Keeping Track and On Track

by Ruby Coleman

It is easy to loose your way in genealogical research. Beginning researchers have it easier as they usually have a handful of names, dates and locations to sort out. Soon they are surrounded with papers, documents, hundreds of names, dates and locations and a swirling head full of questions. Those questions usually pertain to when and where they researched and where they put something.

Using the computer to store information makes life easier, but once again it can be difficult to remember things. Some genealogical programs allow you to create logs to store ideas and results. These are very helpful as they can be linked directly with your genealogical data. If that doesn't work for you, try creating your own plans and logs using the word processor on your computer. These can be printed off as needed and used on research trips or while examining the results of your research.

There are two basic questions that you should ask when doing genealogical research.

  1. What has somebody done?
  2. What can I do?

The results of another's research may be in book form (family genealogy) or in a periodical. It may be on a web page or mega database on Internet. Many people are using Internet as a place to store and exchange their genealogy. Always remember to closely examine their information, search for documentation and then evaluate it.

Pick a problem! Put on your blinders and do not complicate things by picking many problems. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What do I already know about the person(s) involved in the problem?
  2. What do I need to know to solve the problem?
  3. Is there missing information or conflicting information?
  4. What type of records will solve the problem? Where are they located?

Keep track of the problem, plus how you answer each of the questions. Isolate the problem and concentrate on how you will obtain results. This means you will be using a Research Plan.

The Research Plan will include research you plan to do on Internet, in courthouses, libraries, visits with relatives and a myriad of other places. To keep on track, write it out. It might look something like this:

Locate Great Grandmother Nancy Jane's date of death (probably in Illinois)

  1. Check death records on Illinois Statewide Death Index on Internet
  2. Write to Clinton County Courthouse, 850 Fairfax County Courthouse, Carlyle, IL 62231, County Clerk has death records from 1877

Don't file the Research Plan away until you perform the research. Keep track of when (date) you checked site on Internet and the results. Always return later to see if new information has been added or the site has changed. You may wish to keep separate Research Plans, such as one for Internet and another for research trips or for sending letters to institutions.

Evaluating your needs in preparation of the Research Plan is essential to good research. You must have a knowledge of the time period, knowledge of the type of records that will be instrumental in the research process and knowledge of where the records are kept. For example, to locate birth dates or a location of birth you would be interested in locating vital records, family sources such as Bibles, cemetery records, census, church records, newspaper articles, funeral home records, military pension records.

Developing a plan is almost as much fun as locating the information. It will save you valuable time and keep you on track. Of course, that track is the best track to locating missing ancestors.

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