Friday, January 16, 2015

Getting ready to research: Genealogy Do-Over Weeks 1-3

Who knew it could take so long to figure out how to get ready to do genealogy research?

Over at the Genealogy Do-Over Facebook group 2500 people are discussing just this question. (Membership required) Fearless leader -he’d have to be fearless, or at least a bit crazy to take on this group - Thomas MacEntee is intentionally slowing us down so that we carefully consider how best to develop a research system that works for us. Seems that if you get too far into this genealogy thing, you just end up drowning in a pile of data if you don't become systematic about your research. It turns out there is no one way to do genealogical research. In fact, there are at least 2500 ways. But with help from this community of enthusiastic learners, we are each improving our research methods.

The goals of this Do-Over:

  •              to be able prove what we know to genealogy proof standards
  •              to be able to find our proof documents
  •        to spend more time researching and less time searching for documents and notes, or repeating past searches
  •       to leave our records in a format that non-genealogists can understand and hopefully continue our work

Progress has been made and this week, we’re allowed to start researching – not analyzing yet, or entering data into genealogy programs – but finding documents to answer questions asked by our genealogy research goals.

I think I’m ready to begin. With the help, tips and questions of countless Do-Over community members, I’ve developed an Excel Research Workbook that includes quite a few worksheets. It’s not perfect and there are a few questions that can only be answered as I start down the research path.

My criteria for setting up my log included:

  • all in one place (I can never remember where I put things and I hate opening a bunch of documents to complete my work.)
  • digital completion of forms 
  • easy to complete with checkboxes and consistent layout of forms needing short answers
  •  inclusive of research aids to help with the process and remind of process

My base workbook is the Research Log shared by ThomasMacEntee on Google docs and in the Facebook Genealogy Do- Over group. I plan to use all of his worksheets which include:
  •        To Do List which Thomas uses to track his goals,
  •        Search Attempts, for tracking where I’m looking for documents and
  •        Research Log, where I’ll log what I find and how I’ll find it again.
  •        Citation Formats and Evidence Evaluation research aids to help complete the log.
To these I’ve added my own and adaptations of other worksheets:
  •        Side To-Do List” where I will track important but non research-related tasks
  •        Onsite Research worksheet for tracking repository information – addresses, hours, etc
  •        Naming Conventions worksheet so I can remember how I name my files and where I file them
  •        Family Group Sheet adapted from Word to Excel from Thomas MacEntee’s Geneabloggers website. Thomas has re-worked a standard format to make it gender neutral. (Thanks Thomas, that was much needed and much ignored)
  •       Research Goals worksheet, credit to JennyLanctot for this form. This form provides more space for noting what I know and don’t know and where I might find more information about a research person. I will know soon if it is duplicating the To-Do List and Family Group Sheet
  •       And finally, an Individual Research Log and Checklist adapted from James Christopherson’s very detailed but easy to use checklist of sources for genealogy use as shared with the Facebook Do-Over group.

I’ve made masters of the Research Log, Goals worksheet, Family Group Sheet, and the Individual Checklist. I’ve created a copy of each for my “Lynn” research which has grown my Research Log to 17 pages, a bit large, perhaps, but everything is in one workbook. I’ve color-coded the tabs so that I can easily group and find what I’m working on.

There are still some questions. Large among these is what to do with worksheets when I’m no longer working on them. There will have to be a solution for storing completed forms as these will likely be needed for future projects.

Still to be learned is what to do with the research when we’ve found and documented it. Analysis, conclusions of proof, and entry to a database program are all next steps as yet under wraps. And finally there needs to be some sort of presentation of the information (at least in my mind). Books, scrapbooks, stories, websites blogs are all among the ways to share my research with friends, family and the genealogy community. (sigh) So much to be learned.

However, with these tools in-hand, I’ve now added myself as the first Family Group Sheet.  Not sure why I never thought about starting with me before. I’ve added goals to my Research Goals and tasks for these to my To-Do list. Tomorrow I get to start looking for ways to prove I was born.  You’d think my word would be good enough, but then, 100 years from now, no one will believe that I knew what I was talking about. How much easier will it be for future genealogists if I provide them the proof documents they need to confirm that indeed, I know whereof I speak?

It's time I prove my existence!


  1. Outstanding article, well thought out. Thank You for sharing

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