Refining a Research Strategy

The start of my genealogical “research” a couple of decades ago consisted mostly of reading through things my family had done already and drawing pedigrees of my ancestors. At some point, my dad and I visited cemeteries where we knew family should be, took some pictures, and added a few names and dates to our trees. We even went to our local state archive, got a tutorial on SOUNDEX, and poked around a bit without any real goals in mind.

A few years later, I spent some time haphazardly searching for names online. I remember finding the occasional valid record that would get me more a little further. And then there was the random googling, perusing message boards, and at least one late night following rabbit holes of links on completely undocumented family trees going back many centuries. I knew I couldn’t really trust what I was finding, but I was still captivated by these sprawling pedigrees.

While none of these pursuits were particularly detailed, organized, or rigorous, I certainly don’t regret them – they were all learning experiences in their own way, and they helped build my interest.

Eventually I started recording only the facts I could find a source for – and then later started actually recording the sources for those facts. I reconstructed all of my trees and went through all of the facts in my family tree software, being as careful as I could to cite sources thoroughly for everything I had.

Last fall, I took Boston University’s Genealogy Research Certificate Program (which had a whole module on evaluating and citing sources and generally embracing Evidence Explained). Along with all of the other modules, this gave me a more solid footing for my future research. Not just understanding better how to cite sources, but also the importance of evaluating merits of sources and information, and analyzing the evidence provided (aka researching using the Genealogical Proof Standard).

In recent months, I’ve been working with yet another updated strategy. As I’ve gotten more familiar with genealogy blogs, podcasts, etc. I’ve repeatedly seen (or heard) the advice to “start with yourself” and to make sure you’re really solid on the first, say, five generations of your tree – getting everything you can on them before moving on.

So, I’m back to the beginning once again. Starting with my daughter, I’m going through each of her ancestors (up to five generations back), one by one, going through what I have, seeing what I’m missing, and trying to dig up new sources – so that I have as much as I can about each person before moving on. I’ve liked the idea of using checklists for types of sources (something like this) and also using timelines (examples here). Both of these can help keep track of what is known and look out for gaps for each person. I’ve incorporated both into a single Word document for each person – with footnotes throughout to cite each source listed.

I’ve been getting cozy with the FamilySearch Wiki and searching database catalogs by place. I’ve been learning more (in some cases, a lot more) about records available for various times and locations I’ve come across and tracking my searches on my Person Checklist/Timeline as a research log. I’m highlighting records that I don’t have yet but may be able to find (just not freely online from home) and coming up with organized “To Search” lists for the next time I make it to places such as my local Family History Center, a county clerk’s office in Brooklyn, or Salt Lake City.

For example, for my daughter’s 3rd great grandfather, John Burns of Glanlough, Kerry, Ireland (born c1850), here’s a section of my list:

Ireland censuses

 

I haven’t yet gotten into detailed analyses of consistency or discrepancies between sources (other than showing dates in a timeline), but I have been making some notes and correlations of evidence for parentage, siblings, or other relatives.

As I make progress, person by person, family by family, I’m planning to summarize and write up my findings (watch this space) – and then keep going onto other parts of my overall “To Do” list (doing more with my DNA cousins, evaluating what I have for ancestors further than a few generations back, and chipping away at those brick walls). Or at least that’s the plan until I figure out more ways to improve my research strategies…

 


[1] 1901 Census of Ireland, Kerry County, District Electoral Division (DED) Castlecove, Kilcrohane, unpaginated, household no. 2, John Burns household; accessed in Census of Ireland 1901/1911, database with images, National Archives of Ireland (http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie : 27 January 2018); original manuscript not cited.

[2] 1911 Census of Ireland, Kerry County, District Electoral Division (DED) Castlecove, Kilcrohane, unpaginated, household no. 4, John Burns household; accessed in Census of Ireland 1901/1911, database with images, National Archives of Ireland (http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie : 27 January 2018); original manuscript not cited.

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