Now that you have a research question, you are ready to do a research project to discover the answer. This is an exciting part of the process, but there are also several steps to follow to help you prepare and be more successful. Here are each of the steps:
-Create an Objective
-Make a Timeline
-Learn About the Location
-Make a Research Plan and Log
-Search for Records
-Analyze the Records
To view previous steps in this series, click the links below:
Part 4: Research
To view all the articles detailing each step, click here: Find Names for the Temple Articles.
Create an Objective
Now that you have chosen a candidate for further research and a specific research question, it’s time to create an objective for your research project. The objective should be narrow and specific. If your objective is too broad, your project may feel overwhelming and you may miss important details. Generally, a narrow objective focuses on just one person. It usually focuses on their identity or their relationship to either parents, spouse, or children.
Next, add unique identifying information to your objective. These pieces of information will help you identify exactly you are researching and know if the records you find match or not. The best unique identifiers are: birth, marriage, and death information.
Print your objective or put it at the top of your research project notes and keep it visible to help guide your project. Learn more about creating objectives here.
Make A Timeline
Making a timeline of events that are already known about your relative will help you see what is known and what is unknown. Gather everything that is known about the person and create a table or spreadsheet with the dates and places of events in their lives. Include dates and places of events for their immediate family also. Some examples include birth, baptism, marriage, residence, tax, land ownership, migration, etc. Use all the sources you have about the person and their family to help you gather facts for the timeline.
You should also include a column for the source of the information. During the creation of your timeline, you may have some questions or ideas. Write those down in the notes column. Read more about creating a timeline here.
Here is an example of a timeline for my relative, Pearce Sumpter Bradley:
After you have created the timeline, make a list of all the places the person lived. Then choose the place that will most likely have the answer to your research question. You will learn more about this place in the next step. In my example, Pearce Bradley lived in Swineshead. I will learn more about that location in the next step.
Learn About the Location
Before looking for records about your relative, it is important to understand more about the location. In this step, you will look at maps, determine jurisdictions and boundary changes, and learn about record availability.
These are the main things you’ll want to know:
What are the jurisdictions?
A jurisdiction is a government or church entity that created records. They can be on different levels, i.e. state level, county level, etc. These are the places you will look for records.
-Church (i.e. parish, diocese)
-Civil registration district
What counties are nearby?
These are additional places to look for records about your relative.
Were there any boundary changes in the country, state, or county?
This will help you know additional localities to look for records within.
When did record keeping begin for:
A good place to start learning about locations is the FamilySearch Wiki. Go to https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Main_Page and type in the place that you want to learn about. There are pages on the wiki for countries, states, counties, and some townships and cities.
For example, in my research project to discover Pearce and Jane Bradley’s children, I looked up the town where Pearce and Jane lived, Swineshead, at the FamilySearch Wiki and a Map of England Jurisdictions 1851.
Then I and answered the four questions, adding additional jurisdictions and information where applicable.
As you become more advanced, you will want to learn more about the history of the region you are researching as well. The more you understand the locality you are researching, the better you will become at finding records about your relatives. Learn more about researching the location: Where Did They Live? and Location, Location, Location: Putting Your Ancestors in Their Place.
Make a Research Plan and Log
After learning about the location and record availability of the place your relative lived, you should make a research plan. Keep the FamilySearch Wiki open. Make a list of all the sources you want to search to find the answer to your research question. You will find links to many record sets in the FamilySearch Wiki. Add these to your list.
Now that you have several ideas of record collections to search, create your research plan by making a list directly within the research log you will use. A research log helps you keep track of where you looked and what you found. You can use it to plan your research by listing the details of which record collections you want to search in the order you want to search them.
Start with the record collection you think will be most likely to contain the answer to your question or is a logical place to start tracing the family. When you do the searches, you will fill in the rest of your research log with the date and the results/notes.
For example, in my Pearce Bradley research project, I have prioritized my list of record collections to search in the research log below. I am looking for any children born to Pearce Bradley and his wife Jane, so I have chosen to search census and baptism records first.
Search for records
Now that you have a list of the records you want to search, go ahead and look in those collections for the names of the people you are hoping to find. As you go, update your research log.
Below is a sample research log showing for my Pearce Bradley research project. You will see that I added the dates, results, and updated the URLs.
Analyze the Records
As you find historical records, analyze them to determine whether they match your ancestor. You should also consider whether the record is accurate.
Matching Records to People
Do the unique identifiers of your relative match the person on the record? They will not always match exactly, because of inaccuracy of records, so don’t rule out a record because it does not match exactly.
Do the unique identifiers match? Name, birth, marriage, death, and relatives?
Birthdates that are calculated from ages on census records may not always match up perfectly. Sometimes they can vary 5-10 years. This is because the informant was not always an eyewitness to the birth of the person they are giving the age for, like a spouse. The spouse of a person is a helpful unique identifier but remember that spouses often died and your relative may have remarried. If the transcription seems close but one thing is off, check the original record. It is possible that the handwriting was misinterpreted by the indexer.
Matching records to your relatives is an important step. Take the time to review each detail in the record for clues. If you are not sure if the record matches, type your thoughts in the notes column of your research log and come back to it later.
If you search all the records in your research log and find nothing to answer your research question, do not be discouraged. Record the date of your search and write a summary of what you did. As you write, you may have new ideas about where to look next.
As you find records, you not only want to determine if it’s a match, but how accurate it is.
To determine the accuracy of a record, you will evaluate three things: the source, the information in the source, and how the information applies to your research question (evidence). Here are the questions to ask:
Source: Is this source an original record, derivative record, or an authored narrative?
-Original source: the first record created for an event – the actual historical document or image of it, i.e. census, birth certificate, will
-Derivative source: a record that was created from another record, i.e. index, transcription, abstract
-Authored narrative: a record that an author created by combining analysis of several records, i.e. a family tree published online, a family history book written by a relative, biography of an ancestor
Information: Is the information primary, secondary, or undetermined?
-Primary: the informant was an eyewitness to the event they are giving information about
-Secondary: the informant was giving secondhand information that they heard from someone else
-Undetermined: on most census records, the informant is undeterminedbecause we don’t know who was giving the information to the census taker
Evidence: Is the evidence direct, indirect, or negative?
-Direct: the evidence directly states the answer to a research question – i.e. the 1851 census in New Stranton answers directly that Pearce Bradley had children and lists their names.
-Indirect: The evidence does not directly state the answer to our research question but provides clues that can answer the research question when combined with other evidence and clues. i.e. The search I performed for Pearce Bradley in Swineshead in the 1851 census showed that he did not live there. This search gave me indirect evidence that Pearce Bradley moved and guided me to search elsewhere in 1851 for his family.
-Negative: the absence of information where it is expected to be is evidence. i.e. Pearce Bradley’s son Walter was absent on the 1881 census. This is negative evidence that he moved, got married or died between 1871 and 1881.
You may want to add three columns for analyzing the source, information and evidence to your timeline spreadsheet and research log spreadsheet.
Below is a video showing how to match a record to your ancestor using the FamilySearch Source Linker, and how to tell if a record is accurate.
After evaluating the source, information, and evidence, you can determine how accurate a record is. The most accurate information is primary information, from an original source, providing direct evidence.
If the record is a derivative, read it with a critical eye. Remember that someone else has read it and could have mis-interpreted the handwriting. Track down the original record if possible and read it yourself.
If the record contains information that is not primary, do not expect the names, dates, and birthplaces to be 100% correct. A person who is relaying secondhand information may not remember each detail accurately.
If the evidence you find is indirect or negative, be sure to take detailed notes and write out your conclusions to help you put the pieces together. You may also come across conflicting evidence. Weigh the reliability of each record by reviewing the source and information, and then choose which evidence is more likely to be accurate. Learn more about analyzing source, information, and evidence here.
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