Road Blocks and Detours

by Ruby Coleman

Have you ever traveled somewhere only to realize you will not arrive at your destination as scheduled? Perhaps there are detours along the way or road blocks and obstacles that sidetrack your attention or your plan. This also happens when doing genealogical research.

Before actually making a trip, we need to plan it. The same applies to genealogical research. We have to know where we are going and what we need to do and see along the way. Here are some ideas for preparing a research plan.

  1. Identify and isolate a genealogical problem. Keep it uncomplicated.

  2. Determine what information you already have, the type of information and the type of evidence. How does it apply to the identified genealogical problem?

  3. Determine what additional information is needed to solve the problem.

  4. Determine where that additional information will be found. What route will you take to locate the information?

Keeping these ideas in mind, draw up a research plan. You may have this in your mind, but it is best to write/type it out. Review the plan and decide if it is feasible. Can you reach your destination? In order to solve problems, analyze your research plan. Will you be able to stick to the plan?

  1. What do you already know about the person(s) involved in the problem?

  2. What do you need to know to solve the problem?

  3. Can you spot missing or conflicting information?

  4. What type of records may solve the problem and where are they located?

Before you begin the genealogical research journey there are obstacles to overcome. Perhaps you do not recognize a genealogical problem. Ask yourself if the names and dates make sense. Are there holes in your research? Do you actually have a problem or are you creating the problem?

Your destination will be the location. This is normally a repository where the source is located. It can be a building ... anything from a house to a library to a courthouse. Research can involve a trip to that location, or it may involve finding the source on microfilm or in a book. Research can also involve writing to the location, hiring a researcher or relying on a volunteer to assist in your research plan. Tips, ideas and clues can also be found on Internet. Before the journey begins, decide how you will perform the research.

Regardless of the route you take, once that source has been located decide if it is original or derivative. Sources are the documents, books, manuscripts that you will be using to solve the genealogical problem. Using only one type of source, such as derivative, can cause roadblocks. Take the time to determine if an original source is available.

Information found in the source will be primary or secondary. Evidence is the information contained in the source and considered relevant to the genealogical problem. The evidence is either direct or indirect depending on how it applies to the genealogical problem. This is most likely where you will encounter roadblocks and obstacles. Slow down ... road under construction! Learn to identify the information you are using and apply it to the problem. Is there a better route that will eventually lead to the best source containing the best evidence?

Be prepared to detour and take another route. A few years ago while traveling from Iowa to Nebraska, I was forced to detour. It was one of the best detours I ever took ... directly to a courthouse where I located primary records that contained direct evidence. DonŐt fight the detours in research, some may actually be beneficial. Stay focused and donŐt take your eyes off the road. Go prepared to encounter some obstacles along the way ... they are all a good learning experience.

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