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.

Research Plans, Mind Maps and a Case Study

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You’re excited to start researching one of your ancestors.  You jump in but soon find yourself following those BSOs (Bright Shiny Objects) down many different paths. At the end of 2 hours you have little to show for your effort.   This is where a Research Plan can come in handy.

What is a Research Plan?   It’s a plan to help identify what you want to know about a particular person/couple/event and what sources you would need to look at to find that information.  Research plans contain a focused question that we want to answer (the research objective). And a way to answer that question (the research plan).   Research plans of necessity are flexible and adapt as we accept or reject information located in our search. There is no one size fits all research plan.  All of us have different tools we use to approach our research but the basic steps of a Research Plan remain the same:

1)  Begin by revisiting old research.  What do you know about the person/couple/event and how do you know it? Evaluate the information.  How reliable is the information? Are there any obvious contradictions or errors?  Do you have proven information or do you need to confirm it using original sources?

2)  Formulate your research objective.  Write down a specific question.  What is your goal?  What information are you trying to find?  Keep the question focused so that the resulting search is focused.

3)  Create a working hypothesis or just simply brainstorm. Using the information from your previous research, what are your initial thoughts on how to proceed?  What comes to mind as you think about finding the answer to your research objective?  What sources can you think of to consult?  Where are those sources found?

Here is a short example of the creation of a Research Plan to answer the following research objective:

Find and confirm the date of birth or baptism of Emma Glasby born about 1850 in Finningley, Nottinghamshire, England.  Confirm the names of Emma Glasby’s parents.

What do I already know? (Step 1:  Revisit old research and evaluate it)

From previous research I know that Emma Glasby was born about 1850, in Finningley, Nottinghamshire, England.  I have a note that her mother was Elizabeth Glasby (born about 1829 also in Finningley, Nottinghamshire).  Emma Glasby’s grandparents were named as George and Elizabeth Glasby.  I have nothing noted for the name of Emma’s father.

The first clue that I may be adjusting my research objective is the fact that Emma’s last name is the same as her mother. This could mean that either Emma’s mother married someone with the same last name (possible although somewhat unlikely) or that Emma was illegitimate.  If I discover that Emma was illegitimate then the chances are slim (not impossible but very slim!) of finding her biological father.  I may need to adjust my research objective and tailor it to the new information that I have. In evaluating the evidence I note that I do not have a source for Emma’s approximate birth date of 1850.

Revised Research Objective (Step 2: Formulate or refine your research objective)

Find and confirm the date of birth or baptism of Emma Glasby born about 1850 in Finningley, Nottinghamshire, England.  Determine if both parents are named on the document.

Brainstorm (Step 3:  Create a working hypothesis)

I like to use mind mapping as I brainstorm.  Some people prefer to use timelines or a research plan template or to just jot things down on a piece of paper.  Use whichever method works for you.  Below is the mind map I created for working on Emma Glasby:

emma-glasby-mind-map-jpg

This was created using iMindMap.  There are a lot of different mind mapping software programs out there.  (I have no connection to iMindMap, I simply like their software).

My research process:

Using FamilySearch I was able to locate a record indicating that Emma’s mother is an Elizabeth Glasby and that Emma Glasby was baptized on 9 Sep 1849 in Finningley, Nottinghamshire.  This date fits with my previous research and the name of the mother as Elizabeth. This is an indexed record, there is no image available.  And while Emma’s mother’s name is given, the record does not name a father, adding some credence to the thought that Emma was likely illegitimate.

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Although indexed records are a great finding tool we don’t stop there when attempting to find direct evidence.  Evaluating the original baptism entry, if extant, is imperative.  Is it available online?  We already know that FamilySearch has only the indexed record.   Here is where I return to my mind map and look at the sources that I had written down.  I noted that I would check all the major genealogy websites like Ancestry, Findmypast and MyHeritage. Ancestry has the same indexed record as FamilySearch with no additional information. Findmypast also has the same record indexed but provides further information in the form of the name of the church Emma was baptized in, namely Holy Trinity and St. Oswald in Finningley, Nottinghamshire.  The record is blank where the father’s name should be.

findmypast-emma-glasby-baptism-arrows
“England and Wales Births, 1837-2006,” database, Findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=bmd%2fb%2f1849%2f3%2fah%2f001212%2f035: 20 Sep 2016) Emma Glasby, 09 Sep 1849

Returning to my mind map I can see that I also noted down to check the FamilySearch Wiki to find out what they have on Finningley and on the church Emma Glasby was baptized in.

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FamilySearch Wiki entry for Finningley, Nottinghamshire.

I am able to read more about the church and see whether any additional records might exist for it.   There is a link from the FamilySearch Wiki to records at both Findmypast and FamilySearch itself.  These are the records I have already checked.

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FamilySearch Wiki showing which records are available for Finningley Parish.

When I was working on my mind map I noted that perhaps the Nottinghamshire Archives might have records online. A Google search quickly gives me the Nottinghamshire Archives website,  but unfortunately only a small collection of indexed records are online and there are no images of those records at all.  There is no online record for the baptism of Emma Glasby at the Nottinghamshire Archives site.  A further avenue for research would be to contact the Archives via email and ask what help they may be able to provide.

Again referencing my mind map I am reminded that I had a thought that perhaps Elizabeth married someone with the same last name and that is why daughter Emma has Glasby has her last name.  A search provides no evidence of a marriage for Elizabeth Glasby within 5 years of the birth of Emma Glasby in 1849.

It’s always good to take a step back and assess what you have:

  • Indexed baptism record found for Emma Glasby, giving date of baptism as 9 Sep 1849 and confirming location as Finningley, Nottinghamshire
  • Indexed baptism record confirms mother as Elizabeth Glasby
  • Indexed baptism record does not have a father listed
  • Indexed baptism record does give name of church where Emma was baptized
  • A search for a marriage for Elizabeth Glasby between 1845 and 1855 has negative results

In summary:  I have been able to confirm preliminarily through an indexed record, that Emma’s mother was Elizabeth Glasby and that Emma was baptized on 9 Sep 1849 in the Anglican church of Holy Trinity and St. Oswald in Finningley, Nottinghamshire.  I was not able to find the actual image of the baptism entry online. I am unable to confirm my theory that Emma was illegitimate (although the initial research strongly suggests that may be the case) and that no father will have been indicated on the original record.  The indexed record on FamilySearch indicates the film number that the record was indexed from. My next step is to order the film from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and locate the actual baptism entry.

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FamilySearch source citation gives FHL film numbers

There are many different directions I can keep searching in, but my research objective keeps me focused on the current goal of finding and confirming Emma Glasby’s date of birth/baptism and parentage.  Once I have answered those questions I can move on and create another research objective and research plan and look further at Elizabeth Glasby herself.  A brief glance at the 1851 U.K. census (the first census taking place after Emma’s birth in 1849) indicates that Emma Glasby is one year of age and enumerated with her grandparents and not her mother Elizabeth.  The mystery deepens!

Researching with a plan in mind helps focus us on our objective.  Research plans can be simple or complex; it is really what works for you that is important.