Imagine you are preparing to build your dream home. You have spent years working hard to save money and resources. You have investigated different floor plans and found that perfect piece of land. The time has arrived to start building.
Now imagine that your builder shows up without any engineering or architectural plans, but with a truck full of random 2x4s, a collection of various windows, and a pile of leftover bricks. Without guidance from a plan, the builder throws together your dream home willy-nilly.
This scenario is comparable to conducting genealogical research without first preparing a research plan. Sure, it is easy to throw ancestral names into various search engines, click the start button and see what rises to the surface. But this method can lead to assigning the wrong people to your family and almost always misses important records about your ancestors. The final product looks much like that randomly-built and dangerous house our builder built. A better strategy is to first develop a tool that the best professional genealogists utilize as a guide for any project – a genealogy research plan.
While developing a genealogy research plan can take a few hours of valuable research time, it is a worthwhile investment of time. A genealogy research plan allows for greater efficiency and helps the researcher stay focused. The project is freed from spiraling off on unnecessary tangents (what we refer to as “going down the rabbit hole”) and detouring into areas not included in the research goals.
5 Steps to Developing a Genealogy Research Plan
1. Determine Goals. Building a research plan begins with a preliminary assessment of the research goals. This is where the expertise of Legacy Tree Genealogists’ project managers comes into play. The project manager will assist you in determining your research goals and then focusing on the details you desire. Is your goal to extend a specific line back to your immigrant ancestors and beyond as quickly as possible? Or do you want to delve deeply into the stories of your ancestors’ past? Are you hoping to become a member of a hereditary-based organization like the Daughters of the American Revolution or the Sons of Union Veterans? Defining your personal goals and refining them until they are clearly stated is a vital first step in any research plan.
2. Review Known Details. Next, the genealogist reviews the client-provided background information. For some projects this might be a simple pedigree chart naming your parents and grandparents with some of their dates and places of birth, marriage, and death included. For other projects this may include reviewing an online family tree, analyzing documents you have acquired in your research, and reading accounts of family stories surrounding the lives and exploits of your ancestors. The researcher must sift through and evaluate what is already known about your ancestors, what documentation has already been collected, how thoroughly each record has already been studied, and the historical context attached to the creation of each record.
3. Do Your Homework! With the preliminary review completed, the genealogist must determine how many generations need to be researched to achieve your goals, in what time period they lived, and which geographic regions will be in play.
4. Determine Strategy. The next step is to determine the best strategy to pursue in your specific situation, given all of the information studied so far. This strategy is devised after determining what records were created during the specific time and place in question, where those records are stored today, and if the collections are accessible.
5. Start Digging! Of course, at the outset of any project there is no way of knowing if any records were ever created about your ancestors or if those records have survived the ravages of time. Only by spending time digging in the archives and in targeted collections can the genealogist discover what relevant records still exist today and what information of value is contained therein. Because of this, there is never a guarantee of specific results. However, although a research plan cannot guarantee results, it does guarantee thoroughness and efficiency, which are the best use of the available resources and time. A research plan ensures that no stone will be left unturned.
Because we know that many people love to work on their own family history and just need to know where/how to start, at Legacy Tree Genealogists we offer the Discovery Plan, which is a short session where a genealogy research plan is crafted from the client’s specific research goals and background information. The completed genealogy research plan can then be used by the client to implement personally, or the client can hire Legacy Tree to conduct the research, guided by the research plan.
Creating a research plan is both fun and a wise way to begin any family history project. It provides an opportunity to fully assess the hurdles and the possibilities, and offers the best prospect for your genealogical dreams to become a reality.
Interested in beginning your family history project with a personalized research plan, tailored specifically for your brick wall, your elusive ancestor or any other complex research goal? Click here to review some of Legacy Tree Genealogists’ recent research plans, or contact us for a free consultation to discuss your own goals!