps researching a subject’s siblings or cousins, neighbors or business associates may be necessary to further knowledge of him or her.

The logistics of our plan requires an understanding of the data we seek, the sources likely to produce it, and the location where it can be found. Then we are ready to form a hypothesis, i.e., because this is so, this must be so. Now write the research plan, either as a paragraph, a list, or a combination of the two. Much of analysis is a mental process, but writing forces us to organize our search. In written format errors or omissions are more obvious, and a new or different approach to a solution may become apparent.

As research proceeds, update the research plan. Formulate the next steps needed. Decide what can be accomplished online, whether information can be found on microfilm at the Family History Center or via a trip to Salt Lake City, or whether it can only be found in a trip to the area where your family lived. As research goals are met, pick a new subject and make a new research plan. Our family research will never be finished, but with better organization, success will improve and more family stories may be completed.

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