In this article I’ll explain why you need a genealogy research plan and how to create on quickly and easily. Better yet, you’ll be able to re-use elements of your plan so you aren’t re-inventing the wheel every time you switch research projects.
What is a Genealogy Research Plan?
First let me tell you what it’s not. A Genealogy Research Plan is not the same as a research log. Whilst the two tools might compliment each other they are not the same thing.
A research plan sets out the who, what, where, why and when of your project. A research log records the findings and logs your thoughts, theories, evidence.
A research plan sets out how and what you are going to do in order to get to the point where you’ll have something to log!
Why You Need A Genealogy Research Plan
Imagine you started your project but had to give it to someone else to continue. A well written genealogy research plan would make that perfectly feasible. This means that if you start your research and then get busy at work or with the kids, you will be able to pick up where you left off.
A decent research plan will help you see holes in your evidence BEFORE you start searching for new information.
Better still, an effective research plan will speed up your research logging and lead to less repetitive data entry.
Personally, I’ll also take any excuse to use post it notes and buy myself a nice new pen!
The 8 Elements of a Genealogy Research Plan
Save this handy diagram and you’ll never forget any of the 8 elements you need to create your Genealogy Research Plan.
Clear Goals: The Heart of A Genealogy Research Plan
Prioritised Tasks: Essential For Progressing Your Genealogy Research Plan
Your priorities may change over time so keep this list up to date. Your genealogy research plan is a living document. Read here for tips on project management.
Collation Of Existing Facts: See Your Gaps
Whether you decide to create a detailed timeline using genealogy software, or a bulleted list of existing facts, will depend on your level of tech confidence and the size or complexity of your project.
But you will need to examine what you already know in order to see any gaps – either in sources or in data.
Lateral Thinking: Every Genealogist Needs This!
OK, so this isn’t a documented part of your Genealogy Research Plan it is an essential element to actually completing the plan. For information on how to use cross-referencing to ‘think outside the box’ then see here.
Data Recording Process: How will your Genealogy Research Plan work with your log?
How are you going to record your findings and your research process? You might want to use genealogy software, spreadsheets or simply put pen to paper. Make sure you know how you are going to record what you find INCLUDING your sources before you get started. Otherwise you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by a mountain of unorganised data. Queue massive overwhelm!
Data Storage Plan: Ensure You Can Find Your Research
Once you’ve got your data, where are you going to save it (digitally)? Or store it (paperwork, photos)? How are you going to ensure you can find your records? Create a filing structure that works for you. I hope to write about this soon!
Search Terms: Write It Once & Save Time
Your search terms will vary depending on what you are researching and where. For example, if I have an ancestor called Ebenezer Davies – I’ll probably always search for him by including his first name – Davies is common, Ebenezer isn’t. Whereas, if I’m searching for my ancestor Edward Blee, I’ll probably always look for just Blee. It’s unusual enough that I’m not swamped with data and any Blee’s that come up are likely to be mine.
Record each of your search terms and label them (e.g. Search Term 1 = Blee, no other details). Now when you come to log your searches in your research log you won’t have to keep stating how you searched. Instead you can simply cross-reference to your genealogy plan – i.e. for this search I used ‘Search Terms 1’.
Source Lists: Your Genealogy Research Plan is a Living Document
You might find you end up adding to these lists, but it pays to at least note at a high level where you intend to look. Again you can cross-reference this list on your research log (speeding up that recording process).
Make sure you detail where the source is held. For online records include the original repository. You never know when something might move or disappear offline.
Join The Curious Descendants!
If you enjoyed this blog post then you’ll LOVE my Curious Descendants community. I send regular emails packed with genealogy tips and history nuggets. Plus you’ll never miss one of my articles ever again.
5 lessons about your railway ancestors, from my in depth chat with Mike Esbester from the Railway Work, Life & Death project.