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Creating and defining a research strategy

Creating and defining a research strategy
We’re going to look at creating and defining a research strategy, or how to pull together a plan for doing your research. Some basic things that we’re going to go over are why you would want to pull together a research strategy, and what one actually is. We’ll think about defining your research scope. Who you might want to focus on, what questions you want to ask, what information, perhaps, you already have that will help you move forward and create your research in a more logical way. Think about– a bit of consideration about what sources to use, and then look at how to think about what names and words to search on.
All of these will help when you pull together a research strategy. So what is it? It’s basically a general plan for your research that will help you answer questions in a systematic way. It can help you keep focused on a question instead of veering off and being sidetracked. Now, most genealogists know and have the experience of doing some great research and finding some information out, and suddenly it’s like, oh! So-and-so lived in Paris. I had no idea. So, whereas you had the plan for your afternoon of finding out a certain number of things, but suddenly you’re finding yourself going off and answering this question about Paris.
And you might spend a happy afternoon finding all about this life in Paris, but you come back and go, well, actually, I didn’t answer the questions that I truly wanted to answer this afternoon, or ever. So it can help, as I say, keep you focused on a question instead of continually being sidetracked. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t allow yourself to be sidetracked at some points because that can be a fascinating thing to do, but– even so.
I find that it helps prevent me from doing research twice, or three times, or four times, if I have a particular question that I want to answer, and if I’m keeping track of what I’m finding as I go along, as well, while I’m doing research, then I know what it is that I was set out to answer, I know what I found and, perhaps more importantly, I know what I didn’t find. So– what sources that I looked at and I didn’t find that person in that source, you can tick it off and, when you come back six months later, you can say, hm. I didn’t find that person in that source. I don’t need to look there again.
Or, alternately, if more information has, perhaps, been added to that database or that source, you can know and go back and have a look. I’m sure most people have the experience like myself of finding yourself about halfway through answering a question and going, hm, I think I’ve looked at that document before. I think I’ve seen that. So– if you follow a research strategy, hopefully your research should become more efficient and you’ll spend less time researching things over again. And hopefully finding better answers to your questions.
So, think about defining your research scope. You can look at who to actually focus on. Lots of potential people in your family tree to answer questions about– maternal line, paternal line. Do you want to focus on siblings? Perhaps you want to find everything out about siblings on a particular line, or you want to forget about those for now and just think about your grandparent pairs and getting as much information about those as possible. There’s no right or wrong here, it’s just it’s helpful to define who it is particularly you’re wanting to focus on– on that day or that question. Think about what time period you want to look at– how far back you want to go.
If you have a day to look at something, maybe you want to go back three generations and really explore a longer time period. But if you don’t have much time, maybe you just want to confine yourself to one generation. And then think about what question or questions you particularly want to answer at that time. Do you want to find everything you can about their birth, marriage, and death– track down the actual certificates– which for certain areas of the world can be more difficult than not. Do you want to maybe find out everything you can about their occupations? Or the places they lived in?
Find some information out about the village or the town that they lived in for that time period. So, some questions to think about– and I do find that it helps to write things down and not just have the questions in your head that you’re wanting to look at, but to actually get them written down on a piece of paper or using a word processing piece of software. So, just to bring this to life a little bit, this is my grandmother and her siblings, Marie, Alma, and Paul. My grandmother’s the furthest one on the left there as you’re looking at it, and her siblings.
I ended up knowing a lot about my grandmother, but I just really knew my great-aunts’ and -uncles’ names. I didn’t know much about their background. So I decided that I really wanted to know more about them– so I set off to do that. I thought, right, I’m gonna pull together a research strategy for that. So, because they were in the United States, I had to consider what sources to use. And that really helped me to know what databases, what archives, family history societies I might want to go into.
So, in my case I wanted to focus on the US– and, in particular, Illinois, where they were living when they were children– Particular time period in question, and– I didn’t so much care about the occupation or military, but these are– there are some databases, some archives, that are particularly useful for military service, educational, so you might need to choose a particular database to use because they all vary in what they cover and what they’re most useful for.
So, the other thing I did– is I started making a list of possible names and words to try searching on for them. Now the surname is Blount, but it’s often spelled Blunt, and there are myriad ways of spelling surnames– as you will find as you continue on your research journey– and I do find it’s really helpful just to keep track of those.
Families use different names, and those can change over time, but I’ve also found many mistranscriptions in different indexes and databases, so you might find it useful to write down those mistranscribed names and try searching on those as well because you might find people where you wouldn’t find them using the name that you know– and lots of first name variations as well. Write those down, too, just, again, to remind yourself of what to look for. If you’re searching for someone under Margaret, and you’ve chosen, I want just that name, but she’s down under Peggy in the census, you may or may not find her. And there’s lots of different ways to describe a particular occupation, or different things.
You think of China the country versus china, the flat– the serving ware– the same words to describe different things. In this case, I’ve got handloom weaver, weaver, textile worker, HLW, which is what was often used in the census. The census enumerator didn’t want to write out handloom weaver 30,000 times, so HLW made their life easier. So before you start, just brainstorm with yourself and write down as many options as possible. And you’ll come across things as you search, as well, so keep track of those, too. So, here’s my brief research plan.
As I said, what I decided I wanted to do was find basic information for all of the siblings of my grandmother on my mother’s side– so Paul, Marie, and Alma– and what I wanted to do was start finding their birth and census details of when they were actually in the family home. And so I knew that she was born in Byron, Illinois, in 1894 and I knew her parents’ names, which was really helpful. But a basic question that I had to answer was what the name of the county was because I knew for American records some of the birth details are held and kept at county-level.
So that was the first question I needed to go off and answer, which was fairly easy to do, but still I needed to answer it. I had some variants of how to spell the surname but also the name of the town, so I decided that I would first look at American census records– because they’re easy to find– and then try to find any birth or baptism records that I could find, which is a bit more difficult for the States just because of the system there. So that kept me focused– and I still have a couple of baptism records to find, but thankfully I found them in the censuses and in their birth records, so that was good.
So,I encourage you to pull together a research plan, attempt to follow it– because that will help keep you on track– and try to restrain yourself as much as possible from getting sidelined because it’s all-too-easy to do. But revel in it when you do, I suppose. Thank you very much.

This video introduces the notion of approaching research in a systematic fashion and outlines how to create a research strategy.

The importance of defining research questions is emphasised: who do you want to focus on, how far back, etc. We’ll also be shown an example of a simple research plan.

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Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree

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