Prepare to Search: Lessons in Avoiding Wasted Research Time

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Frustrated by a lack of progress in my research today I took a moment to try to figure out exactly what had contributed to that feeling of discouragement. We all have those days – our research seems to hit a brick wall almost immediately and we can’t find a way around it.  We’re not finding what we thought would be easily found.  We feel discouraged and frustrated. We’re skipping from record to record in the hopes that what we are searching for will suddenly drop into our lap.   So how had I been conducting my research that led to such frustration?  Once I took a step back I noticed three things:

1)  I had started searching without a research plan.  No wonder I was jumping all over the place, easily distracted by other information not pertinent to what I was trying to find.  I had no focused question I was trying to answer, just a general ‘Let me see what I can find on James Craft who I think was born about 1810 in Maryland’.

2)  I was researching in an area I was not familiar with.  I began searching without knowing what records are available for that area, either online or elsewhere.

3) I had not followed the most basic advice given to those just starting out in genealogy research  – begin with what you know and move from the known to the unknown.  I was searching for the unknown, hoping to connect to the known. Additionally, my search began without familiarizing myself with the information I already had.  I found related information in records only to realize that I already had that information.

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Familiarize yourself with the records you already have.

So how do we avoid research frustration?

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  • Start by reviewing what you know. Move from the known to the unknown. Study your Research Log.  Study the records you have already found.
  • Always use a Research Plan (see my previous post titled ‘Research Plans, Mind Maps and a Case Study’ for more information on the benefits of using a research plan).
  • Have a research objective. Formulate your research question and keep your focus on it as you search.
  • If you are new to a particular area of research, familiarize yourself with its history and record availability. The FamilySearch Wiki is a great place to start finding information and available records on a new area.

Once we have done all these things we are PREPARED to search.

That was what derailed my research today – I did not prepare to research.  I know all those things mentioned above but in my rush to use the little time I had available for research, I simply jumped right in without any preparation. A somewhat wasted day but a good lesson in following basic strategies to ensure we are making the most of our time.  We know too that even with good preparation we will experience days (weeks? years?!) where we feel frustrated with our lack of progress on a particular person.  It happens but isn’t usually because we began our search unprepared.

6 thoughts on “Prepare to Search: Lessons in Avoiding Wasted Research Time

  1. Pingback: Know the History, Know the Records |

  2. This is a great reminder on why its a good idea to have a plan when researching. When I started researching genealogy, I didn’t know anything about plans or planning and my early work really shows it. Posts like this and your earlier one about mind maps, are very helpful as far as illustrating why its so important to think things out before starting. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. I am constantly having to remember to think things through and do some planning before I jump in! 🙂 It’s always so tempting to just start researching, isn’t it?

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  3. Pingback: Favorite Reads of the Week: 5 November 2016 – Election, World Series, RootsTech Contests – Family Locket

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