Do you research in the same state over and over? Do you ever find great information on the web that you’d like to save but don’t know what to do with it? Do you have stacks of papers you’ve printed out for future reference, but you can’t find them now? If you answered yes to any of those questions, maybe it’s time you created your own research guide.
A research guide is a collection of information that you can draw on as you research. It can include maps, history, and geography of your locality. It might be a list of links to specific record collections on the internet. There are no limits to what you put in your research guide, because it is yours!
You can create a research guide for any type of locality: country, state, county, or township. You might even want a guide for a specific record type, such as probate or land records. Your research guide can be in any format from a physical notebook to electronic files on your computer’s hard drive to a web based note-taking program like Onenote or Evernote.
For my Accreditation testing, I can use internet resources, books, and basically any reference that I either physically bring or can access on the internet. I also need research or education hours in each of my Gulf South states. Compiling a guide not only has helped me become familiar with researching each state, I will be able to use it during testing.
What should be included in a research guide? Any information that will help you understand your locality, time period, record availability, and location of those records. I decided to use Evernote to create my guides because it is available on all of my devices, is word searchable, and I can create live links to internet sites. I’ll use my Florida research guide to illustrate what I have included and give you some ideas of the possibilities.
At the top of my guide, I listed links to research guides from other major websites: FamilySearch, Ancestry, Findmypast, and My Heritage. You can find links for each state on The Family History Guide website. I took a few minutes to scan the collections then I included a number in parentheses of record collections unique to Florida. This will help me see at a glance how large the collection is. I included a link to Access Genealogy’s Florida page because it has some unique collections and good descriptions of the records.
I next added links to Florida map collections and descriptions of what makes that collection useful. I have studied the historical maps of the Gulf South region repeatedly because of the changing boundaries with the French, Spanish, British, and United States possessions. Having map collections at my fingertips has been valuable.
Florida Counties came next in my guide with websites specializing in county information. Most of my research is done on the county level and I needed quick links to good websites.
Like all of the gulf south states, Florida’s history is confusing. The Spanish and British traded possession several times before the United States took over in 1819. I needed a good timeline to keep everything straight. I included a link to my favorite online timeline from the Florida State Archives, but I wrote my own short history. I knew I would learn and remember better if I did it myself instead of copying and pasting from another website.
The land records were particularly confusing because of the different possessions, so I broke them down by era and made bullet points of important information. I used Wade Hone’s book Land & Property Research in the United States to help me understand the available records. I included links to digitized books, microfilm available at the Family History Library, and websites with digitized records.
I wanted to include a list of major repositories in Florida with links to their websites. America’s Best Genealogy Resource Centers by William Dollarhide and Ronald A. Bremer lists the top ten resource centers in each state. I looked up each of the Florida repositories mentioned in the book, found their website and added notes. It would be nice if I could personally visit each library, historical society, or archives, but this is the next best thing.
Other subjects to include in your research guides might be: customs and laws, migration trails, periodicals, vital records, and available census records (federal, state, territorial.) You can start simple and add as needed.
This might be a good summer project. Often taking a break from research to expand our genealogical knowledge can reap huge dividends. What benefits did I gain from creating my Florida research outline?
- Learned the history of the land and settlers
- Discovered numerous collections of records on the internet besides FamilySearch and Ancestry
- Organized the information in a way that I could utilize
Give it a try and just see if it doesn’t help you become a better researcher.
Best of luck in your family history endeavors!