Have you ever been sucked into the whirlpool of internet record searches and an hour or two surfaced wondering where you’ve been and what you’ve accomplished? It is so easy to get distracted by all the goodies that are available online: census records, birth certificates, cemetery records, and so much more. How can you put some order into your research? Try formulating an objective and watch your efforts come into focus.
I recently started my Accreditation Study group with ICAPGen and my latest assignment was to craft an objective for my Four- generation Project. I readily admit that until lately I had no use for research objectives. I kept track of my findings on a research log, but I didn’t unleash the full power of an objective. When I made the decision to Accredit through ICAPGen, I knew I would need to up my game and use better research practices.
An objective is simply a statement of what you want to accomplish. It can direct your research for an hour of web searching or it can keep you focused on a major project. An objective will help you feel proactive with your family history efforts and even when you don’t find a record, you will feel successful.
Writing an objective is the first step in keeping a research log. I wrote about Research Logs as the Key to Organizing your Family History in an earlier post and discussed using a simple objective to focus on what you want to find out. Besides grounding a research log, a research objective can also guide you through a more involved project. Maybe you’re writing a family history or a blog post. You could be working on a Four-generation Project for accreditation or compiling a client report. There are numerous goals we have as family historians and thinking through an objective and writing it down can help us achieve our goals. Here are some tips to help you fine tune your research.
Tip # 1 Craft your objective with the end in mind.
Decide what you really want to accomplish. What is the end result of your research going to be?
Because my Four-generation report had to be at least twenty-five pages, I needed a broad objective. I knew the end result should be a report starting with one individual and linking three subsequent generations together. My ICAPgen Accreditation study group leader gave us the following guidelines for our objectives. They needed to include the following: Complete names, Event dates, Event locations, Personal identifiers, Relationships, Goal. Taking all of these items into account, I came up with this objective to guide my report.
This report will put forth and document research on four generations of the Royston family, beginning with Dora Algie Royston, born 25 January 1882 in Texas. Evidence will link each generational relationship and provide reasonable proof for events. Dora married William Huston Shults 11 December 1898 in Chickasaw Nation Indian Territory. She died 11 January 1925 in Lubbock County, Texas at the age of 42.
This objective reminded me of exactly what I needed to be doing in this report: finding evidence to link generations and proving events. What I didn’t need to do was go into great detail on the historical background, location, or other interesting, but not pertinent facts for this report. When I was tempted to include interesting news clippings, I referred back to my objective and stayed on track. If my objective had been to write a family history for the family of Dora Algie Royston and William Huston Shults, my research would have been much different!
Tip #2 Break up large objectives into smaller pieces
My objective was all well and good, but it was much too broad for specific research. I needed to break it up into smaller, doable objectives. I had been experimenting with Research Ties, a web based research log for several months. Whenever I went to add a new search, I was asked if I wanted to add my search to an objective. This simple question reminded me to create objectives and then to plan searches as opposed to website hopping.
Research Ties gave me four suggestions for each objective plus the option to create my own:
- Conduct a preliminary survey
- Identify a person
- Search a record group
- Find event information
The suggestions really helped me to think through the questions I had about an individual, family, or surname then to craft a useful objective. Here is one of the objectives I created through Research Ties for the third generation in my research report:
Search the court records of Chambers County, Alabama for Thomas Beverly Royston. He arrived in Chambers County about 1845 and his will is dated 1867.
Tip # 3 Record your objective
What’s the use of crafting a useful objective if you can’t refer to it again and again to keep you on track? Put it at the top of your research log or research notebook page. Include it in the opening paragraph of your family history or research report. Type it out and put it on your wall for the book you’re writing. In Research Ties, the objective for the search is listed right at the top of the page.
If you’re creating your own electronic research log, you can do the very same thing. Here is the log I used for the first generation of my report. My objective was to locate and prove the spouse and children of Dora Algie Royston in Texas and Oklahoma. The objective is nice and colorful, right at the top of each page to remind me of my purpose.
I recently spent four hours at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City looking through the microfilm of the court records for Chambers County, Alabama. Because I had an objective, I didn’t get side tracked, at least too much, in reading some of the interesting documents. I did have to prevaricate for a few minutes and check out the interesting probate records for a Native American resident of the county. I didn’t even know such a thing existed!
At the end of the four hours, I had only found two references to my Thomas Beverly Royston, but I had recorded searches for eight different sets of microfilmed records. Recording NIL searches (not in location) gave me as much satisfaction as finding a record, because I knew I had done reasonably exhaustive research. My research objective was to “search the records of Chambers County” not “find the will of Thomas Beverly Royston.” That can be the objective for another day!
The next time you’re tempted to start surfing the many genealogy internet websites, try crafting a objective and see if your research can come into focus. Best of luck in all of your research endeavors!
If you’d like to follow my Accreditation Journey, here are my previous posts: