Research Like a Pro Part 6: Write it Up
What do you do when you come to the end of your research project? How do you record your results, proof, and ideas for what to do next? The final step of a research project for a professional is to write up a report detailing what records were searched, what was found, what the evidence proves, and what to search next. You don’t necessarily need to write a full scale report every time you finish a particular project, but you do need to write something! Several options make this a fun and rewarding task and one you’ll thank yourself for in the future.
This is the final segment of our Research Like a Pro series. If you’ve been following along, I hope you’ve learned new research techniques and a way to organize your efforts. If you’ve missed previous posts, here is what we’ve covered:
To read about this research process in one, convenient format, pick up my book, “Research Like a Pro: A Genealogist’s Guide.”
Why write up your results?
After you’ve gone through all of the steps of the Genealogical Proof Standard, doing thorough research, citing your sources, analyzing and correlating the information and resolving conflicts, you arrive at step 5 which reads:
Soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion eliminates the possibility that the conclusion is based on bias, preconception, or inadequate appreciation of the evidence. It also shows or explains how the evidence leads to the conclusion.” ¹
As you’re researching you are constantly thinking and analyzing your findings. You create hypotheses and correlate the evidence, whether you know it or not. The simple act of looking at a census and thinking, “great grandpa’s parents are listed as born in Virginia. I need to look there for records” is analysis. If you don’t record your thoughts and ideas, when you come back to researching this family, you’ll waste time going through your findings again.
Just the process of writing helps your brain to make connections. Having to concisely describe a record makes you look at it more closely and helps you to find all of the clues it holds.
Having your research written up in a simple proof summary makes it very easy to share with family members. You don’t have to take the time to write an email explaining your thought process. You can copy the proof summary out of your files and send it off in a matter of minutes. You can also easily upload it to your online tree lending credibility to your research.
Who is your reader?
Before you write, you need to decide who will be reading your research findings. Will you be sharing a proof summary on FamilySearch or your online tree? Are you recording your personal research notes? Are you writing a formal research report for a client? You might be writing a family history book for publication. Keeping your audience in mind will help you write in the appropriate style. You will want to be clear and accurate in any case.
What should you write?
If you have a writing phobia left over from school days, this may not seem like a very fun part of your research. But as you start to prove your points, you’ll discover that it’s extremely helpful. Whether you’re writing a simple paragraph, a report, or a book, you can have three main sections: background, body, and conclusion. Let’s take a look at what each of those could look like.
Begin with some background on the individual or family. You could include what had previously been known, including any family myths. A little about the time period or location might be helpful. Maybe the courthouse burned so records were scarce for the family. Was there a major event like the Civil War, Depression, or Dust Bowl that the family lived through? Include whatever you feel sets the stage for your findings.
The body of your writing can have several subheadings or even chapters You might have sections discussing the census records, land records, the pension file, etc. The beauty of our modern technology is that you can rearrange your sections at the end to make the most sense. You might have just a few sections or many depending on the extent of your research.
Use tables, maps, and charts to help your reader make sense of the evidence you’re sharing. A simple table can illustrate your point very effectively. A map could show the proximity of two families or the land. Charting the family’s migration might illustrate better than an entire paragraph of writing.
You’ll want to summarize your findings with a good solid conclusion. Bullet point the key items. Simply and clearly lead your reader through the research again.
If you’re writing a client report or a research report for yourself, always end with recommendations for future research. When you return to this particular individual or family, you’ll know exactly where to begin again. If you’re writing for a client, you will be giving him a reason to hire you in the future.
I’ve included some samples of writing that I’ve done. Take a look to get an idea of what you could do, then go to work. Finish off the Research Like a Pro series with a bang and write up your research!
Best of luck in your genealogical writing!
I wrote this report as the first generation of my four generation project for my accreditation application. The background information is given in the first two paragraphs, then various sections outline the source, information, and analysis. Note the tables and maps that lend clarity and break up the text. Also observe how source citations backed up every claim that I made. I uploaded this report to the memories page of her record on FamilySearch.
This simple summary of the life of Robert Cisney Royston is included in his notes section in my genealogy database. I also used it for his life sketch on FamilySearch. Although it doesn’t have source citations, the sources are all listed in his record in both places.
¹ Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, (New York : Ancestry.com 2014), 3.