Do you have a strategy for researching or do you just start clicking around and hope for the best? One of the characteristics of an excellent genealogist is planning. Taking a few minutes to analyze a pedigree or document and come up with a research plan can turn an hour of research from ho-hum to productive.
Today I’m going to share what I learned about research planning in session 2 of my Accreditation Study Group for Levels 2 & 3 of the test. (Here’s what we did in session 1.) I also wrote about the Level 1 Accreditation Study Group here.
One of the reasons I decided to go through the Accreditation process was to learn better research skills. Although I am an organizer by nature, my research didn’t always reflect this trait. This study group session focused on research planning and really made me evaluate my own research process. One of the sections of the Accreditation exam will test my planning skills. The ICAPGen website gives this information for the Level 3 Section 5 test:
You will be tested on your ability to analyze a research problem and plan effective research. You will be asked to list the sources you would search to research each problem and what you would expect to find in those sources. This exercise does not include any actual research.
You will need to use localities and dates from the provided question, basic pedigree, or document on the exam to develop a proper research plan. Be sure to understand the importance of name variations and be able to recognize date inconsistencies (e.g. the child’s birth date listed as before that of a parent).
You may consult your own resources, library catalogs, wikis, or search engines for possible records and availability.
After going over the parameters for the test, we had fifteen minutes to write up a plan that included at least five sources. We based our plan on this research query from a potential client:
“Family stories tell of an ancestor from Rankin County, Mississippi who was an Indian Chief. I’d like to verify this story.”
I had researched and written about my great grandmother who supposedly was full blooded Cherokee in my post, Source Citations; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, so I had some experience with this type of question. In the allotted fifteen minutes, I came up with this plan:
– Search for the individual in the 1900 census to determine his parents.
– Look for the parent’s involvement in the Dawes rolls, if there was Indian blood, they could apply for land under the Dawes law of 1903.
– Check the census records from 1900-1940 for indication of “Indian” marked in the race column.
– Check military records, WWI and WWII draft registrations indicate ethnicity.
– Put the family in context in Rankin County Mississippi; research the history of the Indian tribes in the area.
After fifteen minutes, we compared our answers and discussed our experiences. We learned to choose sources that relate to the research question and are the most reliable and accessible records. Include what you hope to find in the records. Be specific: “search marriage records of Rankin County, Mississippi from 1920-1930” not just “search marriage records.” Be careful to start with what you know, then work backwards. In some cases, you might need additional information from the client or their approval for a revised research question. Indicate if additional time or expense will be a factor.
Our assignment for next time? Practice research planning in fifteen segments. Create two research questions from an Ancestry message board query or from a document, then write out a research plan.
I decided to use the Will of Jacob Bowman provided by our study group leader for one of my scenarios. I also chose a query from an Ancestry message board. I formulated a research question, then proceeded to write up the two research plans in thirty minutes (fifteen minutes each). I actually enjoyed this exercise and didn’t have any problem coming up with a plan for each scenario.
I did a much better job this time around explaining what might be found in the records and why to search them, because I had recently researched and written about my ancestor’s will administration in Probate 101 or the Real Life Drama of the Thomas B. Royston Estate. Knowing what can be found in the records is extremely helpful in planning; a good reason to be familiar with all types of records. The following is one of my practice research plans.
Research Question based on the Will of Jacob Bowman: Determine the children of Jacob Bowman of Clay County, Kentucky; will dated 30 July 1826.
– Search the probate records of Clay County, Kentucky, after 1826. The will administration will not be complete until the “youngest child comes of age” and the “proceeds thereof be equally divided among all my children.” Papers of administration and settlement records will generally list the heirs by name.
– Trace the land records of Clay County, Kentucky for Jacob Bowman. If he owned land, then it would be dispersed among his heirs and records of deeds transferred might lead to his children.
– Search the marriage records of Clay County, Kentucky for all Bowmans after 1826. The will doesn’t mention any married children, and does refer to the “raising of my children” so it is highly probable that none of his children in 1826 are married. A marriage record might name Jacob Bowman as the father of the bride or groom.
– Locate Jacob Bowman on the 1820 census of Clay County, Kentucky to determine how many females and males are in the household at that date. This will give clues as to how many children to search for.
– Locate Eleanor Bowman on the 1830 census to determine how many females and males are in the household. Compare to the 1820 census. IF she is not on the 1830 census as Eleanor Bowman, search for a marriage record for Eleanor Bowman in Clay County, after 1826. Knowledge of a 2nd marriage would be important for searching subsequent census records of the family.
Are you wondering how to prepare for this section of the exam? Here are some tips that were given during the ICAPGen Accreditation track of classes at the BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy:
4 Tips to prepare for the Research Planning exam
1. Become familiar with a wide variety of records types and methodologies.
2. Practice developing research plans for a variety of pedigree problems.
3. As you evaluate a pedigree problem, first define the research objective. Then determine the records that are most applicable to addressing the research objective in an effective and efficient manner.
4. Practice elaborating about what information you would expect to find in different types of records and how it would help as you progress your research.
How can research planning help you in finding your family?
Try taking a few minutes at the beginning of your next research session to formulate a research question, then the best sources you can search to help you answer your question. Who knows, you might even break through a brick wall.
Best of luck in your family history efforts!